Letter to the President of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association on the Executive Order Safeguarding Security Information
[Released December 18, 1951. Dated December 17, 1951]
Dear Mr. Corn:
I am unable to reconcile your letter of December fourth with statements made to me by members of the special committee of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association on October seventeenth.
That committee, which included you, made the following statements to me:
(1) The Associated Press Managing Editors were as interested as I am in protecting secrets from the enemy.
(2) That you were sure I had acted in good faith in signing the order and that I was sincere in the letter of transmittal to Departments and Agencies in admonishing all officials of the Executive Branch to guard against abuse of the order.
(3) You (the committee) told me that the order was imperfectly drawn and, at the conclusion of our conversation, you as a group informed me that you would suggest changes therein.
You may recall that, as we sat down together, Mr. Wiggins, Chairman of the Committee, assured me that the committee had constructive criticisms to make and I replied that I wished to hear them. The burden of your criticism, as I recall it, was against "definitions" and you went out of my office promising to write better ones.
Your concern over definitions seemed to arise from a fear that some agencies, particularly civilian agencies, might classify nonsecurity information, something I had explicitly prohibited in my memorandum to all Department and Agency heads. I said, "To put the matter bluntly, these regulations are designed to keep security information away from potential enemies and must not be used to cover up mistakes made by any official or employee of the Government." Although I thought your fears were groundless, nevertheless I was glad to have you offer suggestions so that every effort could be made to reinforce my policy of confining the order to matters genuinely involving the safety of our country.
I hope I was not naive in accepting in good faith the statements made by Mr. Wiggins and other members of the committee. The atmosphere of our meeting was one in which all agreed that working together we could bring forth changes that would be satisfactory to all.
My attitude has not changed. I still feel that way. But your letter would indicate that the Associated Press Managing Editors, after indicating otherwise, intend to stand on the outside and carp and criticise without being at all helpful.
I would like to remind you that I received your committee at the request of Mr. Wiggins. I did not single out your Association for the role of re-drafting the order. At their meeting with me, members of the committee suggested that improvements could be made in the order. Then when I countered that I would be glad to improve the order, you said that your committee would make a try.
I thought that, because your group espouses freedom of information, it might be willing to join me in reinforcing that principle. I still cannot understand why you editors reversed yourselves and passed up this opportunity to serve the cause of freedom of information in the dangerous days ahead when the safety of our country and the freedoms for which it stands are in peril.
I also want to refer again to the matter of protecting secrets from the enemy and to say: This is your country as well as mine. We can only win in the present world struggle if we all work together.
Very sincerely yours,
HARRY S. TRUMAN
[The following postscript was handwritten by the President.]
I have not given up the idea of advice from practical newsmen.
[Mr. Herbert F. Corn, President, Associated Press Managing Editors Association, The Evening Star, Washington 4, D.C.]
Note: Mr. Corn's letter to the President, dated December 4, follows:
Dear Mr. President:
The committee of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, which was given a courteous hearing by you and Mr. Joseph Short on October 17, has reported that conversation to the executive committee of APME. As you know, the APME is an association of newspaper editors from the 1700 American newspapers which are members of the Associated Press. It was these editors, in convention in San Francisco, who unanimously condemned the executive order extending the right of government departments to classify information.
The committee delivered your suggestion that APME try to write better definitions as to which government records shall be classified as top secret, secret, confidential and restricted.
The executive committee of the APME cannot accept this invitation because it feels that the order, itself, erects dangerous barriers between the people and their government.
HERBERT F. CORN
President, Associated Press
Managing Editors Association.
See also Items 233, 234, 247 , 248.
Harry S. Truman, Letter to the President of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association on the Executive Order Safeguarding Security Information Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231334