The absurdity here is that a simple web search will turn up much of this “forbidden” content: Just check out the websites for Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or listen to Radio Sawa, Uncle Sam’s Arabic-language news station, online. (You paid for ’em, after all.) And anyone who thinks the military doesn’t already dabble in domestic propaganda has never watched a Pentagon press conference, viewed a Marine recruiting ad, or seen an admiral justify his budget in a congressional hearing. Beyond that, Smith-Mundt has nothing to say about self-promoting PR emanating from other government entities—say, the White House, Capitol Hill, or the FBI.
In fact, Smith-Mundt’s origins were rooted in a desire to censor the State Department on the home front, placating members of Congress who distrusted it on ideological grounds. In the lead-up to the bill’s passage in 1948, conservative Democrats and Republicans alike argued that the US government’s foreign affairs staff had been infiltrated with communists and couldn’t be trusted. Rep. Christian Herter (R-Mass.) demanded guarantees from a State Department official that VOA was “not being used as a vehicle for distribution of left-wing philosophy and social and other ideas that many Republicans regard as dangerous.” Eugene Cox (D-Ga.) attacked State as “chock full of Reds” and “the lousiest outfit in town.”