Newspaper Mat Allegedly Sent Out by the Peace Corps to Counteract Previous Newspaper Articles

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-04-05.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  COMPTROLLER     GENERAL     OF THE      UNITED   STATES
                                WASHINGTON.    D.C.    20548                        L




Dear Mr. Gross:

      We have completed our review which was undertaken pursuant to
your request of January 29, 1971, to obtain certain information
regarding a@ewspaper mat allegedly    sent out by the Peace Corps to
counteract previous newspaper articles>    which had been critical  of
the language training   furnished Volunteers prior to their assign-
ment to Mauritius.

        The sheet of paper enclosed with your letter is a copy of a
page from the Peace Corps News Digest, an internal      Peace Corps
document issued periodically     by the Office of Public Affairs  to
inform staff members of the news coverage that the Peace Corps
has been receiving throughout the country.      The Office of Public
Affairs    originated the draft of the article  on that sheet entitled
"Language Not Peace Corps' Hangup," and arranged for its distri-
bution to the press through a commercial media service.

      Within the Peace Corps organizational   structure,   the Office
of Public Affairs  is responsible for assuring that the American
public is informed of the programs, problems, needs, and accom-
plishments of the Peace Corps. The activities      of this Office
are under the direction   of the Director of Public Affairs,    who
serves as the Peace Corps' spokesman, and whose assigned duties
involve the preparation   and dissemination of information    con-
cerning the Peace Corps and its people, both in the United
States and overseas.

      Informational    material originating    within the Peace Corps
is distributed    primarily    through representatives    of the news
media including     the press, radio, television,      and periodicals.
The actual method followed in distributing         the material is
determined based on the subject matter and the size of the de-
sired audience, and may be in the form of a press release, an
informal briefing,     a news conference, or a written response to
an individual    press inquiry.

                        50Tii ANNIVERSARY 192t- 1971p7?zcq

       Based on a requisition    authorized by the Director of Public
Affairs,   a purchase order was issued to Derus Media Service, Inc.,
Chicago, Illinois,     on May 16, 1970, for the matting and mailing
of the article     to 2,000 newspapers and editors.    Information
submitted with the billing     from the Derus Media Service, Inc.,
shows that 2,000 mats and proofs of the Peace Corps article
were prepared and distributed      by mail on May 27, 1970, to
selected newspaper editors throughout the nation.         The invoice
indicated further dissemination       of the article would be made, as
it was annotated with the statement that:

     "This feature release will be included in the next issue
      of our exclusive EDITORIAL PACE magazine circulated     to
      30,323 editors representing    every publication in the
      country.    Requests for material from this appearance
      will be filled   upon receipt at no further charge.'!

       The invoiced cost to the Peace Corps for the preparation    and
distribution    of the 2,000 mats and proofs of the article  amounted
to $720, including postage of $120. Additional     in-house costs
may have been incurred by the Peace Corps in preparing the article;
however, these costs would not appear significant     and would be
within the normal functions of the Office of Public Affairs.

       The Office of Public Affairs   could not provide our staff with
the names of the publications     to which the 2,000 newspaper mats
had been sent, nor would the Derus Media Service, Inc., furnish
this information   to the Peace Corps as requested during our review.
The news service, in refusing to supply its mailing list to the
Peace Corps, took the position that the list of 2,000 publications
was their stock-in-trade    for the commercial distribution  of news

       Information  as to those publications     which had subsequently
used the news article      was not available  from the Peace Corps. In
this regard, we were advised that the Office of Public Affairs
retains news clippings      only for a period of two months and no
records are maintained which would provide the data necessary to
identify    those publications   which had printed a specific    article.
However, the Peace Corps advised us that the commercial news
service, which had distributed       the newspaper mats, stated that
a total of 111 publications      had used the article   but would not
furnish a list of those publications.


      We were informed by an official       of the Office of Public Affairs
that the Peace Corps had prepared and distributed         this article      to
correct some erroneous information       that had previously     been published
about bringing native Mauritians to the United States to teach their
language to Peace Corps Volunteers.         This official   explained that
the news articles   erroneously stated that 98 percent of the native
Mauritians speak English.      Peace Corps records indicate that this
explanation is essentially     the official     position of the agency in
regard to this matter, as we noted recent correspondence in which
the Peace Corps Director,    in response to a congressional        inquiry,
had stated that:

      "Contrary to the newspaper article,    the native tongue of
       Mauritius is Creole.    Although English is the official
       language of the country, only about 27% of the total
       population of Mauritius speak English and 40% understand
       it to some degree. Therefore, the Peace Corps Volunteers
       were taught Creole, enabling them to communicate with
       the majority of the population and thus transfer their
       knowledge and skills   to the widest possible audience."

      Finally, your letter asks for our comments on the propriety      of
this project,  which you state "smacks of propaganda."     Section 501
of the Foreign Assistance and Related Programs Appropriation      Act,
1971 (Public Law 91-6191, which includes appropriations     for the Peace
Corps, provides that "no part of any appropriation    contained in this
Act shall be used for publicity  or propaganda purposes within the
United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress."

       We have previously     taken the position that similar       statutory
prohibitions     on publicity    or propaganda are too vague to clearly
delineate unauthorized expenditures.           Government agencies have a
legitimate    interest    and responsibility     in keeping the public
informed as to their activities         and programs.     Therefore, we have
adopted the position that, in the absence of adequate statutory
standards, it would not be appropriate for the Comptroller General
to take exception to administrative          determinations   as to the
dissemination     of information,    except when such determination        is so
palpably erroneous as to be unreasonable in the face of the
statutory    prohibition.

.. .   . ”


                   We do not believe that the Peace Corps' article             in question is
             so extraordinary     as to constitute    "publicity     or propaganda" within
             the meaning of the appropriation        act restriction       quoted above. It
             would appear also that the normal publicity           activities    of the Office
             of Public Affairs have been heretofore authorized by the Congress,
             within the meaning of the Act, through the annual authorization-
             appropriation    legislative   process.    Although we have reservations
             as to the necessity of utilizing        a commercial news service to
             disseminate the article      at a cost of $720 when such material
             could have been distributed       through the major press services at
             no cost, we cannot say that the expenditure was not within the
             purview of the agency.

                   In accordance with your letter,   we have obtained and are
             enclosing a copy of the newspaper mat and a proof of the article
             which we were informed were distributed    to the 2,000 publications
             by the Derus Media Service, Inc.

                   We trust that the above information   answers your inquiry on
             the distribution   of the newspaper mat by the Peace Corps. If you
             have any questions relative   to our review we will be pleased to
             discuss them with you or your staff.

                   We plan to make no further distribution of this report unless
             copies are specifically  requested and then we shall make distri   ution
             only after your agreement has been obtained or public announcemBnt
             has been made by you concerning the contents of the report.      d
                                                      Sincerely   yours,

                                                                     /q!         kii!!f

                                                      Comptroller General
                                                      of the United States

             The Honorable H. R. Gross
             House of Representatives