www.MountainRunner.us

Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Russia’s War on Information

Read my December 15, 2014 article at War on the Rocks

Russian President Vladimir Putin has nearly completed his purge of independent news media in Russia.  “This is not just a war of information,” says one keen analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  “It is a war on information.”

The best counter to propaganda is truth and transparency, not more propaganda. Honest, unbiased facts coupled with unimpeded discussion by an informed citizenry is the most powerful weapon against the Kremlin’s disinformation that drains the future from Russia’s people and threatens Russia’s neighbors.

This is not about Russia Today. This is about Russia’s tomorrow.

Read the whole article at War on the Rocks.

Wilson + State = CPI

Robert Lansing

U.S. public diplomacy has a surprising history, as a recent blog post and interview noted. That brief discussion, however, gave the expected superficial treatment that left out key details such as a deeply entrenched cultural resistance and the influence of highly filtered information flows.

The story of Mrs. Vira Whitehouse, referred to in the recent blog post, is a useful case study to discuss some ‘surprises’ that break with conventional wisdom about the Creel Committee, formally known as the Committee for Public Information, the State Department, the beginning of the United States Information Service, and U.S. Government-sponsored exchanges.

Below is an abridged and modified excerpt from my book (a work long in progress but nearing completion). I am sharing it here partly in response to the recent discussion, partly to frame an anniversary discussion on public diplomacy (more on that later), and to invite comments. Footnotes and citations have been removed; passages have been altered for brevity or removed and saved for the book.

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Kennan’s Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia

George Kennan:

“It is a pity that our press plays up our diplomatic relations like a ball game, stressing victories and defeats. Good diplomacy results in satisfaction for both sides as far as possible; if one side really feels defeated, they try to make up for it later, and thus relations deteriorate. In general the daily press and commentators dramatize short-term conflicts at the expense of long-term prospects for achieving a stable balance.”

From ‘Draft on Information Policy on Relations with Russia’ by George Kennan, July 22, 1946.

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The basic right upon which freedom rests

Archibald MacLeish:

The right to a free press — the right of the people to read and to hear and therefore to think as they please — is, I deeply believe, the basic right upon which freedom rests. Freedom of exchange of information between the peoples of the world is the extension into international relations of the basic democratic right of freedom of the press. Belief in the freedom of exchange of information rests upon the conviction that if the peoples of the world know the facts about each other, peace will be maintained, since peace is the common hope and the common cause of the people everywhere.

Source: Department of State, Bulletin, December 10, 1944, p693. (Bulletin was State’s in-house publication.) Continue reading

FDR on working with the State Department

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

Dealing with the State Department is like watching an elephant become pregnant. Everything’s done on a very high level, there’s a lot of commotion, and it takes twenty-two months for anything to happen.

Source: Cary Reich, The life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: worlds to conquer, 1908-1958, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday). 182.

Public Diplomacy’s ‘Missing Years’

Cover page for USIS daily news bulletin from Sep 1945There was a time before USIA when the U.S. Government practiced what we now call public diplomacy. This period is often forgotten or ignored.  For too many, the history of U.S. public diplomacy begins with the establishment of United States Information Agency, or USIA.  However, it did not and pretending it did start with USIA not only misrepresents the past and subsequent trajectories, it is also a disservice to those who worked hard to establish peacetime public diplomacy.

A recent example is an article where the subject, Mr. Ben Bradlee, was described as a public diplomacy officer.  Mr. Bradlee worked for the United States Information Service, or USIS, but USIS was part of the State Department at the time, not USIA.   Continue reading

MountainRunner Reboots

After a long pause, MountainRunner is back.  With the exception of some occasional activity in 2012, mostly in the form of guest blogs, it’s been four years since I ended my inveterate posting at the end of 2010.  In that time, the world of public diplomacy, as ambiguous as the term is, has changed substantially.  In those years my relationship with and understanding of a broad range of activities that fall under — or near — the umbrella of ‘public diplomacy’.

This blog was and continues to be about having a conversation.  For every comment that appeared on this site, there were 3-5 (or more) that were emailed.  For every visitor the statistics showed, there were innumerable others with readers distributing many posts by email and email subscribers (over 1,500 at one point) could read posts in their entirety without visiting the site.  I don’t expect the numbers return to their previous levels, and I won’t be posting with the frequency of the past, but I do hope readership will rebound somewhat for an inclusive and broad exchange of ideas.  Posts will be mine and I will begin considering guest posts later in 2015.

It bears repeating that this blog is a personal project.  It was when I began blogging over a decade ago — back when I was blogging anonymously — and it remains so today and into the future.  The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of any organization I work for or am otherwise affiliated with.

Because of my role with the Broadcasting Board of Governors, I expect that some readers may be disappointed with topics and issues that will not covered here.

If you’re inclined, below are two other personal social media channels that you can follow:

Twitter: @mountainrunner

Tumblr: MountainRunner-us (new!)

Stay tuned!

Public Diplomacy: Books, Articles, Websites #62

Courtesy of Bruce Gregory, here is the latest update on resources that may be of general interest for teachers, students, and practitioners of public diplomacy and related courses and activities. Suggestions for future updates are welcome. Bruce Gregory is an adjunct professor at George Washington University and at Georgetown University and a pre-eminant font of knowledge for public diplomacy and strategic communication.  He previously served as the executive director of the U.S. Advisory Communication on Public Diplomacy.

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When do we start the honest debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act?

Read my post this morning at the Public Diplomacy Council website about the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act.

What is it about U.S. public diplomacy that we must hide it from Americans? Is it so abhorrent that it would embarrass the taxpayer, upset the Congress (which has surprisingly little additional insight on the details of public diplomacy), or upend our democracy? Of our international broadcasting, such as the Voice of America, do we fear the content to be so persuasive and compelling that we dare not permit the American media, academia, nor the Congress, let alone the mere layperson, to have the right over oversight to hold accountable their government? [Read the rest here]

Also, be sure to see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.

If you are attending the event at the Heritage Foundation today, “Understanding the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act,” at 3p ET (apparently it will be webcast), and you’re on the fence or opposed to the availability of State Department public diplomacy material domestically, would you be so kind as to provide examples from the field of what Americans should not know about?

And, if you are attending that Heritage event today, do read my post at the Public Diplomacy Council website, particularly the paragraph about the difference between access and dissemination, existing language in the law to promote the free flow of information outside Government control, and whether State should have separate coverage from the BBG.

See also:

Congress, the State Department, and “communistic, fascistic, and other alien influences”

The current debate on the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is filled with misinformation about the history of Smith-Mundt, some of it verging on blatant propaganda, making the overall discussion rich in irony. In 1947, the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional committee assembled to give its recommendation on the Smith-Mundt Act declared that it was a necessary response to the danger posed “by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.” Today, it is the Smith-Mundt Act that is victim to “false propaganda” and “misinformation” that are shaping the perceptions of the the Modernization Act as a whole and its parts.

Many of the negative narratives swirling around the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act are based on assumptions and myths that, like true propaganda, have an anchor in reality but stray from the facts to support false conclusions. These fabrications include the false assertion the Act ever applied to the whole of Government, often specifically the Defense Department (there is a separate “no propaganda” law for the Defense Department), as well the more broad and fundamental confusion, and lack of knowledge, of the nature and content of America’s public diplomacy with foreign audiences.

An honest appraisal of the Modernization Act requires an honest representation of the original Smith-Mundt Act, especially it’s so-called “firewall.” Drawing on my forthcoming book on the history of the Smith-Mundt Act, below is a brief account on the primary cause behind the Congress legislating that the State Department shall “disseminate abroad information about the U.S., the American people, and the policies promulgated by the Congress, the President, the Secretary of State and other responsible officials of Government having to do with matters affecting foreign affairs.”

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