The Buck Stops There
October 9, 1951 — Dorothy Thompson

The Mossadegh Project | October 12, 2017                            

U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

Famed journalist, author and broadcaster Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) criticized President Trumanís 1951 censorship order in her newspaper column On the Record.

ē Harry Truman media archive

Truman Always Blames Another


Famed journalist, author and broadcaster Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) The President has an unpleasant habit of pinning the boners of his administration on others and, if possible, on his political opponents.

His press conference a short time ago, devoted to attacking the irresponsibility of the press and especially of the slick magazines, is a case in point. Starting with the assertion that a survey made by Yale university revealed that 95 per cent of American military, including much that should have been top secret, has been openly published in this country, he blamed the editors and publishers for lack of patriotism.

Just how Yale university should be able to guess that 95 per cent of information has been made available to anyone who can read, including the Russians, was not made clear. Obviously, Yale could only make such an estimate if its researchers were in possession of all the secrets.

The President said the government intelligence services corroborated Yale. The inference is that if a university had not made the survey, no one, including government intelligence, would have done so.

We agree that some publications of this country spread knowledge of practically every weapon and every plan before the eyes of the whole world. This column has time and again commented on the appalling lack of prudence thus displayed.

We have said time and again almost exactly what the President said in his press conference: that a hostile foreign power could spare itself expensive spies if it would concentrate on studying, analyzing, and checking and counterchecking for accuracy, the information publicly available.

But where does the responsibility lie? Where does the press get the information? Who pushes them on to publish it, and pats them on the back when they do? The agencies, and especially the public relations counsellors of the government itself.

The President thinks the receivers of the information should use their own common sense, that patriotism should dictate whether or not they publish the information and that they should reject everything that does not come from responsible authorities. That amounts to saying that the press should censor itself, and this column recognizes considerable validity in the argument.

But, in the framework of government practice, the President is also asking the press to censor the governmentís information departments. And that is his business, not ours.

The magazine Fortune came in as a special illustration of lack of responsibility. It published maps showing the geographical location of every atomic plant in the United States. We agree that it is thoroughly irresponsible to publish maps of the most obvious targets in case of war.

But from where did Fortune get the maps? Did it send out reporter spies to locate and graph their position? Not at all. It got the information from the Atomic Energy Commission. It checked maps and the article back to the Atomic Energy Commission for accuracy.

The Atomic Energy Commission was so pleased that it ordered 500 copies of the article struck off for further distribution.

In short, Fortune performed a publicity service with which the Atomic Energy Commission cooperated, and, as far as I know, may even have inspired.

The Atomic Energy Commission, unlike the editors of Time, Life and Fortune, is appointed by the President. Was the Atomic Energy Commission ever instructed under no circumstances to furnish verbal or pictorial material that might serve the air forces of an enemy? If not, why not? Has anybody in the Atomic Energy Commission been fired? If not, why not?

It is also noticeable that the President, when criticizing the press, invariably picks out a publication hostile to his administration. Yet some of the worst leaks come through persons who have tracks to the administration by reason of being useful mouthpieces.

On a much more serious level, the Presidentís argument recalls his indignation at the music critic who indicated that [his daughter] Miss Margaret Trumanís voice and singing technique left much to be desired.

Then it was not the voice that was at fault but the critic. Now it is not the publicity-seeking government agencies but the press which takes their stuff.

Itís always somebody elseís fault.

Impeach Truman | Chicago Tribuneís front page editorial (1951)
Impeach Truman | Chicago Tribune editorial (April 12, 1951)


Related links:

Mr. Truman Exposes His Own Flaws | Spokane Daily Chronicle (Dec. 1951)

Trumanís Censorship Order Can Be Menace to FreedomOwosso Argus-Press, Sept. 1951

Dizzy Performance | The New London Day, October 6, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — ďIf I sit silently, I have sinnedĒ

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