Shortwave Radio: Reaching Dissidents in China? Good theory, but…

International Broadcasting Stations of the United States (May 15, 1939)

Shortwave radio was a mainstay of international news and information programs. It was the “new media” embraced to bypass and overcome the censorship of cables, the “old media.” This was particularly true in the United States. Radio broadcasting was seen as such an important and critical element to our national security a century ago that the Secretary of the Navy, a newspaper owner interested in the psychological defense of the nation, tried several times to nationalize wireless transmitters. He may have failed, but he contributed to forcing a British firm to sell their U.S. broadcasting assets which became the Radio Corporation of America. Indicative of the importance of the medium, RCA voting stock could only be owned by U.S. citizens, a restriction that was not removed until the 1980s. 

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The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs: an updated incumbency chart and some background

The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs was created in 1999 to lead the State Department’s existing public affairs operations and the reintegration of most of the global public affairs activities previously based in the department. These global activities had been removed in 1953 and rebranded in the late 1960s as “public diplomacy.” (Edmund Gullion is often credited with this rebranding, but proper attribution should go to Rep. Dante Fascell (D-FL), but that’s for another post.)

Since the office was established and the first Under Secretary was sworn-in on October 1, 1999, the office has been vacant 36% of the time. To be more precise, the office has been “unencumbered” with a confirmed Under Secretary for 35.8% of the days since October 1, 1999, with an average gap between appointments of 289 days (over 9.5 months). In December 2011, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy released a report about this vacancy issue (at the time, I served as the Executive Director of the commission) and the next month I published a less restrained commentary on the topic, R we there yet? A look at the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs). Above is an updated chart showing the tenure and vacancies of the office as of August 26, 2019.

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