Learn about the beta

8. Memorandum From the Acting Director of the United States Information Agency (Wilson) to President Kennedy1

Here is the requested memorandum of my views on the best organizational relationship between USIA and State in the information, cultural, and educational fields. This has been altered and refined from the original memorandum submitted to you on December 13th.2

Much of the disagreement over organization stems from the lack of understanding of the purpose of these programs. Some believe the programs so differ in purpose that they should not be conducted by the same governmental department. Others see the programs as ends in themselves. I disagree with both views. All these programs exist only to further the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. All of them attempt to do this by creating climates of public opinion abroad that advance the aims of U.S. foreign policy.

Every serious study with which I am acquainted has first pointed this out and then gone on to recommend that the information, cultural, and educational activities be brought together in USIA, operating independently but subject to State Department policy control. This was advocated by the Sprague Committee Report (members: Mansfield Sprague, George Allen, Allen Dulles, Gordon Gray, Karl G. Harr, Jr., John N. Irwin, II, C.D. Jackson, Livingston T. Merchant, Philip D. Reed), the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information (members: Mark May, Erwin Canham, Sigurd Larmon, Philip Reed, Lewis Douglas), the Ball-Sharon task force report,3 Budget Bureau staff (in internal memoranda), and by Tom Sorensen (whose report4 you have previously seen).

Despite these recommendations, the political facts of life dictate that the educational exchange functions must remain under the State Department. Senator Fulbright is an architect of the program, his feelings are strong on the matter, and it is obviously no time to pick a losing fight over shifting the educational exchange program.

[Page 35]These political facts of life do not, however, apply to the cultural program. The argument is currently being made in the name of the educational exchange program that all USIA cultural activities be placed in the State Department too so they will not be “sullied” by the information program. This plan, presumably, would transfer the book translation, publication, and distribution programs, binational cultural centers, overseas libraries, and most of the exhibit programs into the State Department. The transfer would be made on the theoretical grounds that “information” and “culture” are totally different programs and that they work better when separated.

I do not believe that they do. The library, for example, is the heart of USIS activities abroad. Using it as a base, the PAO abroad is able to establish contacts with newspaper editors, radio commentators, and students and influence them because of this institutional backing and the reservoir of material it gives him to work with. When he tries to influence a student organization in Latin America, he uses neither all “informational” or “cultural” tools. He uses both. He combines exchange grants, books, carefully-placed newspaper material, motion pictures and presentation of materials that are often artistic in nature. If he is an imaginative and successful officer, he is always weaving together informational and cultural elements to get the maximum effectiveness.

Finally, such a dismemberment of USIA would deal it a serious morale defeat just at the wrong time. The appointment of Murrow5 should kindle an enthusiasm within the Agency (and without) that can prove more valuable than any other single element. This value will lie in Murrow’s ability to attract talent to the Agency and to make the most of the talent already in USIA. However, to follow Murrow’s appointment with the decision that a major arm of the Agency is being taken away will undercut him and weaken USIA at the wrong moment.

Donald M. Wilson
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Box 91, USIA 1960–5/61. No classification marking. Attached but not printed are an undated cover sheet from Smathers to Kennedy marked “personal and confidential,” an undated paper entitled “Need for New Type of Leadership and Reorientation for the United States Information Agency,” and an undated paper entitled “Key Positions in the United States Information Agency and Suggested Candidates for Appointment.” Another copy of Wilson’s memorandum is ibid., National Security Files, Subjects Series, Box 296, Cultural and Social Activities, General, 1/61–8/61.
  2. See Document 3.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 5.
  4. See Document 2.
  5. The New York Times reported on January 28 that Kennedy had selected Murrow to head the United States Information Agency. (“Murrow Is Selected as Director Of the U.S. Information Agency: C.B.S. Commentator to Guide Propaganda Unit—Federal Education Chief Chosen,” pp. 1–2) Following his confirmation hearing, Murrow was appointed Director on March 15 and sworn in by the President on March 21. For a transcript of the hearing, see Nominations of Edward R. Murrow and Donald M. Wilson (United States Information Agency): Hearing before the Committee of Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Eighty-seventh Congress, first session, on the nominations of Edward R. Murrow to be Director, and Donald M. Wilson to be Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency. March 14, 1961. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1961) Another copy of Murrow’s testimony is in the National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970, Entry UD WW 151, Box 298, Director’s Correspondence—1961.