53. Memorandum From the Assistant Director, Latin America, United States Information Agency (Chatten) to the First Lady’s Press Secretary (Finch Hoyt)1


  • Maximizing Mrs. Carter’s Trip—Summary Points of our Previous Discussions

1. A basic problem up to now has been credibility in answering the question, “why is she going?” when it is put by U.S. critics and “why is she coming?” when raised by Latinos. It is necessary if at all possible to push through the media and other filters the fact that Mrs. Carter is one of the President’s closest advisers who can be expected to give impressions and advice on her return from the area that will indeed be heeded. This is a message that goes poorly through media filters but one which her presence overseas should do much to dramatize. Trying to make this effect last is a function of USIS’ continuing work with audiences on the ground overseas (short run) and of whether the initiatives of the President’s OAS speech2 are realized (long run). It is important to remember that the few doubts coming to us about Mrs. Carter’s trip represent mostly official reaction to the question of her ability to discuss substance. But there are other publics beside [Page 144] querulous government officials and I think the reaction among them has been and will be extremely positive.

2. The word “substantive” in connection with the discussions Mrs. Carter will hold with foreign leaders carries with it the seeds of some difficulties. “Substantive” implies a degree of focus on such issues as arms transfers, nuclear proliferation, amendment of the trade act, the specifics of how to deal with illegal immigrants, commodity arrangements and other things Mrs. Carter will be informed about, interested in and allude to but perhaps will not plumb to their substantive depths during brief meetings abroad. Use of the word without being specific about what you are implying raises a variety of expectations which can create some inevitable disappointments. The word also has the potential for implying a kind of instant expertise, a notion which I suspect you are eager to avoid. Her well-publicized study of Spanish and the issues is a big plus if Latins do not draw extravagant conclusions from this information. Some such conclusions already are being drawn. It might be useful to attempt to mitigate this by emphasizing less freighted words and phrases such as “talks,” “in-depth discussions,” “talks over a range of mutual interests” or “serious conversations”.

3. I believe there are two things that Mrs. Carter can talk quite profitably about and be accepted by all Latin listeners as an authoritative source:

(a) She has acknowledged mastery over “who am I, who are we, how we got to Washington, what we represent, what we are doing, what we are attempting to do.” When we look back on the trip in mid-June, I believe we are going to be happiest about the times we were able to provide Mrs. Carter an appropriate forum for that message.

(b) The one substantive issue on which she can and ought to attempt to be persuasive is the Administration’s approach to human rights. Feeling on this subject runs equally deep in the White House and abroad, but often for different reasons. While some foreign publics’ attitudes are closer to the U.S. Government position than to their own government’s, most commonly the U.S. approach is seen to emanate directly from the White House and there is much misunderstanding if not outright cynicism among foreigners about the subject. There is something to be gained by emphasizing that after the well-publicized foreign and domestic difficulties of the past decade, Americans are eager to stand for something they can be proud of. This kind of “domestic explanation” of what is perceived abroad only in its foreign affairs context would be most useful and received as an addition to foreign understanding of the issue. I think she could address it quite profitably both in private and, given the proper forum, in public. She could give an appreciation of the breadth and depth of the commitment to this subject within the United States, demonstrating that there is a much [Page 145] greater constituency than is appreciated abroad and that it does not spring from either naivete or religious zeal at the White House.

4. I encourage the avoidance at all costs of the phrase, “I came to listen.” This phrase has been repeated by representatives of each succeeding administration for as long as any of us can remember and is the quickest way to have Latin American government and other listeners hit the “off” switch for anybody who uses it. This is not to say that the same thought cannot be advanced in a variety of ways, since I understand that Mrs. Carter is indeed doing some listening on behalf of the President. A reasonable substitute would be a presentation incorporating the fact that Mrs. Carter has been to Latin America on more than one previous occasion, that there are differences of approach incorporated into the President’s OAS speech and that she is present to bring people up to date on Carter administration emphases and would like to hear people’s firsthand reactions to them.

5. The word “new” as in “new frontier,” “new deal” and “new dialogue” could be avoided at no cost to Mrs. Carter’s credibility. Many Latin American listeners are fully inclined to give us a fair hearing on how “new” things will manifest themselves. But many expressed themselves quite lucidly in their “okay-up-to-now-but-let’s-wait-and-see-what-happens” reaction to the OAS speech.

6. Mrs. Carter’s instincts are accurate in avoiding the “lady bountiful” image by down playing emphasis on children’s hospitals and other “women’s things”. The attempt to allow Mrs. Vance3 to show the flag in this fashion, so as not to offend the hosts, is a wise decision, we believe, though too much should not be expected of it since Mrs. Vance is not the star attraction.

7. We should not be deceived that there will be any reticence on the part of reporters, either foreign or domestic, to try to nail Mrs. Carter on just what sort of “substantive” things she is doing. I would expect the Latinos to be slightly more gentle about it than the touring Americans. The foreign press must be taken seriously. They are basically friendly and every attempt should be made to give them equitable treatment and access. Though they will sometimes make demands or requests which cannot be met, a special effort should be made to treat them fairly—they will repay this effort many times over. Despite the fact there are only 20 seats on Mrs. Carter’s plane, it must be realized that there is not an infrastructure of mass communications existing in Latin America except via the wire services for covering the trip. If there is to be radio, TV and film coverage of Mrs. Carter’s trip as a whole, [Page 146] rather than simply of the country being visited, USIA needs to be given an opportunity to provide it.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of the Director, Executive Secretariat, Secretariat Staff, Correspondence Files, 1973–1980, Entry P–104, Box 121, 7701670–7701679. No classification marking. Copies were sent to Einaudi, Pastor, Reinhardt, Bray, and Fraser. Reinhardt and Fraser initialed the memorandum, indicating that they saw it.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 38.
  3. Reference is to Grace Vance, who accompanied the First Lady on her trip.