An excellent, thoughtful op-ed by Dentonite Bob James cites the newspaper as a cornerstone of our democracy in the July 30 Denton Record-Chronicle. Americans depend on their newspaper to be informed about happenings good or bad. Of course, other media are essential in our information mix. But that folded paper that hits the porches every day tells us about local/international developments, airs political viewpoints and frequently brings us together in common purpose. A free and accurate press is essential to our democracy.

Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, along with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, chose to counter the Soviet Union’s dogma by establishing the United States Information Agency (USIS overseas) in 1953. Our foreign service officers then and now worked in most overseas countries to promote democracy, human relations, economic development and halt global warming.

Newspapers were/are key components in social and political attitudes. In all instances, we promoted the concept of independent newspapers and were often successful. Dictators demand a controlled press; thus our collaboration with journalists was essential. Explaining what makes America tick — the press, public education, our Constitution, capitalism — helped move the social needle to more democratic governments and institutions.

We would work with local current and future press leaders. A powerful tool was sending respected editors and promising journalists to the U.S. to learn about our press practices and concepts. Their influence upon return often was influential in pushing the government to drop or lessen press restrictions. Directing USIS programs overseas, I would try to schedule journalist visits to Denton and the Denton Record-Chronicle so as to have meetings with Editor Roy Appleton and other DRC leaders, to learn about local newspapers.

After such exposure to free press, these journalists would often return home ready to promote standards learned in this country.

In 1949, newly independent Indonesia was a dictatorship under President Sukarno and later after a failed communist takeover in 1965. General Suharto, also a restrictive leader, led the country until 1998, when democracy emerged and elections took place. Today, Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy.

Journalism played a major role then, and much credit goes to its newspapers. Congratulations to the Record-Chronicle and its broad outreach.

FRED A. COFFEY JR. lives in Denton and is a retired senior foreign service officer.

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