September 5, 2019

1950. Question of Censorship in Korean War Coverage

Foreign Correspondents Cover Outbreak of War in Korea
War correspondent Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune speaks with General Douglas MacArthur in Korea in 1950 (source)
From Broadcasting magazine, July 24, 1950, pp. 18:
COVERING KOREA: Newsmen Cite Military Aid

In the view of network news chiefs, the cooperation of Gen. MacArthur's headquarters in news coverage of the Korean war has been irreproachable, considering the suddenness of U. S. commitment to battle.

No instances of either direct or indirect censorship of radio correspondents—save for the obvious withholding of intelligence that would violate security—have been reported, the news chiefs told Broadcasting last week.

All pointed out the difficulty of radio coverage of the actions because of the absence of communication facilities at the battleground, but they also agreed that this was unavoidable.

News reached New York that the Army was endeavoring to establish a mobile transmitter in Korea, although details were lacking. Since the fall of Seoul, no radio facilities have been available anywhere in Korea.

The installation in Korea of a mobile transmitter, capable of relaying through Tokyo to the U. S., would, of course, immeasurably assist in the radio coverage of the war.

The news chiefs applauded Gen. MacArthur's policy of avoiding censorship by the military. All said they were abiding by the security directive issued by Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson.

Generally, they said, the Public Information Office in Tokyo has been helpful to radio reporters. In the early stages of the war, there were instances of inefficiency, but the newsmen agreed this could be attributed to the fact that the PIO, like the rest of our forces, was unprepared for the unexpected Korean war.

A particular difficulty which was cited by the newsmen was the inadequacy of briefings in Tokyo during the first weeks of the operation. This has since been corrected.

Staffs Reinforced

By last week all networks had reinforced their news staffs in the battle area.

ABC, although without a full-time staffer on the scene, has taken numerous reports from Jimmy Cannon, also of the New York Post; John Rich and Ray Falk, both INS.

CBS has its own veteran correspondents, Bill Downs and Bill Costello, as well as Commentator Edward R. Murrow, shuttling between Korea and Tokyo.

MBS has Robert Stewart in Tokyo and is taking reports from Walter and Edith Simmons, of the Chicago Tribune; Pat Michaels and Jack Reed, both INS.

NBC has George Thomas Folster and William Dunn, both veterans of World War II Pacific campaigns.

Directing coverage from New York are Thomas Velotta, ABC vice president in charge of news and special events; Edmund A. Chester, CBS director of news; A. A. Schecter, MBS vice president in charge of news, special events and publicity, and William F. Brooks, NBC vice president for news and special events for sound broadcasting.
"Tokyo, December, 1952: CBS commentator Edward R. Murrow, center, and Washington bureau chief Bill Downs, right, are welcomed to Tokyo by Japan-Korea bureau manager George Herman" (source)
From Broadcasting magazine, July 24, 1950, pp. 19, 34, 36:

Question of censorship—and the problem of military security versus freedom of information—arose into sharper focus last week among broadcasters, press association correspondents who furnish stations with spot news, and legislators on Capitol Hill, some of whom "erupted" over public disclosures involving American troop movements.

Meanwhile, key officials of the National Security Resources Board continued to study blueprints which envision an Office of Censorship similar to World War II.

Week's Highlights

Among the week's developments:

• Protest by the National Assn. of Radio News Directors over ouster of AP and UP correspondents from Korea, and demand for a "uniform military censorship" . . . in a matter consonant with security.

• Statement by Gen. Douglas MacArthur that "the press alone should assume responsibility" in the Korean emergency.

• Demands by Capitol Hill solons for tightening up the release of military information "at the source."

• Advice to stations by NAB that they be "cautious . . . in handling news," with emphasis that Defense Secretary Louis Johnson's military directive is "not censorship, voluntary or otherwise."

NSRB officials made plain last week that blueprints providing for creation of an Office of Censorship would be in the form of recommendations to the President, to be submitted only in the event of all-out emergency and mobilization. They indicated the office would be along lines comparable to the group headed by Byron Price in the last war, and expressed concurrence with most of his sentiments.

For the present, they felt that broadcasters could be guided largely by the text of Secretary Johnson's directive on the disclosure of certain military data and statistics and the voluntary code of wartime practices [Broadcasting, July 17].

Any potential censorship office, they confirmed, would be manned by representatives of radio, television, press, motion picture and other media. Appointment of a director would, of course, rest with the President.

The problem, they affirmed, resolves itself into two groups: (1) withholding of information at the source, and (2) actual censorship of information. They noted that the military probably would exercise the upper hand in decisions involving the former.

They backed up one of Mr. Price's 1945 observations that some people feel that the censor "should commit in the name of security all of the errors which have helped often enough heretofore to discredit censorships, to divorce their procedures completely from the dictates of common sense, and in the end to weaken greatly their effectiveness." That would not be "wise or expedient," Mr. Price felt.

The developments relating to the ouster of the AP and UP correspondents from the Korean war zone drew strong protests from the National Assn. of Radio News Directors early last week.

In a telegram sent to Defense Secretary Johnson, the NARND president, Jack Shelley, asserted that such action "greatly undermines the faith of American radio listeners in freedom of news reporters representing them to describe accurately conditions at the front."

"Uniform military censorship as applied during World War II in combat areas might be the best approach to the Korea coverage problem, but banning of newsmen who violated no security rules is indefensible," Mr. Shelley felt.

Spokesmen at the Defense Dept. information office said they had no knowledge of any reply filed by Secretary Johnson, and expressed belief that the problem no longer is an issue in view of Gen. MacArthur's action reinstating the correspondents.

Mr. Shelley, a former war correspondent who covered both the European and Pacific theatres for WHO Des Moines, Iowa, told Broadcasting he felt "nothing but uniform military censorship will provide a reasonably satisfactory method of regulating reporting in a manner consonant with security."

"It seems to me the height of the unfair to say to a group of newsmen "we'll trust you to use your own judgment; there'll be no censorship"—and then to jerk them when they exercise that judgment." He said this "extremely important principle" for all media is at stake.

Issue in Korea

The security issue arose on the Korean war front July 15 when the Army Command, under Col. M. P. Echols, Gen. MacArthur's information officer, imposed a ban on AP's Tom Lambert and UP's Peter Kalischer. They were ordered to leave the area for "disclosing information that would be of value to the enemy and would have a bad morale and psychological effect on our own troops."

Gen. MacArthur, subsequently lifting the ban, called on reporters to exercise judgment and selectivity in reporting the news from the front. He said that "formal censorship" was abhorrent to him, but pointed out that several correspondents had requested censorship. It was understood that a goodly number of the 200 correspondents now in that theatre favor complete and clear guidance, if not actual censorship. A large number of radio stations depend on AP and UP for spot news coverage of the Korean war.

Defense Secretary Johnson's directive on security measures, issued recently to the three services, was expected to provide some aid along that line.

The two news associations correspondents were not challenged on the accuracy of their stories, merely on their judgment in repeating remarks reportedly made by American soldiers delving into the question of American military aid.

Another correspondent, Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune, also was ordered from the front but reinstated by Gen. MacArthur's command.

Congressional sentiment for security restrictions reflected growing wariness on Capitol Hill. Sen. Scott Lucas (D-Ill.) spoke for some of his colleagues and presumably for the administration when he called for censorship—"either voluntary or legislative, which no one wants"—to protect American lives. He indicated he is particularly disturbed by newspaper accounts from Korea.

"It seems almost criminal," he declared, "for commentators, columnists, and other newspapermen to tell the world exactly where our troops are congregating, where they are going, and the total amount of their equipment, especially in view of the great emergency which exists at this time."

Voluntary Restraint

The Senate Majority Leader stressed that he did not advocate "rigorous censorship, but there certainly should be a voluntary censorship of information of that sort." He thought the President should request it. Speaking as majority leader, Sen. Lucas urged "all possible restraint" by radio and press in the interest of unity.

Sen. Lucas made his statement after certain members of the House had scored newspaper accounts dealing with the movements of American troops to Korea. One—Rep. Harold Hagen (R-Minn.)—charged American radio and press with "alarmist" reporting of hostilities. He cited Gen. MacArthur's earlier statement that casualties had been exaggerated in press dispatches.

Other House members who deplored such disclosures included Reps. Wayne Hays (D-Ohio), Daniel Reed (R-N. Y.), and Thomas Lane (D-Mass.). They joined in demanding that the Defense Dept. tighten up on release of statistical information relating to troop movements, numbers, units, etc. On the Senate side, Sen. Style Bridges (R-N. H.) also called on the department to cease such "public disclosures" as a "measure of elementary security."

As an example of voluntary self-restraint, Sen. Lucas singled out the Chicago Sun-Times, which July 15 announced imposition of its own censorship for "the duration of the emergency." The newspaper is controlled by Publisher Marshall Field, of Field Enterprises Inc., which owns WJJD WFMF (FM) Chicago. It was presumed that the policy also would be extended to the stations' news desks.

Stand Welcomed

It was a telegram from the newspaper's managing editor, Milburn P. Akers, to Gen. MacArthur that precipitated the latter's statement with respect to self-censorship by the press in Korea. The General described the Sun-Times' stand as "welcome support to this command."

He stated:
It reflects the most commendable determination to fulfill the responsibility which the press alone should assume in an emergency such as this—a responsibility which it may not effectively share with any other segment of society, least of all the military not trained in journalism and which should devote its entire energies to the conduct of military operations," the general added.

There is probably no more misused nor less understood term than press censorship. Contrary to what many believe, no precise rule can make it effective nor were any two military censors ever in agreement on detail.

If its purpose is to be served, censorship must be of the spirit and applied only by those themselves who print the news. Its objective is not to mislead or misrepresent the truth, as that is repugnant to the basic concepts of a free society, but rather to avoid printing information of direct military value to the enemy or such as may contribute through under-emphasis or emotional stress psychologically to his cause by raising the morale of his forces while depressing that of ours.

The formula is a simple one and one which all men of normal understanding may easily comprehend and apply.

The contention of some that the military must take the responsibility of laying down fixed rules governing the limitation upon news and pass upon each item before it is printed is as unrealistic as it is ineffective.

In the Korean operations, it has been my purpose to leave this responsibility where it rightfully belongs, in the hands of the correspondents, editors and publishers concerned.
Secretary Johnson's security directive was prepared by the Defense Dept.'s Security Review Branch, which serves as a clearing-house for material dealing with the three military services. It is headed by Lt. Col. Joseph Edgerton and is the outgrowth of conferences on proposals for a security code between Former Secretary James Forrestal and a committee comprising representatives of radio, press and motion picture interests. It materialized from unification of the services [Broadcasting, April 12, 1948].

Overall Planning

Today overall censorship planning is being mapped by a special section of the National Security Resources Board under Gilbert C. Jacobus, Army Reserve officer with the rank of colonel.

Specifically NSRB and other planners are concerned chiefly with (1) methods of attaining satisfactory security within the military establishment and (2) creation of an office to supervise restraint among the various media in the event of emergency.

Col. Edgerton said last week that, when NSRB completes its master plan, encompassing provision for censorship enforcement, his Security Review Branch probably will be included in the list of cooperating agencies.

Secretary Johnson's directive to the military services parallels the 1943 voluntary code to varying degrees in matters pertaining to accounts of military movements and operations [Broadcasting, July 17].

The directive also was reprinted for member stations by NAB, which pointed out that it was "not censorship, voluntary or otherwise," but merely a "guide on the release of information to be employed by responsible military authorities." NAB added:
. . . It will be useful to public media in guarding against disclosures which would jeopardize lives and property of Americans. Possibility exists that information violating these suggestions might be released thoughtlessly by military authorities, in which case public media do their country a service in using blue pencils with reference only to information designated by Secretary Johnson as involving military censorship.

Censorship as such, wartime or otherwise, is subject constantly being watched by NAB. Direct contacts are being maintained with appropriate government agencies . . .
Caution Advised

The best advice, NAB told member stations, is to "simply be cautious while you're being competitive in handling news." Following is the text of the Johnson directive:


The following is intended as a security guidance for dissemination to all echelons of the military services:

To safeguard the national security in connection with operations in the Far East Command, the following limitations are imposed on the release of information by the military services:

1. Preparations for military operations or movements within the Continental United States are subject to the following restrictions:
a. Ultimate destination of unit alerted: Refer to theater only, i.e., the Far East Command.

b. Designation of unit: Release numerical designation only when unit is of division size or larger. Numerical designation of units below Division level will not be released. Air Force Group designations will not be released. Non-divisional units will be referred to in general as a combat unit, a supporting unit, etc., of the Continental Army concerned, which have been alerted for movement.

c. Status of equipment: Not releasable.

d. Strength: Not releasable.

e. Date of movement from present location: Not releasable.

f. Sailing time of transports from Port of Embarkation: Not releasable.
2. Movements of naval vessels and transport or cargo ships from the West Coast may be mentioned after departure but no mention may be made of movements west of Pearl Harbor. Photographs of loadings, sailings and reactivation operations of naval vessels may be used within normal security limits imposed by the local commander.

3. Within the Far East Command the following restrictions have been imposed by CINCFE:
a. Reports naming specific units, sizes, places of landing, locations and troop movements may not be disclosed until officially announced.

b. Subordinate headquarters, movements, units committed (except Eighth Army, Fifth Air Force, Twentieth Air Force, Seventh Fleet, etc.), or any field locations may not be mentioned until officially announced.
4. Military forces of the United Nations acting in cooperation with United States forces should be safeguarded in accordance with the foregoing.

In case of doubt as to actual military security within the Continental United States, the Security Review Branch of the Department of Defense, Room 2 C 766, The Pentagon, Extension 71182, is available for advice.

These instructions may be shown to news media.