183. Letter From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Marks) to All United States Information Agency Public Affairs Officers1

Dear PAO:

The kaleidoscopic events of the past two weeks have, I know, placed exceptional demands upon you in the field as they have upon us in Washington.

I want first to reiterate to you what I have told the staff here: that I plan to continue as USIA Director through the President’s term of office.2 I look forward to the coming nine months as a time when we shall move ahead on many important projects already under way and, I hope, initiate some new ones as well.

As the election campaign proceeds, it presents both problems and opportunities for us. The problems are evident: we must in our output give a balanced, impartial presentation of the campaign, the issues and the candidates, scrupulously avoiding any impression of partisanship. We must also help our foreign audiences see the campaign in perspective, last they be misled by the traditional campaign oratory to overestimate the divisions in America or to magnify the problems, both domestic and international, that will be thoroughly aired before the world. I am confident that our seasoned staffs will meet both of these challenges.

We should remember, too, that the campaign offers us unique opportunities. We canict the processes of the American political system and thereby build confidence in American democracy. We can show that responsible dissent and political conflict in a free society are signs of strength, not weakness; we can stress the grassroots character of U.S. political activity and the manner in which our citizens relate themselves to their government; and we can demonstrate how our nation closes ranks after election day and prepares for the orderly transition of power—the culminating act of the democratic process.

The tragic death of Martin Luther King and the repercussions that followed shocked us all as Americans. They also brought in their wake special problems for the United States abroad. I have followed the [Page 586] overseas reaction closely and realize the questions and attitudes that your audiences are expressing. I see our task here as an excellent illustration of the role of USIA. We must give a balanced accounting which involves both a debit and an asset side of the ledger. Since what reaches our foreign audience at a time such as this is apt to be heavily weighted on the negative side, we have a special obligation to present the often overlooked factors that put the situation in full perspective.

During the past week, our media fulfilled this obligation admirably. While in no way minimizing the problems that the United States faced in its cities in the days following the death of Dr. King, the media made clear that only a very small proportion of Negro Americans were involved in the disorders; that violence was confined to small pockets of large cities; and that the overwhelming majority of Americans, whatever the color of their skins, demonstrated their respect for law and order.

Finally I want to report to you that last week I testified before committees of the House on both our appropriations and our career legislation.3

The House Appropriations Committee was extremely courteous and quite considerate in reviewing our budget requests. I am indeed hopeful that we will receive considerable support for maintenance of our current operation and for selective increases.

I am pleased that the personnel hearings were scheduled early in the legislative year, and I am hopeful that the Committee will be able to report out the bill within the next thirty days. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that a number of hurdles lie ahead: action by the sub-committee, by the full Foreign Affairs Committee, by the Rules Committee and finally by the House itself. I want you to know, however, that we will do everything we can to help bring the legislation through to final enactment.4


Leonard H. Marks
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Marks Papers, Box 28, PAO Letters. No classification marking. Another copy is in the National Archives, RG 306, United States Information Agency History Program, Subject Files, 1967–1975, Entry A1–1072, Box 5, L. Marks, Reports, 1968.
  2. Reference is to the President’s March 31 speech; see footnote 2, Document 182.
  3. See footnote 4 below.
  4. Reference is to S. 633, providing for a career service for USIA officers similar to the Department of State’s Foreign Service Officer corps. For further information, see footnote 2, Document 30; and footnote 10, Document 174.