Truman Should Back Up in a Hurry

Robert Ruark on the Perils of Censorship (1951)

The Mossadegh Project | May 9, 2018                    

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

In his syndicated newspaper column, Robert C. Ruark (1915-1965) weighed in on President Harry Truman’s recent press censorship order.

Harry Truman editorial archive
Harry Truman letters, speeches, etc.

October 2, 1951

By Robert C. Ruark

Writer Robert C. Ruark (1915-1965) NEW YORK—It is known that Harry Truman is a stubborn man, and it is known that at times he has shown himself something less than brilliant, and it is known that he dislikes criticism, especially when it is administered by the press. But he is not entirely a fool, and I hope he shows a minor flash of intelligence by rescinding his latest fluff. That would be the executive order allowing the right of censorship to the head of each governmental department.

It sounds more innocuous than it is. It just says that each department head will have the right to “classify” all pertinent information, under the guise of security. That means burying facts, hiding stenches, refusing information that might be of public importance. It is the most powerful weapon I know, this censorship, and in the hands of petty men, working for a big boss, it wrecks a country quicker than any other totalitarian device.

In final boil-down, the president has just ordered, in effect, that one man—himself—may be declared judge of what the country needs to know. I don’t think the boy’s that good at his business, for a start, and even if he were a parlay between Einstein and the Angel Gabriel I wouldn’t want an arbitrary limitation on what you can and can’t write. The next step is the jailhouse for people who disagree with policy, in print.

With the president’s order in effect, the current lovely stench that floats from Washington concerning his pal Boyle [DNC Chairman William Boyle] and the Lithofold Corp. and the RFC [Reconstruction Finance Corporation] would, certainly be “classified” information, on the grounds that it is much too rich for the voter’s blood. I expect Gen. Vaughan and the food freezers would be regarded as rather too secret for public dissemination. [General Harry H. Vaughan, pal and Military Aide to Truman as Vice-President and President, 1945-1953] I know that the State Department would be inclined to discourage any pertinent information on why Bill O’Dwyer, that broth of a bye, was whisked out of New York and into an ambassadorship when the corruption heat started. [Disgraced NYC Mayor William O’Dwyer, appointed Ambassador to Mexico by Truman in 1950]

The chief reason I hate any censorship, implied or otherwise, is that I was a censor at one time, when war censorship was partially necessary, but not to the degree to which it was applied. You give a small man a blue pencil and a safe to hide things in and you have bought yourself a junior-grade dictator. During the war I saw censorship practiced to gratify personal spites. I saw news withheld for no reason save guile and or stupidity. I saw it violated callously and the violators went free if their connections were right.

Security is a word that can be mishandled about as fully as any known noun. If it reflects discredit on the subject, all of a sudden it is security. If it fails to praise, and tends to embarrass—bingo! Security. In the last war we had enough regulations in the card file to cripple any zealous reporter into incoherence—and to run him out of the theater—if he made a snide, if honest, remark about any of the higher brass. I think we called it, roughly, anything that tended to cast a shade on the morale of our troops or jeopardized our relations with our gallant allies. It was a blank check, blanket indictment, ever ready for use.

Lord knows it is hard enough to keep a Government honest—as the Truman regime has amply shown—even when your press is free and they can’t slap an irreverent in the clink for kicking and snorting occasionally. But give the same government the weapon of over-all censorship and the concentration camp is just around the corner. You find a stranger playing your linotypes, as in the case of La Prensa in Argentina, and a polite sentry informs you that the government has “expropriated” your paper because you didn’t say nice lies about said government. Expropriated means hijacked.

Haul in your horns on this one, Harry. You made no friends among the press, and, remember, election time is just over the hill.

Alternate headlines:

The Censorship Order Truman’s Latest Fluff
Grim Results Are Seen If “Censorship” Sticks
Censorship Can Neutralize Stench from Washington


Related links:

Dizzy Performance | The New London Day, Oct. 6, 1951

After the Horse Is Stolen | The Times Record, Dec. 19, 1951

Truman Always Blames Another | Dorothy Thompson (Oct. 1951)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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