www.MountainRunner.us

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

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 introduced in the House

Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.” The bill, H.R.5736 — Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House – IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same. This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively imagined sometime over the three decades.

(see the FAQ on Smith-Mundt and the Modernization Act here)

Continue reading

Challenge of Change – 1961 Bell Labs film on communication

Looking into the future from the past is often fascinating. A Bell Labs film from 1961 on the changing communication environment predicts the future information age as it projects its technology into the future. This includes machine to machine communication, online ordering, e-commerce, and cellular phones, is no different. The underlying purpose is preparing the audience for change.

Continue reading

A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment

North Korea is one of the few remaining places where barriers to informing and engaging remain strong. While it remains unlikely Kim Jong Un will reduce the state’s control over the communication environment, a new report indicates access to unsanctioned foreign media is expanding inside the country. The impact of access to alternative news could have interesting consequences inside the country.

Continue reading

Public Diplomacy Achievement Awards 2012

(L-R) Larry Schwartz, Jean Manes, Heather Eaton, Rob Nevitt, Lynn Roche. Jean Manes and Heather Eaton are 2012 achievement award winners. Lynne Roche, of State Department's Africa bureau, accepted the award for Sharon Hudson-Dean. Frank Schwartz nominated Jean Manes. Rob Nevitt chairs the PDAA awards committee. (Photo: A. Kotok)

2012 PDAA Awards Recognize Public Diplomacy Excellence

The Public Diplomacy Alumni Association, formerly the USIA Alumni Association, gave its 2012 achievement awards to U.S. public diplomacy professionals working in Zimbabwe, Okinawa, and Washington, DC. The announcement is below.

Continue reading