Saturday, February 24, 2007

An innovator in government communications passes away

Like seemingly everyone else, I'm reading Made to Stick by the Heath brothers. So today's New York Times obituary of former CIA analyst Richard Lehman practically jumped off the page as I read it. Mr. Lehman crafted an intelligence briefing memo (the President's Intelligence Check List, or PICL) for President John Kennedy in 1961 that replaced an assortment of confusing, redundant and often omission-filled documents.

Says the Times:

Mr. Lehman recalled how “Kennedy was blindsided a couple of times” because he had not received important briefings. The president complained to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who, Mr. Lehman said, “came down on” the senior White House military aide, Maj. Gen. Chester Clifton, “like a ton of bricks.”

Mr. Lehman said General Clifton told him to produce a daily memo that would fit into a breast pocket so the president could carry it around with him. What the general wanted, Mr. Lehman said, was “a single publication, no sources barred, covering the whole ground, and written as much as possible in the president’s language rather than in officialese.”

If that isn't following the Heaths' simple and credible rules., I don't know what is. And this document has remained in use for forty-five years, through eight succeeding Presidents.

Also, I must point out a very good use of concrete description in the next paragraph of the Times article: "On a Saturday morning in June 1961, President Kennedy read the first PICL while sitting on a diving board at a hunting farm in Virginia."

Rest in peace, Mr. Lehman.

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