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Truman, Big Brass Plot to Impose
Militarist Censorship on Press

(15 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 11, 15 March 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The iron boot of militarist censorship and suppression is poised over freedom of the press in America.

So drastic and far-reaching are plans of the military authorities for control of the press that even some publishers are alarmed:

In a four-article series entitled The Problem of Secrecy (N.Y. Times, March 3, 5, 6 and 7), Hanson W. Baldwin, commentator on military affairs for the N.Y. Times, reveals that suppression of news, intimidation and harassment of reporters and publishers, and censorship for alleged “military security” is already far advanced.

Complete Blackout

He discloses that the Big Brass and the Truman administration are building up a system of news censorship that would in a short time impose a complete blackout on any information or criticism they did not want published.

There have been “months of behind-the-scenes discussions and considerable pressure by some Government officials, particularly some in the National Military Establishment, to control the military, semimilitary and even politico-military information published in this country,” Baldwin reports. These officials “are plainly impatient with public criticism and would like to devise some system by which the press could be better ‘controlled’.”

This pressure, he adds, “has also come from the White House.”

The first “considerable anxiety” felt about the military threat to press freedom, says Baldwin, was last Fall “when it became known that the Security Advisory Board of the State Department-Army-Navy-Air Force Coordinating Committee had proposed to ‘classify’ and to ban from public disclosure even information that might cause ‘serious administrative embarrassment’.”

Such censorship, Baldwin points out, could “provide a cloak to hide” any inefficient and even criminal conduct of government and military officials, such as the case of Maj. Gen. Bennett E. Meyers.

Protest against this proposal was “so vocal” that the Security Advisory Board revised its definition of. “classified” and “secret” information by rewording some of the cruder formulas. But it still defines as “secret” any information that would cause “unwarranted injury to an individual.” This, says Baldwin, could obviously be used “to protect Government officials from criticism.”

In addition to the extensive system of “classified” information, reports Baldwin, there are many other methods of censorship and suppression now being practiced. He cites, for instance, the repeated complaints of censorship of correspondents in Japan by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Recently, MacArthur refused to reaccredit to his command area the Newsweek correspondent, Compton Pakenham, because he showed “marked antipathy toward American policy and American personnel in the occupation zone.” Some correspondents “have been subjected to threats and grilling; the home of one man was searched by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Department.” The “MacArthur precedent,” says Baldwin, “has now been extended to Europe.”

A United Press correspondent, Robert Miller, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, “learned that King Ibn Saud, with the full cooperation, and perhaps at the instigation of the United States Army, State Department and oil company officials, had banned all American newspaper correspondents from his country.”

In another case, an interview with Charles F. Wennerstrum, who presided over the recent trial of Nazis in Frankfurt, was subject to harsh attack before it was even published in the Chicago Tribune. “Obviously, some Army source read the dispatch before or during its transmission ... despite the fact that wire communications are supposed to be inviolable,” says Baldwin. He adds: “This sort of ‘censorship by surveillance’ or by threat was practiced extensively before the war in Nazi Germany.”

Grilled by FBI

Robert H. Wood, editor of Aviation Week, a McGraw-Hill publication, has been grilled repeatedly by FBI agents for publishing a story, well-known outside of Air Force circles, about the supersonic speed of the Bell XS-1, modeled on a captured Nazi design. The Russians had also captured the design, so anything Aviation Week published was not news to them.

What is serious about this case, Baldwin points out, is that the Air Force secured the aid of the Department of Justice and FBI for a “punitive and threatening measure” to force a publication to disclose the source of its information “and presumably to impress and overawe it.” This case, further, is being used as an argument for legislation to “give the Government the legal club needed to restrict the flow of news to what it considered desirable.”

A bill has been prepared with terms “so broad – it defines as a criminal offense, for instance, the transmission of any ‘information’ concerning the national defense ‘to any person not entitled to receive it’ – that it could be used, and undoubtedly would be used, in the light of past experience, to limit the legitimate information media of the country.”

But, as Baldwin shows, the military aren’t even waiting to get their censorship system legalized.

On March 3, representatives of the big newspapers, magazines and publishing houses conferred with Secretary of Defense Forrestal and proposed a system of “voluntary censorship” as a means of avoiding direct censorship.

This “voluntary censorship,” says Baldwin, “might well turn out more theoretical than real.” Any publication that printed information the government wanted withheld would be “subjected to all sorts of government pressure; its sources of information might be closed up: it would probably be called ‘unpatriotic,’ etc.” Even “voluntary censorship,” he says, can be used “as a powerful restraining influence on the flow of information.”

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