Book Reviewed: Murrow's Cold War, Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration
By Gregory M. Tomlin
For many Public Diplomacy practitioners, the three years that Edward R. Murrow headed the U.S. Information Agency represent the golden years, a time when Public Diplomacy was there at the take-off and not only at the crash landing, as Murrow famously said. The seat at the policy-decision table was not easily won, however, even for the likes of Murrow. Gregory Tomlin's engrossing book takes us through this period with thorough research and interesting insights into the policies and events, both domestic and international, of the Kennedy Administration and the role of public information in the evolution of these events. The book is as much about USIA and the conduct of public diplomacy as about Murrow himself, and, in focusing on this period in Edward R. Murrow's life, Tomlin addresses a fundamental question concerning Public Diplomacy, then as today: is Public Diplomacy a nice add-on or an important element in determining outcomes in the conduct of our foreign policy.
With an excellent introduction tracing the evolution of the USIA and the many debates surrounding the agency's mission, effectiveness, and the overall value of considering foreign public opinion when determining policy, Tomlin sets the stage for Murrow's arrival at USIA in 1960. He examines this more rarely explored period in Murrow's life, depicting the man and the professional, and paints an accessible picture of the often enigmatic Murrow. During his term as USIA director, Murrow is shown as interested not only in policy and programs, but also in the workings and people of his agency. At this time, most exchange programs were still with the State Department, and USIA's core programs were in information (radio, film, and libraries, followed by TV). Tomlin expertly describes Murrow's struggle to tell USIA's own story so as to convince Washington of the value and contributions of its information activities, a task the author rightly judges as often more difficult than the effective global propaganda with which it was charged.
Tomlin masterfully presents the political backdrop of the momentous years of the Cold War, from Cuba to the Berlin Wall and Vietnam. He retells historical events vividly with enough but not overwhelming detail, facilitating the reader's entry into the many and simultaneous challenges facing the Kennedy Administration and USIA. With numerous examples...