When the Reagan Administration was reported to have organized a "disinformation" campaign to mislead both Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the U.S. press, Secretary of State George Shultz declared, "Frankly, I don't have any problems with a little psychological warfare against Gaddafi." But if Shultz was not at all disturbed, his press spokesman was--so much so that he quit last week as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
Standing in his familiar position on the podium of the State Department pressroom, Bernard Kalb announced to stunned reporters that he chose to "dissent from the reported disinformation program." Said Kalb, a former correspondent for NBC and CBS: "You face a choice, as an American, as a spokesman, as a journalist, whether to allow oneself to be absorbed in the ranks of silence, whether to vanish into unopposed acquiescence or to enter a modest dissent." He added, "Faith in the word of America is the pulse beat of our democracy."
Even before the resignation, the issue of U.S. credibility was very much in the news last week as Administration spokesmen scrambled to convince skeptical reporters that the U.S. had no official connection to the Americans shot down over Nicaragua. White House officials, who have insisted they did not deliberately mislead the public about U.S. intentions toward Libya, were embarrassed and miffed by Kalb's dramatic gesture. One White House aide was particularly irritated that he had quit just before the summit in Reykjavík, "when he knew full well we hadn't misled anyone on purpose. His timing could have been worse, but not much." Said Kalb, making light of such concern: "I suspect that I will dissolve very quickly under the impact of the meeting in Reykjavík."
Although Kalb, 64, played no part in the apparent disinformation campaign, he was uncomfortable as soon as he saw reports that the Government had planted false stories in August about Gaddafi's new plans for terrorist action and U.S. preparations to retaliate. He grew even more upset after Shultz defended the Administration by quoting Winston Churchill's World War II remark about using a "bodyguard of lies" to protect the truth from the Nazis. After a few days of soul searching, Kalb met with Shultz, then resigned the next day.
"I am not dissenting from Secretary Shultz," insisted Kalb. "To me, he is a monument of credibility, integrity, courage, strength." Shultz was equally gracious about his departing press secretary, saying, "I am sorry to see Bernie Kalb go. I admire him as a fine journalist, respect him as a colleague and adviser, and value him as a friend." In Kalb's nearly two years at the State Department, he had grown close to Shultz, nudging him into appearing on television more frequently to play up his role as advocate for the Administration's foreign policy.