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[] Fwd: Miller Russell on Bernhard,_U.S. Television News and Cold War Pr opaganda 1947-1960_,

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    Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2002 16:27:59 -0500
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 Subject: Miller Russell on Bernhard,              _U.S. Television News and 
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------------ JHISTORY BOOK REVIEW ------------

Published by Jhistory (October 2002)

Nancy E. Bernhard, _U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda,
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 256 pp. $75.00 (hardcover),
ISBN: 0521594154.

Reviewed for Jhistory by Karen Miller Russell, University of Georgia
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Nancy E. Bernhard tells a story of "a partnership between government
information officers and network news producers to report and sell the Cold
War to the American public" (p. 2), focusing on the dynamics of information
production rather than evaluating whether this partnership succeeded. Her
thesis is that "Capitalism, with its complex and sometimes contradictory
impulses, set limits on the range of debate about political issues, selected
the voices that would have legitimacy in national debates, and established
standards for news reporting that fundamentally shaped the way Americans
came to understand the world struggle" (p. 1). This study suffers from
several problems that have long plagued propaganda research, yet it offers a
new look at both television and government information programs and as such
deserves the attention of communication scholars.

Bernhard, of the Massachusetts School of Law, makes her case in seven
chapters. The first two provide background on World War II propaganda and
early television history. She argues that World War II government
information agencies were seen as a necessary evil, with information
management moving from the private sector (such as the War Advertising
Council) to the state when free enterprise proved inadequate to coordinating
the vast output of information needed for national security policy. By 1948,
she asserts, the federal departments of state and defense, as well as
Congress and the networks, agreed that the United States needed to manage
international information. Ironically, though, the rhetoric of free
enterprise was maintained, with the superiority of the American system
touted in contrast to the Soviet Union's state control of media. Bernhard
also argues that during the early years of television's rapid growth,
anticommunism came to be seen as a form of public service. Anticommunist
organizers targeted television, assuming it was in danger of being
manipulated by leftists, leading to blacklisting and loyalty oaths
administered to network employees. The networks claimed to submit to or
undertake such activities for business reasons, not political ones, and
defended themselves by saying that they were not renouncing the First

The remaining chapters analyze government and broadcast industry strategies
in Cold War information dissemination. A significant flaw is that Bernhard
does not analyze local or television news broadcasts, nor does she explain
how public affairs programs were selected for inclusion in the book. (Did
she analyze only programs that were based on government information
services? Were all public affairs programs developed with federal
assistance?) However, the analyses of the programs that are included are
thorough and insightful. Chapter Three reviews State Department information
programs from 1947 to 1953. Bernhard concludes that the department succeeded
in selling Cold War policies, even though the public lacked trust in
officials who were blamed for "losing" China, for Soviet development of the
atomic bomb and the war in Korea, and even for hiring and protecting
"subversives," as Senator Joseph McCarthy charged. State's public affairs
office was faced with a double challenge. Bernhard points out that it was
charged with both foreign and domestic duties even though the Smith-Mundt
Act placed limits on domestic propaganda. State therefore had to try to
present itself as both a truthful, democratic information agency at home and
as a forceful anticommunist weapon in the Cold War abroad. Until 1950, she
explains, the office usually waited for media requests for assistance. But
after McCarthy accused the department of harboring communists and the
fighting broke out in Korea, State went on the offensive. For example, it
loaned to broadcasters films that had been produced for use in countries
receiving U.S. aid. But their effectiveness was limited, because
broadcasters were looking for cheap programming to run during little-watched
portions of the schedule, and the films ran with a disclaimer that they were
produced by the government. State also controlled information by lending
assistance, access to personnel and contacts abroad, and film archives at
home to some, but not all, independent production companies. The department
grew even more aggressive when the Economic Cooperation Administration (the
State bureau that administered the Marshall Plan) produced a series based on
old films re-edited to fit a 30-minute format, promoting militarization. It
ran from June 1950 to February 1953 on 13 ABC stations, but again, it was
not a popular show and even the State Department wanted it off the air. The
author says that as networks grew more sophisticated and obtained better
sponsors, government films became less attractive. CBS, for example, tried a
new format during the 1950 summer hiatus, a program that imitated a
department briefing session with actual State officials-even Dean Acheson
appeared once. Despite all such efforts, Bernhard reports, according to
polls most Americans trusted individual U.S. foreign policies, but not the
overall foreign policy of the United States, and not most Truman
administration officials. Public affairs officials sold the policies, but
not themselves.

In Chapter Four, Bernhard turns to Korea. Television "rallied to the cause
of the Korean War in unprecedented ways," she writes (p. 94). When the
police action began, broadcasters feared that the FCC would freeze new
licenses, that there would be a shortage of television parts, that
advertising would flee to radio where people would turn for their news, that
in short the war would interfere with business. They chose to try to avoid
regulation by forming advisory committees, such as the Broadcast Industry
Council, organized by the National Association of Broadcasters, to solve
problems without government intervention. A number of groups, including the
NAB and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, recommended guidelines
for voluntary censorship based on World War II experiences, leaving
responsibility to individual reporters. But the television networks resorted
to self-censorship in Korea. CBS, for instance, killed an Edward R. Murrow
story that was negative about the U.S. war effort because the network
believed it violated General MacArthur's prohibition on stories that
criticized command decisions and because it could be perceived as providing
comfort-and propaganda fodder-to the enemy. (This episode offers tantalizing
evidence that not all network news broadcasters were supportive of all
government policies.) Moreover, the NAB's board agreed regularly to publish
a "Defense Bulletin" containing information that all government agencies
wanted publicized as well as suggestions for public service announcement and
other activities. Although this publication never really took hold, it
demonstrates TV's willingness to cooperate with government officials in the
war effort. Broadcasters also gave free airtime to senior officials, and the
government gave them exclusive information. An official wartime information
agency was unneeded, Bernhard concludes, when media corporations so
willingly volunteered to disseminate domestic propaganda formulated by the

Chapter Five takes a close-up view of "Battle Report-Washington," an NBC
program produced in the White House with Truman administration officials.
The Korean war gave TV news a chance to prove itself with special war news
programs, which, Bernhard asserts, were not objective but patriotic. NBC
provided technical support, while government public information officers
prepared the scripts and procured both stock footage and news footage shot
specifically for the show. The network was praised for this "public service"
effort, which lasted for over two years, but it was also criticized,
especially by Republicans, for its partisanship. Perhaps not surprisingly,
the biggest challenge was keeping the audience tuned in. NBC demanded that
top officials should appear, and it created the first overseas network
camera crew-which toured not Korea, but Europe-in its effort to create
interest. But when the network shopped the program around in 1951, it could
not find a sponsor. "Battle Report" was cancelled in 1952.

Department of Defense domestic information programs from 1948 to 1960 are
the subject of Chapter Six. DOD information management was not scrutinized
or attacked in the way that State Department information was; Defense was
not so steeped in controversy, at least not prior to the Vietnam War.
Bernhard believes that Defense adapted better than any other government
agency to the changing demands of commercial television. In 1949 the
department formed a public information office, which included a
radio-television branch. In return for free airtime, Defense provided free
programming from the Army Signal Corps, public affairs announcements,
archival footage, and personnel to appear on discussion programs. The office
even arranged for naval maneuvers to be performed for network cameras. But
the author shows that over time the networks had increasing power in their
relationship with Defense. Greater resources and growing technical
sophistication led television to demand more from the government. Early
collaborations included public affairs programs about military operations
and performances by military bands; by the 1950s the networks were
televising live atom bomb tests from Nevada. DOD programs during the 12-year
period under study included "The Armed Forces Hour," on NBC and then DuMont;
"The Big Picture," which began on CBS and eventually aired on 366 stations
on all the networks; "Crusade in Europe," a 26-episode, Peabody
Award-winning series based on Dwight D. Eisenhower's book, followed by
"Crusade in the Pacific"; "Victory at Sea," another Peabody Award winner;
"Air Power," a CBS program narrated by Walter Cronkite; and many others. But
the DOD, unlike State, determined that drama was more effective than
documentary in motivating Americans against communism. Its first successful
dramatic television series, "Navy Log," ran from 1955 to 1958, with episodes
based on factual events such as rescues and sacrifices. The Navy supplied
frogmen, crashed planes, and ran strafing runs just for the program. Other
series-"The West Point Story," "O.S.S.," and "Steve Canyon"-followed as
Defense saw a growing demand for popular and lucrative programming. "Cold
War propaganda grew increasingly naturalized," Bernhard concludes, "first as
news, and more effectively as entertainment as the 1950s progressed" (p.
154). By implication, then, DOD news programming was not considered

Finally, Chapter Seven examines the concept of news objectivity. Cold War
objectivity, Bernhard finds, was grounded in fervent anticommunism. Although
this subject has been studied before, particularly in regard to McCarthyism,
Bernhard offers something new by looking at television, which, she says, had
a range of responses. CBS's William Paley, for example, said that fair and
objective reporters were the only protection against government encroachment
on the marketplace of ideas. Yet in the same speech he also said that not
all people, institutions, and ideas served democracy and therefore should
not be upheld. Tension between objectivity and anticommunism could be seen
elsewhere. An extensive review of NBC's "Meet the Press" shows that this
influential program purported to represent the entire political spectrum in
its panel of reporters, but neither its host, Lawrence Spivak, nor anyone
else seemed to view anticommunism as an ideology. For example, when Joe
McCarthy appeared on "Meet the Press," the panelists pressed him on his
facts, but they all endorsed his intentions. Yet the program won awards for
news reporting and public service. "Vigorous anticommunism became consistent
with objectivity through the bipolar world view of the Cold War," the author
writes (p. 165).

Bernhard concludes that both government and industry officials knew they
were violating the precepts of a free and independent press in their Cold
War information dissemination, but they justified it as a necessary
patriotic duty. This was no conspiracy, simply a "sense of national
righteousness" caused by "the requirements of sustaining vast military,
political and economic power" that overwhelmed simple facts (p. 179). An
example was the civil war in Greece, in which high-profile U.S. foreign
policy journalists sided fully with the requirements of national security,
even covering up the facts when a CBS reporter was killed there. Reporters
also gave information to the Central Intelligence Agency, participated in
covert operations, and gave press credentials to CIA operatives. "The
rhetoric of corporate volunteerism masks the degree to which federal
officials have been able to control the flow of news," Bernhard writes.
"Television helped to create a political culture where political power and
legitimacy derived from proximity to federal power" (pp. 187-88).
Additionally, she argues, by seeking the widest possible audience,
television caters to the lowest common denominator, and it failed to protect
the minority during the Cold War. Although broadcasters deny that
information is politicized by the structure of the news industry, she
concludes, television confuses the prerogatives of capitalism with the
processes of democracy.

The book has many strengths. The author presents a clear thesis at the
beginning of the book and at the beginning of each chapter, and the evidence
she presents in support of her interpretations is engaging and new to
propaganda scholarship. Drawing on a combination of scripts and surviving
footage of programs, she clearly demonstrates that objectivity meant
anticommunism for Cold War broadcasters, thereby adding to the literature
that reveals objectivity as a social construct. Bernhard also makes a strong
case that not all media are alike, demonstrating the differences between
print and television news, as when the Associated Press vociferously fought
the government information programs that TV accepted. Finally, the author is
adept at including background that provides necessary context for
understanding the production of information. The discussion of Department of
Defense films, for example, is preceded by a brief explanation of how the
DOD was formed with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947;
likewise, differences between DOD and State Department propaganda efforts
are described and explained.

On the other hand, the book has three problems that are common to the study
of propaganda. Although Bernhard clearly intends to focus on information
production, it is often difficult for her to avoid discussing effects. Many
studies of propaganda assume it to be effective-if it were not, it would
hardly be worthy of study-and, although the author seems to try to avoid
this tendency, it does at times emerge. She often mentions ratings, for
instance (which were almost always bad), and sometimes makes assumptions
about effects, including a reference to "the public's unquestioning
acceptance of these programs" (p. 46)-a claim which may be true, but which
the author presents no evidence to support. It is possible that the
government-media partnerships she describes were persuasive, or that they
influenced the content in more popular programs that were persuasive. This
area deserves further research. Second, Bernhard, like many other propaganda
scholars, never actually defines propaganda, never explains what makes a
message propaganda versus information, education, publicity, or even just
communication. She and others seem to assume that, like pornography, we all
know propaganda when we see it. Yet a democratic government has at least
some degree of responsibility to inform its constituents about its policies
and activities. Bernhard acknowledges that the line between advertising, PR,
and propaganda is "rather blurred" (p. 178), but then does nothing to
delineate the boundaries between them. Third, Bernhard, like other
propaganda scholars, occasionally examines her topic in a vacuum. In
claiming, for example, "Television helped to create a political culture
where political power and legitimacy derived from proximity to federal
power," she fails to demonstrate that that culture developed after the
invention of television. Moreover, while acknowledging that other factors
existed, she fails even to name them.

Still, this book clearly outlines how market forces shaped TV coverage
during the Cold War as networks showed less interest in films, sought
original programming, and demanded top officials' appearances to boost
ratings, and it explains why government officials preferred to maintain at
least the image of a free press. In short, Bernhard fulfills her promise to
describe the public-private partnership in the production of at least some
Cold War television news programming-specifically, certain public affairs
programs. But she is not ultimately convincing in her claim that capitalism
"set limits on the range of debate about political issues, selected the
voices that would have legitimacy in national debates, and established
standards for news reporting that fundamentally shaped the way Americans
came to understand the world struggle," because the programs described were
only a small part of the available range of news media presentation.
Capitalism did influence the programs she analyzed. But without examining
local and television news broadcasts, and without providing an explanation
of how public affairs programs were selected for inclusion in her study,
Bernhard cannot make claims about television news in general.

Karen Miller Russell is Associate Professor of Advertising and Public
Relations in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass
Communication, The University of Georgia. She is the author of the
award-winning book,_The Voice of Business: Hill & Knowlton and Postwar
Public Relations_ (1999) and numerous journal articles, encyclopedia
articles, and conference papers on PR history. She was the winner of the
2001 Pathfinder Award from the Institute for Public Relations, and the 1995
Nafziger-White Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication.

Copyright (c) 2002 by JHistory. All rights reserved. This work may be copied
for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and
the list. For other permission related to JHistory book reviews, please
contact the JHistory book reviews editor, Dr. Dane S. Claussen
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by JHistory (October 2002).
------------ FOOTER TO JHISTORY BOOK REVIEW ------------

David T. Z. Mindich
Chair, Associate Professor
Journalism and Mass Communication
Saint Michael's College
Colchester, VT 05439
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