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

Mid-Week Quote: “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account”

Today’s quote comes from the Fourth Semiannual Report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, submitted to the Congress in April 1951.

Sometimes policy is “made” by the junior officer who writes an original memorandum. Sometimes it is made by an unexpected utterance at a top-level press conference. But the information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted.

The Mid-Week Quote will be a recurring feature of the blog, although it may not appear every week.  Email me to suggest a quote.  See below for more on the report this quote is taken from.

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Senate Report on the Broadcasting Board of Governors

The most extensive report on the issues facing the Broadcasting Board of Governors and US international broadcasting was released this week. “US International Broadcasting – Is Anybody Listening? – Keeping the US Connected” (1mb PDF) was prepared by the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under the leadership of senior professional staff member Paul Foldi, and is the best, if not the only, substantial review of its kind.

The report describes the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) as transforming from its intent of a political “firewall” to a modern political “football” that has resulted in an average vacancy on the board of over 470 days. Even now, the new slate of members of the BBG has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Beyond staffing difficulties and the resulting repercussions, the report describes the fierce competition and imbalance, particularly with China and Russia, to engage listeners, viewers, and readers around the world. The report also recommends changes to the Smith-Mundt Act, describing the firewall as “anachronistic and potentially harmful.”

Some highlights from the report:

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Smith-Mundt Act: Facts, Myths and Recommendations

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 is the authorizing legislation for America’s public diplomacy and strategic communication. This three-page information sheet addresses confusion surrounding the Act and makes recommendations that are fundamental to any improvement to US public diplomacy and strategic communication. It is ironic that legislation intended to counter misinformation is itself subject to misinformation to the point few know the Act’s purpose and true application.

The following is a short three page overview written at the request of and for a (pro bono) client who is neither the State Department nor the Defense Department. Download here or read below or at Scribd.

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House Appropriations Concerned Pentagon’s Role in Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy (updated)

American public diplomacy wears combat boots. The Defense Department necessarily, if unwilling and clumsily to begin with, stepped in to fill a gap left by an absent State Department. Today, the situation is different with Defense running increasingly sophisticated efforts, often with the collaboration and support of State and other entities within the Government.

New GAO Report on Public Diplomacy is out (Updated)

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight, GAO-09-679SP, May 27, 2009. Download here (PDF, 566kb) or read online here.


The United States’ current national communication strategy lacks a number of desirable characteristics identified by GAO, such as a clear definition of the problem, desired results, and a delineation of agency roles and responsibilities. …

The United States’ current national communication strategy lacks a number of desirable characteristics identified by GAO, such as a clear definition of the problem, desired results, and a delineation of agency roles and responsibilities. …

State faces a number of human capital challenges that influence the effectiveness of its public diplomacy operations. …

Security concerns around the world have led to building practices and personnel policies that have limited the ability of local populations to interact with Americans inside and outside the embassy. …

[GAO] provided a draft of this report for review and comment to State, BBG, USAID, and DOD. Each agency declined to provide formal comments. State, BBG, and USAID provided technical comments, which we incorporated in the report, as appropriate.

The report includes a Strategic Communication (not “public diplomacy”) budget breakdown:


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Summarizing Public Diplomacy Reports

image GAO, CRS, academics, and anyone else interested in Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication must look at Steve Corman’s quick and dirty and most coherent summary ever of eighteen major public diplomacy reports from the most recent White Oak report back to a 2004 Brookings Report.

The raw numbers don’t tell the complete the story, but that half or more of the reports shared four recommendations is significant.

Somebody, perhaps one of Steve’s student’s, should take this a step further: look at the reports’ definition of public diplomacy and weigh the recommendations accordingly. Is Public Diplomacy an active component in the struggle of minds and wills using “fast” and “slow” communications or a passive informational tool primarily based on the “slow” communications of exchanges? 

Either way, Steve’s analysis is unique and the top values are certainly common and yet elusive? Why? Because we had, until last year, no real understanding of the value of people to people engagement after we came out of thirty years of state on state diplomacy followed by the End of History. Congress is eager to help change the system and the Defense Department is eager to help, but will the system, now “owned” by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, be changed?