Richard Stengel, a former high-level U.S. government official, head of the office for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department from 2013 to 2016, former editor of Time Magazine, and a regular pundit on MSNBC, said in April at a Council on Foreign Relations forum about “fake news” that he supports the use of propaganda on American citizens.
“Basically, every country creates their own narrative story and, you know, my old job at the State Department was what people used to joke as the ‘chief propagandist’ job,” Stengel said.
“Propaganda — I’m not against propaganda,” he added. “Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population, and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”
Keep in mind that in 2013 Congress passed legislation allowing the federal government to fund and create propaganda they knew could be used to manipulate Americans on American soil. This legislation was called The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, sponsored by Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, that failed in 2011 when it was submitted on its own.
But in 2013 Thornberry and his co-sponsors buried this legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, and it was surreptitiously passed.
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act overturned a prohibition against domestic propaganda that had been in place since 1948. This act was passed as a result of a series of events in American history that drew the concern of those who wanted to secure a free news media and the freedom of speech of the American people.
The concern began when President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information through an executive order with the purpose of influencing American public opinion toward supporting U.S. involvement in World War I. The man appointed to be the chairman over this committee was George Creel, a renowned investigative journalist and editor of the Rocky Mountain News.
In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt established the United States Office of War Information by executive order to “truthfully inform” the American people about the government’s efforts in World War II. FDR appointed Elmer Davis, a well-known CBS News analyst, as director of OWI.
Davis’ job was to coordinate information from the military and mobilize public support of the war. OWI was to create an avenue for the government to develop and disseminate the information that it believed the American people needed to know about the war.
“Our job at home is to give the American people the fullest possible understanding of what this war is about …not only to tell the American people how the war is going, but where it is going and where it came from,” Davis said.
In 1946, Rep. Sol Bloom, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to grant the secretary of state the power to give monetary, service or property grants to nonprofit public and private corporations to prepare and disseminate informational materials. Although this act was intended to disseminate information abroad, there were no limitations to keep it from being used upon the American people — and opposition began to form.
After having lived through two regimes of government propaganda and having seen the effects of such government propaganda machines as Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Congress decided this was not something in which it wanted to engage. The Bloom Bill passed the house but failed in the Senate.
An AP release at the time stated, “(G)overnment cannot engage in news casting without creating the fear of propaganda which necessarily would reflect the objectivity of the news services from which such news casts are prepared.”
In 1948, the Smith-Mundt Act was passed with three key limitations on the government. The first and most well-known restriction was a prohibition on domestic dissemination of materials intended for foreign audiences by the State Department. This restriction has been supported by the courts even in the face of Freedom of Information Act challenges. In 1996, the federal district court in Washington, D.C., decided that the material under the Smith-Mundt Act was not to be made available under that act, applying FOIA’s Exemption 3, which exempted from release some material created under laws passed prior to FOIA, to block public access to this information.
The Smith-Mundt Act is now found in 22 USC 1461-1a, Ban on Domestic Activities by United States Information Agency, because the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act changed all of that.
This act does several very destructive things. First, it puts the President’s Board of Broadcasting Governors on the same level of authority as the secretary of state. The board is an independent government agency whose members are appointed by the president and whose sole function is to create American propaganda and disseminate this propaganda abroad.
The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 created a limitation on the release of such propaganda in the United States. Even if and when such propaganda was requested, it was not to be released until 12 years after its publication. This was an additional protection established so that this government-created information could not be used to influence current American public opinion.
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act eliminated that protection. In fact, it not only legitimized the heinous manipulation of mainstream media, but also allowed Congress to fund it with taxpayer dollars.
In 2011, I wrote a detailed analysis of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and its potential dangers. In spite of our concerns, many congressmen were adamant that this legislation would not be used to spend tax dollars to create propaganda to be used domestically. They told us it would just be used to create propaganda on foreign soil — nothing to worry about.
Six years later, a former State Department official under President Barack Obama has apparently admitted that he created and disseminated domestic propaganda — and believes it’s the right thing to do.
We don’t need to be concerned, right? I’m sure they are just trying to keep us safe.
KrisAnne Hall is a national speaker and consultant on the Constitution, founder of Liberty First University, former Russian linguist for the U.S. Army, and former prosecutor for the State of Florida. She also practiced First Amendment law for a prominent national nonprofit law firm. KrisAnne now travels the country teaching the foundational principles of liberty and our constitutional republic. KrisAnne Hall is the author of six books on the Constitution and Bill of Rights and has an internationally popular radio presence. Her books and classes have been featured on C-SPAN TV. KrisAnne Hall can be found at www.KrisAnneHall.com.
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