Barry Zorthian

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Barry Zorthian is a specialist in public communications, best known for heading the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office and the U.S. Information Agency in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He is now a partner in the public affairs firm, Alcalde & Fay.

Previously, he spent twelve years with Time Inc., first as President of Time Life Broadcast and Cable and then as Vice President for Government Affairs. He is a retired member of the New York Bar, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Colonel and has been listed in Who's Who in America for the past thirty years.


With the rank of Minister-Counselor, he was in Vietnam between 1964 and 1968. Initially, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was his own press officer and restricted Zorthian to USIA operations. Edward R. Murrow, then USIA director, said, in the assignment letter, "When I proposed you to Ambassador Lodge, he was a little concerned about your lack of fluent French"--which was important in Vietnam--"but most important, when he accepted you he wanted you to understand that you would have nothing to do with the media . He's his own press officer, will remain his own press officer . You will run USIS, psychological operations, whatever you want to call it, but no relations with the media ." [1] The existing bad state of press relations was, at that point, generational: Lodge and Lyndon B. Johnson were of the World War II generation, in which the government's word was to be trusted unless proved otherwise. Many of the working reporters, however, assumed the reverse.

He observed that while Edward Lansdale had an early role, his small counterinsurgency team was not adequate to deal with the much larger scope after 1964. [2]

In June 1964, however, after a meeting between Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, they recommended that Zorthian given responsibility for

the entire press relations effort in Vietnam, which was later endorsed by the President in a directive to [General] Westmoreland and by then, [Ambassador] [[Maxwell Taylor]] , giving us guidance on media relations and maximum candor with minimum security, saying that the principal adviser to both the commander of MACV and the ambassador in the public affairs field will be the director of USIS, naming me by name . First time that kind of overall authority had been given. Now that later went through some slight changes, but that combined authority for the press media relations, the press aspects of it, remained all through the war under the ambassador, delegated, subordinated, seconded to the director of USIS

or director JUSPAO and ultimately to a special counselor to the ambassador.[3]

Public diplomacy

Zorthian wrote,

Is it time to suggest that we are putting too much stock in the potential of a process that has become known as Public Diplomacy which has had particular focus, attention and discussion since 9/11? And to also suggest that we might stop expecting senior government appointees to achieve impossible results through some magical application of spin and talk-talk to remedy this country's dismal current standing in the minds of many peoples oversea to the detriment of our country's interests and goals. [4]


  • B.A., Yale University
  • LL.B. cum laude, New York University School of Law.


  1. Ted Gittinger, ed. (26 May 1982), Oral History interview III, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, pp. 4-6
  2. Oral History, p. 15
  3. Zorthian, p. 9
  4. Barry Zorthian, The Limits of Public Diplomacy, The Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, UK