Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration

Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration

Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration

Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration


Truth is the best propaganda

In March 1961, America's most prominent journalist, Edward R. Murrow, ended a quarter-century career with the Columbia Broadcasting System to join the administration of John F. Kennedy as director of the United States Information Agency (USIA). Charged with promoting a positive image abroad, the agency sponsored overseas research programs, produced documentaries, and operated the Voice of Americato spread the country's influence throughout the world. As director of the USIA, Murrow hired African Americans for top spots in the agency and leveraged his celebrity status at home to challenge all Americans to correct the scourge of domestic racism that discouraged developing countries, viewed as strategic assets, from aligning with the West. Using both overt and covert propaganda programs, Murrow forged a positive public image for Kennedy administration policies in an unsettled era that included, the rise of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and support for Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem. Murrow's Cold War tackles an understudied portion of Murrow's life, reveal one of America's most revered journalists improved the global perception of the United States, and exposes the importance of public diplomacy in the advancement of U.S. foreign policy.


It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so
much moving information or guidance or policy five or 10,000
miles. That is an electronic problem. the real art is to move it
the last three feet in face to face conversation.

—EDWARD R. murrow, August 4, 1963

Despite not being a lawyer himself, the representative of the John F. Kennedy presidential administration who addressed the Federal Bar Association on September 26, 1963, captured the undivided attention of its members. He could mesmerize almost any audience with his deep voice and melodious delivery, just as he had in describing the Blitz from London during the Second World War and the bullying tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) in 1954. Formerly the most recognizable journalist in America, Edward R. Murrow did not appear before them as a cbs reporter but, rather, as head of the United States Information Agency (USIA). His speech, one of the most eloquent from his three-year tenure as director, focused on the adverse impact of racism. He cautioned the assembly of attorneys that, within the context of the Cold War, the United States had become the most scrutinized nation on earth. “Ours is now the fishbowl world,” he explained, “where we become the focus of many men’s attention and curiosity.” With greater access to media coverage of American society and communist propaganda criticizing Western capitalism, foreign observers, particularly in the developing world, wondered . . .

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