State Department Monitors Press Coverage of Jonestown Tragedy

One of the functions of the Public Affairs Office within the U.S. State Department is to monitor and report on how the agency – especially in its embassies’ role as a representative of the U.S. around the world – is perceived by both domestic and foreign news media.

The State Department issued at least two bulletins summarizing press coverage of Jonestown. One, dated November 29, 1978, reported on foreign press coverage of the deaths of November 1978, since that media coverage often reflects or at least informs the opinions of the foreign governments themselves. And while the deaths took place in the South American country of Guyana, it was considered – both by U.S. and foreign commentators – as a distinctly American event.

The second, dated January 15, 1979,  reported on “the 65 newspapers PA [Public Affairs] regularly monitors” with a focus on two issues: “(1) the Department’s responsiveness to complaints about the situation in Jonestown and its responsibility for the welfare of Americans abroad; and (2) the responsibility taken for removing the bodies from Jonestown and who should bear the cost.”

State Department Bulletin on Foreign Press Coverage, November 29, 1978

State Department Bulletin on Domestic Press Coverage, January 15, 1979

(Editor’s note: Independent researcher Brian Csuk received these documents from the State Department in response to his request for agency records under the Freedom of Information Act. His website on primary government sources related to Peoples Temple went offline in 1998.)