Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Senator Fulbright & Senator Helms, Together At Last...

Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed. MountainRunner points out that the two politically opposed former Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on at least one thing--elimination of US propaganda by USIA (now run by the Broadcasting Board of Governors):
It should be noted that Senator Helms succeeded where the equally, if not more, legendary Senator Fulbright (D-AR, and as I just learned a fraternity brother of this blogger) failed. The 1972 Amendment to Smith-Mundt was, in fact, the best Senator Fulbright could do in his attempt to abolish USIA. According to Nick Cull, he demanded that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty “should be given an opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” But they escaped with the creation of the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. According to contemporary news accounts, votes he brought to the floor as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee were losing and losing not on merit but on personality. He had lost support, an especially bad situation for a Chairman. The New York Times would remark on the “eclipse of Senator Fulbright and the weakening of the Foreign Relations Committee” and wonder if the Senator would support the pending Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty when he couldn’t count on the support of the Administration or of his own committee. Soon after he remarked that he would not even bring something up for a vote because he knew it wouldn’t pass.

While he lost the battle and his next election, he won the war against USIA as he adjusted perceptions of USIA and Smith-Mundt, the Act he never fully supported. His conflict with USIA was openly reported in the papers and explored by Nick Cull in his forthcoming book on the history of USIA, as well as by Stacey Cone in her 2005 “Pulling the Plug on America's Propaganda: Sen. J.W. Fulbright's Leadership of the Antipropaganda Movement, 1943-74” in the journal Journalism History.

It’s also noteworthy, for the detail oriented reader, that the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has no authority by law over the Fulbright scholarship board. (Nor does it have any authority on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, but that’s another story and one that is conceptually foreign to modern Americans.)
Interestingly, I met both Senator Fulbright and Senator Helms, and was impressed by both of them--charming and intelligent. And I agree with them (of course, I'm biased, since I received a Fulbright myself...).