Keeping the Public Informed
Today’s post is written by David Langbart.
Public comment about what is now called the lack of transparency about U.S. foreign policy is not a new phenomenon. The issue goes back to at least World War II, if not before. Recognizing that it needed to better inform the public about its activities, in 1948, the Department of State’s Office of Public Affairs issued informational guidance (reproduced below) on the steps it took to keep American citizens informed. This was for officials involved with public liaison activities to use in explaining matters to the public. In addition to enumerating the ways in which the Department made information available, most of which carry on today, the guidance also noted the reasons that information could not be made public. With one exception, the rationales for withholding information remain almost the same today. Only “Mechanical limitations” have largely gone by the wayside; the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web now make it possible to issue information almost immediately.
Surprisingly, one thing not mentioned in the list of informational products produced by the Department is the series Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). Published since 1861 and ongoing, FRUS is a selection of documents from the files of the Department of State, the White House, and other agencies that together provide an overview of U.S. foreign policy. By the late 1940s, the volumes were being published about 16 years after the events documented. Nonetheless, the documents published in the series provided (and continue to provide) the public with information about the historical antecedents to current U.S. foreign policy.
Source: Office of Public Affairs, Information Memorandum 19: INFORMATION ON FOREIGN POLICY, November 18, 1945, Information Memorandums, 1948-1952, Entry A1-1374, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.