The Ambassador in Argentina (Armour) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 21.]
Sir: Supplementing my telegram No. 912 of April 5, 10 a.m. and with reference to my despatches No. 14170 of March 14, 1944, and No. 14222 of March 21, 1944,75 I have the honor to report that the Argentine authorities at midnight April 4 permitted the United Press and Prensa Unida to reopen after an 18-day suspension. Enclosed is the text of a letter which Mr. Thomas Curran, General Manager of UP for South America, was forced to sign as requisite to reopening, together with the text of a resolution on the subject by the Ministry of Interior, as published in La Prensa of April 5.76
Knowing that the Chilean Ambassador, Dr. Conrado Rios Gallardo, had instructions from his Government to take up the question of the [Page 402] UP with the Argentine authorities, and that he had an appointment with President Farrell on the morning of April 4, I reviewed the whole UP situation with him the day before his interview. I saw him immediately after his appointment and he told me that the President had assured him that the UP matter would be settled “soon”. Later the same day the Ambassador saw the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs77 who gave him the same assurance. That evening Mr. Curran was called to the Sub-Secretariat where the matter was finally settled. The forceful representations of Conrado Rios were undoubtedly responsible for the prompt conclusion of the negotiations.
The Department, by means of the various telegrams transmitted for UP through the Embassy, has been informed of the progress of the negotiations leading up to the signature of the letter. Mr. Curran told me that UP was not responsible for all of the “false” stories which are mentioned in his letter. Some of the “wildest” of them, he said, were published in Montevideo newspapers under the dateline “Colonia, Especial”, and were transmitted by other agencies. It was a difficult decision to take, but rather than hold out longer against the pressure of the Sub-Secretariat of Press and Information, he agreed to the letter as drawn up by the authorities. This seemed to him to be preferable to prolonged negotiations and further delays in reopening the bureau. During the suspension UP had been able to supply only two of their 20 clients, namely La Prensa and La Razón. These were handled through the roundabout channel of Press Wireless to Montevideo and from there by cable to Buenos Aires. The remainder of their clients were being served by AP and Reuter[s] under temporary agreements. Latterly, however, both of these competitors began to press the clients for definite, long-term contracts. Although all of their clients have now returned to them, UP does not know whether any of them signed other contracts.
Mr. Curran does not regard the reference in the statement of the Ministry of Interior to the effect that the revocation of the suspension is “temporary, pending the decision of the courts”, as implying any serious consequences for UP. The Chief of the Sub-Secretariat, Major Poggi, assured Mr. Curran he would endeavor to have the charges against UP withdrawn from the Ministry of Justice.
The Department will have noted in the various telegrams exchanged between the local UP and its New York headquarters, that officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and of the Sub-Secretariat of Press and Information (both under jurisdiction of General Perlinger) attempted a number of times to draw the Embassy into the negotiations. On each occasion the UP officials categorically stated that they were a private organization and that the Embassy would not intervene. The last time this matter was raised was on [Page 403] the night of the final negotiation when Major Poggi told Mr. Curran that General Perlinger considered UP to be an “Agencia Oficiosa” of the American Government and that he had information to the effect that “President Roosevelt was relying on UP to help him win reelection for the fourth term”. If General Perlinger really believed that UP had such an official character, it demonstrates clearly how willing he was to strike at us, and the extremes to which he would go to involve the Embassy.
Many persons not familiar with the facts, especially in the American and British Communities, were inclined to criticize UP for giving way to pressure of the authorities and signing a letter which admits guilt for offenses they had not committed. Naturally, the Nationalist and Nazi newspapers made the very most of the letter “as proof of assertions they have been making for years”. Perhaps the harshest criticism came from the English-language newspaper, The Standard (AP and Reuter[s] subscriber), as will be noted in the enclosed editorial.78 More than willing to believe the worst of UP, it stated, “Faith in the integrity of the Press and in the accuracy of its news has been dealt some severe blows since Upton Sinclair and George Seldes first set out to destroy public confidence in the honesty of the printed word; but neither of those authors ever conceived an external attack to compare with the essay in self-destruction that was the public confession issued by the United Press through yesterday morning’s newspapers.”
Dr. Gainza Paz, co-Director of La Prensa and UP’s principal client in Argentina, does not consider that UP has lost anything by accepting the terms forced upon UP by the Sub-Secretariat “practically at the point of a gun”. He congratulated Mr. Curran on the successful conclusion of the negotiations. I wish to add that I think Mr. Curran conducted himself exceedingly well throughout these trying negotiations.
While the affair appears to have had a fortunate ending, it has not been without serious financial loss to UP. This fact may have a salutary effect on the entire UP organization as well as on other American correspondents responsible for the erroneous reports which brought on a whole series of reprisals affecting both of the American press associations. (It will be recalled that both AP and UP were partially closed some weeks ago for having sent out reports which later proved erroneous.)
The American press associations and other correspondents have operated here in recent years under extremely difficult working conditions. These are likely to prevail so long as the present regime lasts. While I sympathize with their problems, I believe that they have sometimes invited trouble by sending out highly colored reports based [Page 404] solely on rumor. Naturally they are handicapped by the severe censorship and the inability to check their stories in responsible quarters. I have always tried to help them whenever I could, but even for the Embassy this is extremely difficult. In view of the responsibility which American correspondents owe to the public to report accurately, and owing to the fact that I am now powerless to help them if they get into difficulties over their stories, I have felt it desirable to warn them to be more cautious in the future. The Department may wish also to caution their American headquarters.