Federal Publicity

March 18, 1940

Report Outline
Recent Expansion of Publicity Activities
Extent and Types of Federal Publicity
Role of Official Publicity in Democracy
Special Focus

Recent Expansion of Publicity Activities

Since the World War, and particularly since 1933, the publicity activities of the government at Washington have been enormously expanded. Under the New Deal, administrative agencies have made greater efforts than under any previous administration to create public support for their acts and policies through the use of such instruments of explanation and persuasion as are available to them. Increasing use of publicity by federal agencies has engendered widespread hostility—both among those who fear that the publicity machinery recently created may be used at some future time to undermine democratic government and among those who believe governmental publicity to be an evil in itself.

Pointing to “the tendency in Congress…to single out publicity as a useless and somewhat immoral function,” one observer remarks that “no other staff function is so conspicuous as a target for congressmen…At present the most noticeable attitude toward it is a prevailing suspicion that the practice of publicity is an insidious effort to ‘put something over’ on Congress and the electorate and that the administrative branch has no moral right to employ experts in purposeful information.” Marshall E. Dimock, Assistant Secretary of Labor, observes that “Citizens are traditionally suspicious of any effort by a public body to advertise itself. They seem to have entirely different standards for business and government.”

Dewey's Attack on New Deal “Propaganda Mills”

Publicity practices of the Roosevelt administration may provide an important issue for the 1940 campaign. Thomas E. Dewey, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, asserted in a speech at Cheyenne, Wyoming, in mid-February, that the “propaganda mills” of the New Deal were as extensive as those of the totalitarian states of Europe. In all departments at Washington bureaucrats “were grinding out propaganda in mass production.