MountainRunner Year-End Review

As 2008 comes to close, here’s the year-end traffic report for the blog as reported by GoogleAnalytics:

165,818 visits
277,748 page views
1.68 average pages / visit
2min 9sec was the average visit

Over 20% of the visits came from DC, Virginia, and Maryland. Internationally, nearly 8% of the visitors came from Asia, including 1.4% from Western Asia, including Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and 1.5% from Southern Asia, which includes Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

Referring sites sent 82,205 visitors via 1,679 sources, including Danger Room (4.4%), Small Wars Journal (3.3%), Abu Muqawama (1.5%), Information Dissemination (1.1%), + TPM Barnett, ZenPundit, Half of the Spear, State’s DipNote, Life After Jerusalem, and Winds of Change each contributed between 0.75 and 0.44% of the total. Interestingly, more traffic came from Facebook (0.42%)  than from USC’s Center for Public Diplomacy (0.39%).

Another tool shows nearly 4k more visitors and more than 9k more page views and that 13% of the traffic came from Asia, 12.5% from Europe.

In December there were between 820-870 readers subscribing to the RSS, a number that has been steadily growing. The actual number varies by day (824 on 12/30 but 872 on 12/18) and includes aggregators that appear as one but actually represent one or more consumers. Over 120 of these subscribers receive complete posts via email.

Thanks for reading.

Kill My TV: where’s the news?

Hmmm. Rob at Arabic Source offers a suggestion.

I want to second Abu Muqawama’s Kill_Your_TV post.   American tv coverage of the events in Gaza is beyond bad – its horrible.  CNN.  NBC.  All of them are garbage.   Who gives a crap about Rod Bagloyavic?   Who cares whether Sarah Palin is now a grandmother.  Maybe that’s news if there was nothing whatsoever going on.  But how ’bout this thing called Gaza?   Isn’t  it a national security issue when the American people are getting such poor quality information about events that are critical  to US  security in the Middle East.   Might not the American people have a need to know  about them?

If I was US National Security Adviser or Secretary of State,  here’s what I would do to critically improve US National Security:  The first thing I would do is have the US government fully subsidize a new network,  next to CBS, NBC and ABC, that broadcasts only quality news and documentaries on world affairs and current events.    Nothing but serious programs on all of the important issues that people need to know about.   American Idol, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would never, ever get a mention on this new TV station.   Anyone who mentioned even one time, any of of these three, would immediately be fired.

People need to know what’s going on.  Dumb voters elect dumb politicians.  And dumb politicians make dumb policies.  So  what’s $50-100 million to run a 4th network featuring only serious world news?

This is spot on with my three reasons why the domestic dissemination prohibition of the transformed Smith-Mundt Act must be repealed. As the media has retreated from reported what goes on overseas out of a combination of budgets and interest, the American public are increasingly subjected to a combination of no information and half-truths from foreign sources without challenge (including the now widely read Russian psychological warrior Panarin – and here, reality check is here).

Introducing a new source of information, based on journalistic standards and public diplomacy standards to tell the truth, inform, and explain would, hopefully, raise the bar and challenge American media who no longer view informing the American public as a public service or a profit center. The purpose of the prohibition on domestic dissemination came not from the fear the Government would unduly influence the public, but that the State Department, full of Communists and Socialists, would undermine the Government. This was held by Congress, the FBI, and academics who questioned State’s loyalty of ability to manage both the information services and the exchange of persons programs.

What was done overseas in America’s name and with America’s money was intended to be shared within our borders by the media, Congress and academia. This created the necessary transparency and accountability of not just the programs but of the Government itself. At the time, holding the media accountable was not the issue. Today, it is as revenue streams shape content and headlines more than the need to now.

After the passing of “Deepthroat”, Mark Felt, someone observed that Watergate would probably not happen again because the major news organizations won’t fund such long investigations. This would have to come from “new” and independent organizations.

This is a good subject for the upcoming Smith-Mundt Symposium.

Quoting History: Eisenhower on public opinion (1958)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 31, 1958:

When there is a truly unified public opinion there is a tremendous power generated by our free people. Further, when that public opinion is based upon knowledge and real understanding of the issues involved, then this tremendous power can produce and sustain constructive action, almost without limit.

But the prerequisite for such strength, I repeat, is knowledge and understanding. An important element is such an understanding that purely military defenses, no matter how powerful, can never insure any nations security. Aggression that is political, psychological and economic can outflank military forces because of our failure to provide the necessary counter measures in those fields. …

Indeed, it is clear that there has not yet been created the determined, unified, aroused public opinion that would demand from the Congress the kind of support and action for these programs which must be carried out effectively, imaginatively and honestly if we are to preserve the peace and lead the world to a better life.

It is no coincidence that the active backers of the Smith-Mundt Act, passed just ten years prior to Eisenhower’s letter above, were peddlers of knowledge: Rep. Karl Mundt (R-SD) was a former school teacher and Assistant Secretary of State William Benton was the owner of the Encyclopædia Britannica (and proponent of The Great Books of the Western World).

It is also noteworthy that Eisenhower, like Secretary of Defense Gates today, knew victory stems from a broad engagement in the struggle for minds and wills. Total emphasis on violent extremism blinds us to the larger battles that are and will take place. Further, it limits our arsenal and even concept of persuasion.

Source: Mike Waller’s Public Diplomacy Reader.

Twitter in War

As Israeli obviously failed to heed the lessons of 2006 and the importance of a) shaping perceptions and b) countering adversarial information, they are exploring grassroots engagement in the struggle for minds in the current Gaza campaign:

NY Consulate Counts on Twitter: Israeli consulate uses social networking service as part of Gaza op PR campaign

Between 1-3 pm (EST) Tuesday, the Consulate General of Israel in New York will hold a live Citizen "Press" Conference on Twitter in order to directly answer the public’s questions regarding the current situation in Israel and Gaza in wake of the IDF’s operation in the Strip. …

Twitter users can take part in the Citizen "Press" Conference by going to: and directing their messages to @israelconsulate and including the tag #AskIsrael.

At <140 characters per exchange, how effective will this be?

See also:

Filtering comments

I do not filter comments on this blog. In fact, all comments are immediately published unless caught by the spam filter, which has on occasion snared the legitimate contribution. Fortunately, this is rare and I always clear the comment when I find it.

Moderation can be useful feature when there is an inordinate amount of spam or contributors with nonsensical statements. The former is managed by a better spam filter and attention to what is posted. The latter, well, is best handled by the same unless you simply want to keep out the riff raff and limit the discussion then you’ll moderate each comment individually.

Newspapers and radios moderate in print and on air comments because of finite resources, be it paper or air time. Blogs, well, they aren’t under the limitation although too many comments and the arguments can get lost in the crowd. So, moderation in the blogosphere has the effect of limiting discourse and creating an impression of elitism: I don’t want your opinion.

I don’t encounter too many blogs were all comments must be approved before posting. I have experienced only two blogs were I did post a comment only to learn (by looking for the comment online) they were rejected by the moderator. The first time was about three years ago and the subject was private military companies.

The second incident was this past week when I posted a rejoinder at the American Foreign Policy Council’s blog about tweeting. I’m not bothered that my comment was rejected, but I did get a laugh that a discussion about public diplomacy that says “public diplomacy and strategic communication are not about total transparency” would censor comments. Well, AFPC practices what they preach.

By the way, this post was based on the comment I submitted.


Highly abbreviated list due to deadlines, holidays, etc.

Listen to VOA on DC AM radio at WFED (AM 1500) Tuesdays and Thursdays. (h/t VOA, unofficially of course)

Al Jazeera reaches out via new media. (h/t KAE)

Still wondering how this upcoming USIP event can be titled Media as Global Diplomat when the only media (domestic or foreign and MTV doesn’t count) is the moderator and there are no non-US observers on the panel.

There’s a new website to watch: Building Peace. I’d subscribe but I can’t find an RSS for it… update: an RSS is now available

Event: The media and public diplomacy

The relationship between the media and public diplomacy today is one that is under-discussed. At one time, like foreign aid, U.S. media was integral to the practices that became known as public diplomacy. They were mutually dependent and supporting of each other. The Smith-Mundt Act was a means to extend U.S. media overseas, to broadcast where the American media could not. The Marshall Plan likewise continued this with the Informational Media Guarantee to further assist U.S. media products to reach overseas. Privatizing international broadcasting was to be done wherever and whenever possible according to the Act and public statements by the legislation’s backers.

Is the media a global diplomat? Possibly, but are we talking about their communication of the United States to overseas audiences or how they report global affairs to the U.S. market? It would seem the latter is the focus of the USIP event below. Will they discuss how public education about the U.S. role, if not standing, in the world is incompletely reported? I’m sure Jim Glassman will note how little Americans and Congress actually know what is being done overseas in America’s name. The news, especially foreign coverage, used to be considered a public service but now it is a profit center and there’s very little profit in global affairs, especially when the real cost of maintaining foreign bureaus has increased. Noam Chomsky noted the retreat from international coverage twenty years ago. Today, reporters like Lara Logan and the groups like the Pew Center report this trend only gotten worse.

If it is media as global diplomat, as a means to engage non-US audiences, either within the U.S. or abroad (which itself a separate slate of questions), then is this the right panel to be answer the question?

The United States Institute of Peace is hosting a "leadership summit" titled Media as Global Diplomat. The discussion will be moderated by Ted Koppel and the discussants include

  • Under Secretary of State Jim Glassman
  • Mika Salmi, President of Global Digital Media of MTV Networks
  • Edward Djerejian, Co-Founder of the Baker Institute
  • Marvin Kalb, Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice
  • Dennis Ross, Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Location: USIP Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Time: 9a – 3p

RSVP for the event here.

I hope the issue of American media’s retreat from covering global affairs comes up as well as the issue that the Government can’t tell the media everything it is doing overseas in America’s name and with America’s money.

I don’t know if I’ll be in town, but I’ll be there if I am.

See also:

Media and Public Diplomacy: a look back at the relationship sixty years ago

What is the role of media in public diplomacy? Is it a watch dog? I would say yes, if they only reported on what was being done overseas. Is it an extension of public diplomacy? Yes, if they are actually analyzing and deliberating the facts and shaping knowledge overseas.

America’s international engagement was clearly intended to further the reach of American media, to go where they could not. There were hearings to privatize the entirety of the international broadcasting operation, but the media declined saying they could not afford to do it, but they would be happy to continue to lease their transmitters and sell programming to the government.

A related post is Congressional Intent on Privatization of International Broadcasting, particularly the discussion from Rep. Karl Stefan (R-NE) from March 11, 1948.

The following is from Rethinking Smith-Mundt and focuses on the Congressional and public debates concerning the perceived government competition with American media. The leading voice from the media against government-owned broadcasting was the Associated Press’s Kent Cooper, then executive director. You may be aware of his opposition to government ownership, but I’ll give you a dollar if you know the basis of his opposition, a hypocrisy that his fellow publishers and Assistant Secretary of State Benton pointed out in debates played out in newspapers and radios.

Links to many of the historical articles will soon be placed in the Smith-Mundt Symposium’s library

Continue reading “Media and Public Diplomacy: a look back at the relationship sixty years ago

Quotes from the past: the purpose of Smith-Mundt, the bill

Without comment, here are a few paragraphs from Rethinking Smith-Mundt that should resonate given some of the criticism of public diplomacy over the last several days, especially those who ignore the role of Congress in rebuilding our arsenal of persuasion. Especially when you know that R has, in fact, very little of our money. 

Continue reading “Quotes from the past: the purpose of Smith-Mundt, the bill

All a twitter over some tweets

There seems to be some real consternation over Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy’s tweeting on Twitter. In today’s The Washington Post, Colleen tells why she tweets:

Why did I do it? Not that long ago, communicating diplomat-to-diplomat was enough. Agreements were reached behind closed doors and announced in a manner and degree that suited the schedule and desires of the governments involved, not the general population. In fact, the public was by and large an afterthought. But the proliferation of democracies and the emergence of the round-the-clock media environment has brought an end to those days. Now, governments must communicate not only with their people but also with foreign audiences, including through public diplomacy.

In short, public diplomacy is the art of communicating a country’s policies, values and culture. If diplomats want to engage effectively with people, we first need to listen, then connect and then communicate. In the part of the world that I know and cover, Europe and Eurasia, most people are tuned in to television, and the younger generation is using text messages and the Internet. So, we need to be there, too.

Some criticize the TMI tweets (like the bathing suit) but there are a few who take issue with the basic concept that a public diplomat is, gasp, publically engaging. One such criticism is that “In the absence of such a clear message, we run the risk of our personal communications efforts eclipsing our official ones.” Based on the belief that personal engagement is adjunct to traditional diplomacy dismisses the underlying essence of public diplomacy as a means of direct and indirect engagement of foreign publics in support of national security objectives. Or rather, it dismisses the the underlying essence of what public diplomacy used to be and is once again becoming.

The flitter over Colleen’s twitter is more about the rarity of her exercise and challenges to the concepts of public diplomacy than anything else.

Continue reading “All a twitter over some tweets

A good news story for public diplomacy and global engagement

Finally, some good news on the future of public diplomacy. Read Clinton Moves to Widen Role of State Dept. at The New York Times by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper.

The steps seem intended to strengthen the role of diplomacy after a long stretch, particularly under  Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in which the Pentagon, the vice president’s office and even the intelligence agencies held considerable sway over American foreign policy.

This is a very promising beginning to what appears will be active leadership at the State Department. The emphasis on working with Congress is required and refreshing. It gets very old reading opinion pieces that lament the lack of resources at State while completely ignoring the lack of proponents and evidence of change that would show the necessary change to get more money. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that Under Secretary Jim Glassman has only recently begun asking for more money, but shouldn’t his boss be the one knocking heads in Congress? It’s broke and it needs fixing and without leadership to fix it, more money will be hard to come by.

The only unfortunate thing about the “hit the ground running” approach is I’ve heard from multiple sources that Hillary Clinton’s nomination hearing will take place the same week as the Smith-Mundt Symposium, which is the week before inauguration. Hey, instead of drawing Congress and the media away from the media, perhaps the nominated Secretary of State could swing by the Symposium, on January 13 we will be across the street from the Capitol and the Senate office buildings at First Street and Constitution Avenue…

See also:

Smith-Mundt Symposium Update

A few quick announcements and reminders related to the upcoming Smith-Mundt Symposium.

  • A media advisory and a PDF with the bios of the panelists and moderators may be found at the Symposium’s media page.
  • A roundtable with “traditional” and new media in advance of the Symposium will take place January 6. For more information, including to be invited, go to the Symposium’s media page.
  • Registration is currently closed. Any new registrations will be placed on a wait list. This is unfortunate and unexpected, however nearly 200 have registered for this event. Members of Congress and the media are will be automatically registered and not placed on a waitlist.
  • If you registered and will not be attending, please contact me ASAP so the invitation can move to somebody else.
  • The electronic library for registered attendees will go online about January 1. Be sure to have a discussion forum username to access these files. To register for the Symposium’s  discussion forum, click on “Register” in the top right corner of any page of the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium site. You do not need to re-register if you are already registered at the MountainRunner blog.
  • Free Wi-Fi will be available for live blogging.
  • If you are interested in the Symposium, you will be interested in my op-ed published in the Washington Times Friday, December 19 on Smith-Mundt (comments should go either at the Washington Times website or an this post).

Lastly, a refresh on the event details:

What: 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium

When: Tuesday, January 13, 2009. Check-in and continental breakfast begins at 7. The event starts promptly at 8a and ends at 5:30p. Lunch will be served. A hosted reception will immediately follow the close of the Symposium at 5:30p.

Where: The Reserve Officers Association at the corner of First Street and Constitution Avenue N.E. on Capitol Hill.

Parking and other information may be found below, courtesy of the State Department (unofficially so don’t hold them responsible for errors or omissions or accidental semblances of favoritism):

Continue reading “Smith-Mundt Symposium Update

Guest Post: Democracy Building That Works

The below guest post is authored by Charles N. Quigley. Mr. Quigley is the executive director of the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit organization promoting education for democracy in the United States and in more than 70 other countries.

Building democracy is often an announced goal of U.S.-funded public diplomacy programs. However, there’s democracy building, and then there’s democracy building. Lately, the term has been getting a bad name. As must certainly be evident by now, there is no “do-it-yourself democracy kit” that can be dropped into a country whose citizens, regardless of prior experience, will then spontaneously organize themselves according to the instructions provided. The arrival of a new administration in Washington, D.C. provides an opportunity to reinvigorate democracy building through support for programs that empower a new generation of citizens for democratic participation.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Democracy Building That Works

Quoting History: Laswell on mobilizing minds (1927)

We are witnessing the growth of a world public, and this public has arisen in part because propaganda has at once agitated and organized it.. There is no doubt that democratic governments must assume the task, regardless of all complicating difficulties, of mobilizing minds as well as men and money in war.

— Harold Lasswell, Propaganda Technique in World War I (originally published in 1927) (also cited in Osgood’s Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad).

Persuasive Politics: Revisit the Smith-Mundt Act

Persuasive politics: Revisit the Smith-Mundt Act by Matt Armstrong, 19 December 2008, in The Washington Times.

“Repairing America’s image” is a popular mantra these days, but discussions on revamping America’s public diplomacy are futile if the legislative foundation of what we are attempting to fix is ignored. A sixty year old law affects virtually all U.S. engagement with foreign audiences by putting constraints on what we say and how we say it. Perhaps more importantly, it limits the oversight by the American public, Congress, and the whole of government into what is said and done in America’s name abroad. The impact of this law, the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, must not be ignored if policymakers hope to improve how the United States communicates overseas. …

A brand new National Security Council directed the State Department to respond to the “coordinated psychological, political and economic measures designed to undermine non-Communist elements in all countries.” The psychological struggle of the Cold War is lost by those who remember only the military confrontation. The “predominant aspect of the new diplomacy,” wrote a young Henry Kissinger, “is its psychological dimension.” But by the late 1960’s, as the borders of the most important contested spaces were settled, the strategic value of this “new diplomacy” gave way to private, closed door diplomacy.

The result was the transformation of what is now known as public diplomacy from a national security imperative aggressively targeting foreign public opinion to something more resembling a passive “beauty contest.”

Persuasive politics: Revisit the Smith-Mundt Act

In the The Washington Times:

Persuasive politics: Revisit the Smith-Mundt Act

Matt Armstrong
Friday, December 19, 2008

"Repairing America’s image" is a popular mantra these days, but discussions on revamping America’s public diplomacy are futile if the legislative foundation of what we are attempting to fix is ignored. A sixty year old law affects virtually all U.S. engagement with foreign audiences by putting constraints on what we say and how we say it. Perhaps more importantly, it limits the oversight by the American public, Congress, and the whole of government into what is said and done in America’s name abroad. The impact of this law, the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, must not be ignored if policymakers hope to improve how the United States communicates overseas.

Read the whole op-ed here.