Academic journal article Journalism History

Kenney's Amerika

Academic journal article Journalism History

Kenney's Amerika

Article excerpt

In a 1961 photographic retrospective of its previous five years in publication, the United States Information Agency's Russian-language magazine Amerika told its Soviet readers, "Everything is young; everything is still growing-America!"1 A Technicolor Moses stretched his arms across two pages, embracing both carloving Angelinos at the drive-in and a brilliant sunset. Elsewhere American children argued, ran, laughed, and beat on bass drums in the presence of artists and scientists who appeared to appreciate their exuberance. At points the content veered near the banality of a "land of contrasts" travelogue but at its best communicated a sense of the national sublime. The two-page closing spread hit that mark, but it also must have left Soviet readers puzzled as to the how America's transcendent ambitions might affect them. The nuclear-powered submarine Nautilus surfaced in the upper left; below it John F. Kennedy and the first lady, Jacqueline, read to their daughter Caroline, and opposite a giant infant reached upward toward its laughing mother.2

Juxtaposing nuclear submarines, the presidency, and motherhood was one signal that the Kennedy administration had initiated a significant shift in Amerikas editorial policy and the larger USIA message. The Buicks, small towns, and kitchen appliances that the USIA under President Dwight Eisenhower had credited as evidence of the justness of America's foreign policies had been replaced by something grander. As Kennedy's USIA director Edward R. Murrow reminded an audience of university administrators in 1962, "[I]t is as a revolutionary power that much of the world has looked upon us," and, the director continued, it was a revolutionary power that the United States must remain if it was to see the Cold War to a successful conclusion.3 Scholars writing on the USIA generally and Amerika in particular have focused on the Truman and Eisenhower years as formative for American Cold War propaganda, implicitly arguing that the template for how the United States conducted information wars was set by 1961.4 Nicholas Cull's excellent work covering the entire history of the USIA puts the contributions of the Kennedy-Murrow tenure in context, but Cull is more concerned with the USIA message to the developing world in the 1960s than he is with Amerika's more concentrated message to the Soviet Union.5 This paper contends that by examining the changes in Amerika, which addressed perhaps the most significant Cold War audience, one can identify how Kennedy and Murrow added to, reoriented, and, in parts, repudiated the propaganda of the Truman-Eisenhower era in ways that proved more idealistic and more aggressive.

Under Kennedy's and Murrow's direction, the USIA's presentation of America's global mission and its revolutionary implications ecoed those of the nineteenth century transcendentalists. Publications such as Amerika expressed a sincere belief that the United States possessed an exceptional national identity and that the exercise of American power increased human liberty. As Ralph Waldo Emerson had in the 1840s, those crafting America's propaganda in the early 1960s celebrated a vital American power that not only offered a path toward modernity but also transcended the contradictions of modern life. As American propaganda emphasized abundance less, it become more provocative. With Amerika, the USIA carried this bold rebranding of the United States directly to a Soviet audience with President Kennedy serving as national logo.

The Kennedy-Murrow redirection did not originate wholly from within the White House but rather took many cues and most of its content from American domestic media. Amerika had long culled the majority of its content and art from popular American weeklies and monthlies. Strikingly, American propaganda in the early 1960s in particular drew on the mass society critique that had preoccupied American intellectuals and artists since the late 1940s but that had more recently become a feature of mainstream journalism and advertising. …

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