The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2017
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Bay of Pigs fiasco; construction

of the Berlin Wall; the Cuban

Missile Crisis; nuclear testing

and arms control; and the

Vietnam War.

Tomlin’s take on each

policy, and on USIA’s effec-

tiveness in selling the U.S.

line under Murrow’s leader-

ship, is tough but fair. For

example, despite the good

intentions underlying the

Alliance for Progress, he considers it a

noble failure.

Tomlin faces a stiff challenge in dis-

cussing the Cuban Missile Crisis: Mur-

row was seriously ill in October 1962

with what was diagnosed as pneumo-

nia at the time, but was very likely the

lung cancer that would force the heavy

smoker to resign in early 1964 and kill

him the next year.

Deftly working around that obstacle,

Tomlin shows how well the bureaucratic

and journalistic structures Murrow

had established at 1776 Pennsylvania

Avenue Northwest (USIA’s symbolically

rich street address) functioned during

the crisis, even in his absence.

Two other chapters examine USIA’s

domestic operations. The first, “Mr.

Murrow Goes to Hollywood,” docu-

ments Murrow’s campaign to entice

the film and television industries to

collaborate more closely with Uncle

Sam. (As Murrow commented in 1962,

“I don’t mind being called a propa-

gandist, so long as the propaganda is

based on the truth.”) Thanks largely to

Mulling Over the

Murrow Myth

Murrow’s Cold War: Public Diplomacy

for the Kennedy Administration

Gregory M. Tomlin, Potomac Books,

2016, $34.95/hardcover, $24.07/

Kindle, 400 pages.

Reviewed By Steven Alan Honley

In March 1961 America’s most promi-

nent and respected journalist, Edward

R. Murrow, ended a 25-year career with

the Columbia Broadcasting System

to serve President John F. Kennedy as

director of the United States Informa-

tion Agency. This exhaustive (and,

at times, exhausting) work assesses

Murrow’s efforts to improve the global

perception of the United States as a way

to advance U.S. foreign policy.

Gregory M. Tomlin, its author, is a

former assistant professor of history at

the United States Military Academy at

West Point. Even if the book jacket had

not told me that, I would have guessed

something of the sort from Tomlin’s

faithful adherence to the military brief-

ing model of “Tell ’em what you’re going

to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what

you just told ’em!”

The result is a book that has many

virtues, but also requires considerable

tenacity to fully appreciate its insights.

Happily, Tomlin’s introduction, “Public

Diplomacy for a New Frontier,” is a

model of clarity and cogency—almost

worth the price of the book by itself.

His overview of how public diplomacy

evolved during the 20th century is one

of the best explanations of that develop-

ment I’ve ever run across.

For most of

Murrow’s Cold War


Tomlin devotes chapters to case studies

of Pres. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Prog-

ress” outreach to Latin America and the


his personal connections,

that outreach was quite


The second, titled

simply “Birmingham,”

addresses one of Murrow’s

finest hours as USIA direc-

tor. Despite great pressure

from both the White House

and Congress to stand down,

he insisted that the Voice of

America must cover the civil


movement—and its bloody

repression by Southern demagogues—

fully and objectively.

As Murrow explained during a Feb.

26, 1962, address congratulating VOA

employees on the 20th anniversary of

their broadcast service:

“It is our task to bring our story

around the world in its most favor-

able light. … But as part of the cause of

freedom, and the arm of freedom, we

are obliged to tell our story in a truthful

way—to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said

about his portrait, ‘Paint us with all our

blemishes and warts, all those things

about us that may not be so immedi-

ately attractive.’”

Tomlin concedes that Murrow was

not as successful at that grand endeavor

as his myth suggests. But he makes a

compelling case that he was utterly

dedicated to the cause.

Steven Alan Honley, a State Department

Foreign Service officer from 1985 to 1997,

is the


’s contributing editor.

Tomlin’s take on Murrow’s performance as

Pres. Kennedy’s USIA director is tough but fair.