Even during World War II, leaders knew the importance of information to winning hearts and minds. The role of information was fundamental to wartime success, and very different than the traditional means like military, diplomacy and economic measures like sanctions.
Leaders knew the US would need a peacetime information service after the end of the war. At the time, most people understood that information suppression indeed contributed to the outbreak of wars. Even in World War I, the US media complained about nationalist news agencies like Reuters out of Great Britain controlling news content and deciding what would be disseminated across borders. This got even worse during WWII.
A bill was originally introduced in 1945. It called for the “complete absence of censorship” and removal of discrimination in communications to contribute to the knowledge of all peoples. The bill writers also wanted to nullify the effect of false propaganda to remove misunderstandings among nations as to prevent future wars. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman at the time went so far as to recommend that a “freedom to listen” be added to FDR’s Four Freedoms: freedome of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to worship.
After two years of Congressional shenanigans, executive orders and various political moves, the Smith-Mundt Act was finally signed by President Truman. The big motivation? Truman viewed the bill as a necessary way to counteract the growing Communist propaganda that was rewriting history.
One of the main provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 mandates that the media report honestly, especially to the American people and it also prohibited the government from creating domestic propaganda of any kind. (In the original law, leaders left in a provision to be able to use propaganda in foreign audiences, as deemed necessary during wartime).
At its heart, the Smith-Mundt Act empowered America to combat intentional disinformation and misinformation. Ironically, our country is now a victim to these things. How did we get here?
We can thank Obama for this. He created the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which allowed the media to basically create rather than report the news. He made it legal for them to create the narrative and biased fake news. Basically, the new law institutionalized America’s communications and therefore its cultural programming. Congress was complicit because they passed it with very little resistance. It became public law on January 2, 2013. Since then, we’ve had a decade of propaganda used against us.
My information is sourced from the Library of Congress. The new law gave the Secretary of State the ability to prepare and disseminate information intended for foreign audiences to be made available in the US. The law authorizes the use of propaganda domestically, as long as at least one non-US-citizen will receive the given communication. With our open southern border, that’s not hard to accomplish. It is amazing how incredibly sneaky and deceptive this move is.
They covered every form of media: publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, social media, information centers and instructors, and of course, the press. Shockingly, the law also removed statutory limitations on the ability of the State Department to provide information about their activities to the media, the public, or Congress: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication.”
Who is the Broadcast Board of Governors, you ask? The Board comprised nine members with media expertise. Eight members were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The ninth member was the Secretary of State (SoS). And who was Obama’s SoS? Hillary Clinton. How convenient.
During the time Obama modernized the 1948 Act, Dana Perino of Fox News was on the board, but left the board the day before the bill became law. John Kerry started serving one month after the law was enacted, and served until Jan 20, 2017, Trump’s inauguration day.
The board disbanded in June 2020 and instead a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed CEO runs the group, now called the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Amanda Bennett is the current CEO. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and investigative journalist, and former Executive Editor of Bloomberg News. Bennett just testified to the US Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development. Bennett described USAGM: “Our agency provides accurate, objective, and professional news and information to parts of the world that do not have a free and open press. As a journalist by training, I often explain our mission by saying we export the First Amendment.”
Who reports to Bennett? The directors of six main entities are organized under USAGM and report directly to Bennett: Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The programming of these five entities is viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. This is the programming that the original Smith-Mundt Act restricted from domestic distribution because “such propaganda should be kept out of America as to distinguish the US from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity.”
The sixth entity under Bennett’s helm is the Open Technology Fund (OTF), newly minted in 2020. Its mission is to “advance internet freedom in repressive environments”. The OTF funds the development of multi-year “internet freedom technologies” from proof-of-concept to deployment. “This approach ensures that USAGM journalists and audiences have the tools they need right now to safely access the uncensored internet, while investing in innovative solutions to stay ahead of evolving censorship threats.” Really? And sentences like this make me cringe: “In order to provide comprehensive support to internet freedom projects, OTF provides resources through a variety of implementation mechanisms.” A variety of mechanisms….hmmmm.
At this point, it’s appropriate to ask a question: Did you know that the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act also allows the creation of media outlets that can legally operate as government fronts? Perhaps this explains why the love fest between Obama and the media turned to bitter hatred of Trump. Does that mean that news anchors could officially be CIA operatives? The BBG entities have been criticized abroad for advancing US interests in more subtle ways than outright blatant propaganda. By the way, Smith-Mundt Modernization passed as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and went into effect July 2, 2013.
The reality is that the original 1948 law was crafted to empower people at the expense of governments. The 2012 modification of that law is the undoing of that intent. Our media is now free to lie to us, change the subject, and make good policy appear bad. But get over it, because it’s legal.
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Fed Up Texas Chick is a contributing writer for The Tenpenny Report. She’s a rocket scientist turned writer, having worked in the space program for many years. She is a seasoned medical writer and researcher who is fighting for medical freedom for all of us through her work.