Friday, October 30th 2015
During his term in office, President John F. Kennedy was vexed by leaks to the press on foreign policy issues. On November 8, 1963, Under Secretary of State George Ball (1909-1994) sent the President amemorandum and an insightful 8-page primer on how leaks occur and how to improve the Department’s dealing with the media. More than half a century later, the memorandum well expresses principles for the Department -- especially the Bureau of Public Affairs, public affairs advisors in the bureaus, and information officers at embassies.
. . . The duty to inform the press rests only with two kinds of officers – those who have direct responsibility for a program or policy, and Public Affairs officers.
-- Make sure your public affairs advisors and the Public Affairs Bureau know the facts. They should be fully, constantly briefed. They should know exactly what you are saying to reporters.
-- Saying that you don’t ‘trust’ your PAAs, or that they are not aggressive enough, is no excuse. If you feel that way, get better ones.
Looking back on my own career, I can recall times on the carpet in front of an Ambassador or Deputy Chief of Mission who were agitated by this or that article in the media. I would have quoted these two paragraphs from the September 13, 1963,memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Robert Manning (1919-2012) to Under Secretary Ball:
[O]ccasionally top officials of the government display a certain lack of reality about (a) the degree to which we can expect the day-to-day coverage of foreign policy to reflect only the assessments and characteristics that we believe are the correct ones, and (b) the degree to which we react to individual stories or pieces of speculation we do not like.
[I]n almost all instances where given stories or reports seem to raise serious problems for us, experience shows that a few hours or a few days later there was, in fact, no real cause for demonstrable concern. We too often allow ourselves to react when in fact the problem would disappear — or prove to have been non-existent — if we were to just relax and move on to other matters.
Hat tips: Diplopundit and State Department historian David Langbart.