Selection and commentary by PDC members and authoritative experts in the field
Thursday, February 26th 2015
The quarterly meeting of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy was held at a site for diplomats, attended by a number of former diplomats, and focused on diplomatic issues. But the discussion that followed was undiplomatically – yet appropriately – blunt.
Russia’s leadership (as opposed to the Russian people) is “intent on disrupting the free flow of information across Eastern Europe.”
They “distort the truth… sow dissatisfaction…“ and try to “drive a wedge between” the United States and Western allies in an effort that is “aggressive, even audacious in its scope and ambition.”
Deputy Assistant Sec. of State Mark Toner, who spoke to the Commission at its public meeting at the American Foreign Service Association headquarters in Washington, said that Russia has come a long way from the old “Soviet apparatchik” days. Their propaganda then was crude, easily recognized, and just as easily dismissed. Today, however, the anti-U.S., anti-Western, anti-democracy content coming from sources such as RT, the global Russian television network, is “very sophisticated” and polished.
“Unless you can compete with it, don’t even try.”
Fortunately, we can compete with it. And here the news was more encouraging.
Sunday, February 22nd 2015
In a recent Atlantic Council paper -- “Beyond Countering Extremism: What About Everybody Else in the Middle East?” -- retired Ambassador Richard LeBaron drew on his experience as Ambassador to Kuwait and as the founding Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) to speak of Public Diplomacy. Excerpts from his paper follow:
* * * * * Public, people-to-people diplomacy is one of the most effective tools of foreign policy that the United States possesses.
Elements of Public Diplomacy That We Know Are Effective
When I ask my expert former public diplomacy colleagues who serve or have served in the Middle East what are the most effective instruments of public diplomacy, they to a person immediately reply that exchanges—bringing foreigners to the United States and sending Americans abroad—are the most effective tools in actually building constructive views of each other’s societies. Not social media, not official television and radio stations, not military information operations, not advertising campaigns, not speeches by politicians, not crafting our messages more cleverly, but actually real people meeting and interacting with real people outside their own national and cultural bubbles.
Wednesday, February 11th 2015
A small brushfire of criticism erupted recently over the Voice of America’s initial failure to report the story of NBC anchor Brian Williams’ admittedly false claims to have been in a helicopter that came under enemy fire in Iraq. (Williams’ disputed claims about his experiences covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans quickly added to the controversy.)
The Williams story broke on Feb. 4. VOA’s first report on it came four days later, on Feb. 8 (a day after BBGWatch.com, a watchdog site, chided VOA for not covering it).
Although some VOA insiders reportedly defended the agency by saying the story was a “domestic” one or that the journalist was “unknown” to foreign audiences, that defense is neither accurate nor, in fact, relevant. On the contrary, the Williams story is a perfect example of what VOA should recognize as a teachable moment.
Like our national elections every two years, some stories offer great opportunities for VOA to fulfill the most important requirements of its charter: to cover the news comprehensively; to show who Americans are and what we believe in; and to show how a democratic society based on rights such as freedom of the press is supposed to work.
For example, mid-term and presidential elections give VOA a chance to report numerous news stories that show how our system works, how politicians must face voters and the consequences of their policies, and how a democracy responds peacefully to the will of the electorate. It’s clearly news, but it’s also instructive, and many international audiences follow the coverage for both reasons, because they can compare it to their own experiences at home.
The Williams story (and frankly, this could be said even if he was an unknown reporter in a small local market) is important because his false claims about events he witnessed as a reporter obviously conflicted with his responsibility to be truthful and credible as a journalist, which are essential requirements for maintaining trust in a free press.
And that’s why it was a teachable moment for VOA.
Saturday, February 7th 2015
Council Member Matt Armstrong challenges John Brown's article below about the "Creel Committee", established to promote U.S. goals during World War I. Drawing on different historical writings, Armstrong focuses on the Committee for Public Information's effort to balance the information available to audiences abroad, which was at the time scarce and filtered through only a few news distributors. He also paints a picture of a State Department that adhered strictly to private, mostly government-to-government, communications and resisted public outreach.
Read Matt's article -- drawn from a book in progress -- here and begin to draw your conclusions about public diplomacy's origins. My takeaway is that to make judgments about the period, we have to enter an era of very different values, beliefs and possibilities. A time when advertising and public relations were in their infancy, never mind broadcasting or the internet. A fascinating exploration, which the Council will no doubt continue to explore.
Wednesday, February 4th 2015
So you're interested in diplomacy and foreign affairs - perhaps as a career option. And you're looking over the course listings available at your college. Are you going to favor the instructors who are former diplomats or those who have built their career researching and teaching international affairs?