by Hans Tuch
When I was Public Affairs Counselor in Bonn, we received frequent visits from administration officials. Our routine preparations included preparing briefing materials for the officials and press packets for the accompanying traveling journalists. Although we were pretty skilled at these activities, there was always room for error, as we discovered in December 1982 during the first visit to Bonn of the newly appointed Secretary of State George Shultz.
What under another secretary of state would very likely have been an abrupt career-ending blunder for a public affairs counselor, instead showed the new Secretary in a humane and forgiving mode. With a scheduled arrival of 2 am, Shultz had cabled strict instructions to his close seventy-eight-year-old friend and mentor, Ambassador Arthur Burns, not to meet him at the airport. Other embassy officers were on hand that cold December night to meet him and perform the usual functions, including distributing the press packets.
It was not until the press party had arrived at their hotel that one of the reporters glanced at the press packet and found his lead story right on the cover: it announced in bold letters “Visit of the U.S. Secretary of State Charles P. Shultz.” It was a slow news day, and the cover of the press packet found itself displayed on evening network news shows and in newspapers throughout the United States with the comment that the American embassy in Bonn didn’t even know the secretary’s correct name.
Secretary Shultz treated this gaffe unexpectedly lightly, recalling that it was not the first time this had happened to him. He told us that when he was president of the Bechtel Corporation, his secretary interrupted a board of directors meeting one day with the urgent message that President Carter was phoning him. He took the call and after some friendly chit-chat President Carter reportedly said, “Well, you know George, my staff sometimes doesn’t understand me. I wanted to speak to Charles Schultze (an economic advisor to the president) and they connected me with you—so I just thought I’d say ‘hello’.”
As the thoroughly embarrassed public affairs counselor, I made a buck-stops-here attempt to tell Ambassador Burns, a stickler for accuracy, about the blooper perpetrated by his public affairs section. He merely smiled and said, “You know I gave George Shultz and Charles Schultze their first government jobs. Both fine economists.”
I reminded the ambassador that most people associated the name Charles Schulz with the cartoonist. He didn’t react. I said, “You know, Mr. Ambassador, Peanuts!”
“Never heard of him” came the reply and that ended the conversation.
Hans Tuch joined the State Department in 1949, later moving to the United States Information Agency (USIA); he is a Career Minister, U.S. Foreign Service. Mr. Tuch’s long diplomatic career included assignments in Germany and the Soviet Union; he also worked as a Voice of America correspondent in Munich. Mr. Tuch returned to the Voice of America in 1976, serving as acting director and deputy director until 1981. He is the author of “Communicating with the World” and “Arias, Cabalettas, and Foreign Affairs: A Public Diplomat’s Quasi-Musical Memoir”.