By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
The military’s plan for media coverage of the D-Day
invasion was only four pages long and contained a
description of how news copy would be censored sp.
THE FOUR-PAGE media plan for the invasion includes nearly as many press relations officers and censors as correspondents and photographers.
Such simplicity ? and censorship ? may be virtually impossible for the public affairs annexes of military operations today but not, apparently, 50 years ago.
As part of the anniversary celebration of the D-Day invasion by Allied forces in Europe, the Department of Defense 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee distributed copies of the press relations plan along with its other materials.
The document was found at the National Archives and distributed to the White House press corps as part of an extensive briefing by military officials and historians prior to their trip with the president for commemorative ceremonies in May, explained Major Michael Humm, USMCR, the committee’s chief of media relations.
“It’s an interesting document that shows the level of cooperation that existed between the media and the military, despite the fact that there were on the scene, literally, censors,” he commented.
Also interesting, Humm noted, is that radio was the only broadcast medium that had to be considered. Now, not only is there video to contend with as well, but also the issue of reporters shooting signals up to satellites, a move that potentially could reveal the position of troops.
“A lot more planning is required now,” Humm said.
A copy of the plan was donated to the National Press Club library by club member Don Bishop, who recently retired from the public affairs office of the Secretary of Commerce.
Bishop, who served as a public information officer at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Ga., during World War II, was at the commemoration committee offices gathering information for his own trip to Normandy when he met Humm, who gave him a copy of the plan.
“Whomever I’ve given it to,” Bishop said of the document, “has found it remarkable in its simplicity.”
Barbara Vandegrift, librarian at the Eric Friedheim Library and News Information Center at the National Press Club, said the document will be added to the library’s archive, which includes documents about what the club and its members did during the war.
The D-Day media plans called for each corps in the operation to be accompanied by seven war correspondents, three photographers, two public relations officers, four press censors, two radio operators and two driver-messengers.
Included in the directive were detailed instructions about landing and rendezvous points, radio frequencies, transmission instructions that included the order in which stories would be sent, and censorship of all copy.
“All press copy to be transmitted by electrical means will be censored prior to transmission by field press censors located at the transmission point,” the directive instructed. “
Copy transmitted by Naval Dispatch Boat Service (NDBS) will be censored in the U.K.”
Special arrangements were included for six correspondents, who were allowed to land with airborne forces on D-Day.
“Because no censorship can be made available, no copy can be transmitted by these correspondents on the tactical radio of the units to which they are attached.”
Arrangements were included for getting this copy to headquarters and to the United Kingdom.
In addition, prior to D-Day, correspondents called up to wait with the troops were allowed to write, take photos and make radio recordings “insofar as the situation permits,” but all material would be turned over to public relations officers and classified as top secret, to be distributed at the discretion of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).
In a Senate hearing in February 1991 on media access during the Persian Gulf War, former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite suggested that the “military would do better to pattern its public relations after its handling of the press in World War II, a war we won and which left few questions about the press-military relationship.”
Cronkite, who covered the war for the United Press, told of how during World War II press material was sent to division headquarters for clearance. He noted that censors often were open to appeals, in which correspondents frequently prevailed.
Cronkite suggested that the World War II system of allowing press access but censoring copy worked better than restricting press access without censorship, although he noted that controlling the press for political reasons was unacceptable.
?( Walter Cronkite) [Photo]