In the saga of institutional misinformation, we have a new entry. The following article is set up as satire in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which is fine, but the author’s invocation of history, specifically organizational history combined with implied current organizational portfolios is horribly wrong. The failure to understand our history is irrelevant to the article “Let’s Tweet, Grandma – Weaponizing the Social to Create Information Security” but it is relevant as yet another sad revelation of how poorly we understand our organizations, past and present. That the author of this piece is a Navy Commander, a graduate of the Naval War College, and presently at TRADOC reveals an unfortunate reality about what our institutions “know” about the past and present. (Incidentally, I am a casual collector of books by “Dean Swift,” my oldest is only from 1911 though. There was an older edition I had my eye on in an antique bookstore in London, but I never pulled the trigger.)Continue reading “Gross Misinformation: we have no idea what we’re doing or what we did “
On January 24, 1945, Congressman Karl Earl Mundt, Republican from South Dakota, introduced a bill “to transmit knowledge and understanding to the greatest number of people” across the Pan American Union. The method would be exchanging elementary and high school teachers in training. Put another way, the Mundt bill was a scholarship program for student-teachers in their junior year of college, provided they were in good standing with the American Association of Teachers Colleges. Before he was elected to the House in 1938, Mundt had been a schoolteacher, school superintendent, a college instructor, a co-founder of the National Forensic League (since renamed the National Speech and Debate Association), and both he and his wife were active with the South Dakota Poetry Society. Karl Mundt appreciated the value of words and ideas. The bill he introduced seventy-seven years ago today would go through several iterations before being signed into law three years and three days later by President Truman as the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. Originally intended to create and foster common understanding between peoples, to preemptively as well as reactively counter misinformation and disinformation, today its purpose and evolution are clouded by an ironic combination of misinformation and disinformation.Continue reading “Correcting Misinformation around the Smith-Mundt Act Seventy-Seven Years after it was Introduced “
A clear absence of research, making arguments incongruent with history and facts, and unsubstantiated if-then statements are the kind of malpractice that at some point is more than mere accidental misinformation. With the rare exception, modern calls to reincarnate the United States Information Agency skirt beyond malpractice and misinformation and into the realm of disinformation. Calls to “bring back USIA” are prevalent enough to be a genre of its own. And this genre, while well-intentioned, is a Pavlovian reaction based almost entirely on demonstrably false mythologies.Continue reading “The Irony of Misinformation and USIA “
Last week, I published “W(h)ither R: a marquee failure of leadership in foreign policy,” a 2300-word discussion on the bipartisan failure to fill the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Below is a bulleted edition (with bonus arguments) for the tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) crowd.Continue reading “tl;dr edition of “W(h)ither R: a marquee failure of leadership in foreign policy” “
In discussions about how the United States needs to structure its bureaucracies as the nation — and democratic principles in general — is pummeled by propaganda and political warfare, historical precedents are often cited. These examples may be used to show how something worked before or as warnings. For the latter, it is easy to find a reference to the Committee for Public Information as a government domestic propaganda machine. For the former, it is increasingly common to read how the United States Information Agency provides a model to be emulated today. Both are bad takes based on common narratives that are ahistorical and easily debunked, and yet no one has seemed to do so.Continue reading “Neglected History, Forgotten Lessons: a presentation and a discussion “
There is a government position at the center of countless reports on countering foreign disinformation, correcting misinformation, and directly engaging foreign audiences that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in these very reports and recommendations. Whether due to ignorance, perceived irrelevance of the office, or both, the ghosting of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs reveals a fundamental defect in the analysis of how the United States has, does, and could organize in response to the role of public opinion in foreign policy and national security. Established in 1999 as a reinterpreted USIA Director, excepting the broadcast operations, the office has had a confirmed, not acting, Under Secretary only 60% of the time. Even if the counter stopped at the start of the Trump administration, which had one Under Secretary who served for only 100 days, the average officeholder’s tenure was one year and seven months with an average of more than six months between incumbents. The marginalization of this office, including the nearly complete disregard of its potential in the myriad of recommendations on “recreating” USIA or similar structure, should surprise no one.Continue reading “Whither R: the office that’s been vacant two of every five days since 1999 “
August 2, 2020
Intended for teachers of public diplomacy and related courses, here is an update on resources that may be of general interest. Suggestions for future updates are welcome.
Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication
George Washington University
Sardonic? Ironic? Satire? Which word best fits the the lack of serious debate over the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and the realities for which public diplomacy and international broadcasting are required and operate? See my post at the Public Diplomacy Council about this.
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, see Josh Rogin’s Much ado about State Department ‘propaganda’.
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.
If you have not seen the Proctor & Gamble marketing campaign entitled “Thank you, Mom“, you really should. An Olympic Partner for London 2012, the campaign will run for these last 100 days before the start of the summer games. It is the largest campaign in P&G’s 174-year history.
The campaign launched with the digital release of the short film “Best Job,” a moving celebration of mom’s raising great kids and Olympians, according to a press release. The video was shot on four continents with local actors and athletes from each location — London, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and Beijing — and will be found online, across social media, TV, and print.*
How might the State Department produce similar vignettes that could translate policy initiatives including women’s issues, empowering young people, and other democracy and civil society issues?
The Bureau of International Information Programs has both the technical capacity, including a HD studio and post production suite, and the creative capacity. Madison Avenue agencies (both literal and figurative) would be willing to help, as private discussions have raised and previous efforts demonstrate. This partnership would not be unusual as there is established, if perhaps forgotten, precedent that extends at least to 1951, before the USIA was established, in the form of both formal and informal advisory relationships.
Such cross-cultural outreach like this P&G campaign that supports and praises moms would likely enjoy the support of senior leadership in DC and the field. It would likely have traction with Ambassador moms and Ambassador wives. The vignettes would have a ready audience to the growing number of Facebook friends of the various State Department sites, many of which need content.
What do you think?
*Does this make the ad “old media” or “new media”? Try “now media”…
By Brian Carlson
The following originally appeared at the Public Diplomacy Council and is republished here with permission.
Tara Sonenshine was confirmed Thursday night by the Senate, and she will probably take office officially early this week. (She can be sworn in privately by some current official and begin work, even as a more formal ceremony is planned for a few weeks hence.)
It is a new beginning down at Foggy Bottom. Tara becomes only the seventh Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs since the job was created upon the merger of USIA into the Department in 1999.
It is a propitious time to consider what habits lead to success at the State Department, as well as what experience teaches about being the nation’s Olympic spear-catcher when they think we’re being out-communicated by some guy in a cave. Here are a few suggestions for how to succeed at this job, all gathered from my time working directly with five of the six previous Under Secretaries. (I had no contact with Margaret Tutwiler.)
Congratulations to Tara Sonenshine, who was confirmed this evening to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs!
Also confirmed was Mike Hammer as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs (finally dropping “Acting” from his title).
Below is a list of all State Department.
- Michael A. Hammer to be Assistant Secretary of State (Public Affairs)
- Anne Claire Richard, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of State
- Tara D. Sonenshine, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, vice Judith A. McHale.
- Robert E. Whitehead, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Togolese Republic.
- Larry Leon Palmer, of Georgia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Jonathan Don Farrar, of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama.
- Phyllis Marie Powers, of Virginia to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Republic of Nicaragua.
- Nancy J. Powell, of Iowa, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Personal Rank of Career Ambassador, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to India.
- Frederick D. Barton, of Maine, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Conflict and Stabilization Operations), vice Bradford R. Higgins.
For Tara, getting started requires waiting for the President to attest (certify) the confirmation, then swearing in (mostly like at the Department, possibly by Secretary Clinton but possibly Under Secretary Kennedy, unless she has a specific individual in mind), and then she’s off and running. She could start as early as Monday but Tuesday may be more likely. It largely depends on the White House’s ability to turn around the certification and get it to State.
Congratulations also goes to State’s public diplomacy, including the people, bureaucracy, the practice and the supporters. Having a strong leader like Tara confirmed for the job is long overdue.
Guest Post By Morris “Bud” Jacobs
The mission of public diplomacy is generally described as seeking to “understand, engage, inform and influence” foreign publics and elites in support of national policy objectives. Public diplomacy has been practiced, in one form or another, for a long time – think Benjamin Franklin in France, charming the nobility to garner support for the American colonies in their struggle for independence. Its modern origins include the first broadcast of the Voice of America in February 1942 (VOA celebrates its 70th anniversary this spring) and the establishment of the Office of War Information in June of that year. Continue reading “A Call to Action on Public Diplomacy
It should be common knowledge that the “information consequences of policy ought always be taken into account, and the information man ought always to be consulted. This statement from 1951 foreshadowed Eisenhower’s dictum of the next year that “everything we say, everything we do, and everything we fail to say or do will have its impact in other lands.” Words and deeds needed more than just synchronization as public opinion could be leveraged to support the successful conduct of foreign policy. Continue reading “The President’s National Framework for Strategic Communication (and Public Diplomacy) for 2012
Guest Post By Alex Belida
When I worked at VOA and spoke to visiting groups, I routinely stated, with pride, my opinion that it was one of the last bastions of “pure journalism” in the U.S. and the world.
By that I meant the news stories written in VOA’s Central Newsroom avoided the diseases afflicting many media outlets in recent years: “snark”-enhanced writing, argument as a substitute for real reporting, and politically-or-ideologically-inspired selectivity in story and interview assignments. Continue reading “Good Journalism Vs. Undermining Unsavory Regimes
There’s word there will be a new “acting” Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs) as early as next week. The current “acting” for R, as it is known at Foggy Bottom, is Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock. I have not heard a single negative comment on Ann’s leadership while the “acting” U/S, except for early concerns she’d pay less attention to ECA. However, I’ve also heard no complaints about the “acting” leader of ECA in Ann’s “absence,” Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary Adam Ereli.
So what is the reason for replacing Ann? Continue reading “R we to have a new “acting” Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)?
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is presently working toward updating its organization and strategy to meet America’s 21st Century needs. Whether you agree with the suggestions or not, most of the proposed changes remain just that: proposed as they await approval for many of the key changes. The BBG provided a “narrative” but you will have to wait until next month, I’m told, for the detailed plan.
Back in September 2010, I wrote about the “honeymoon” the then-new Board would enjoy. Indeed, after two years without a chairman and with only four members, serving appointments that expired six years earlier, the neglected BBG was due and eager for fresh leadership.
For background, the BBG is the only federal agency run by a committee. The eight governors are appointed by the President, not more than four of whom may be from the same party, and the Secretary of State, who usually delegates his or her Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy as the representative.
These eight are part-time leaders appointed to staggered terms. The purpose was to provide fresh and state-of-the-art advice by top professionals and leaders to the Government.
The staggered and overlapping terms were a bid for continuity and to avoid radical shifts in policy. The wholesale replacement of the Board in June 2010 with eight new members was a refresh that was not supposed to happen, and it was the first time since 2004 that the Board had a full complement.
However, we are now looking at the likely prospect of a wholesale replacement of the board due to term expirations. Is twice in a row a coincidence or an emerging pattern of White House neglect?
By Alan L. Heil Jr.
This article originally appeared at American Diplomacy. It is republished here, slightly modified, with permission of the author and American Diplomacy.
As the Voice of America marks its 70th anniversary, what lies ahead for all of the world’s publicly-funded overseas networks in the year ahead? For Western broadcasters collectively, 2011 was the most potentially devastating year in more than eight decades on the air. Now, because of fiscal uncertainties in their host countries and rapidly evolving competition from both traditional and new media, they face huge cuts in airtime and operations. Can America step up to help fill the gap? A new strategic plan for U.S.-funded overseas broadcasting charts a possible path.
Over the years, the government networks in Europe and North America have offered a window on the world and a beacon of hope for hundreds of millions of information-denied or impoverished people on the planet. They have done so by offering accurate, in-depth, credible news, ideas, educational and cultural fare, consistent with Western journalistic norms and the free flow of information enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The broadcasts have enhanced America’s security, and even saved lives. They helped foster a largely peaceful end to the Cold War.
By Alex Belida
With the 70th anniversary of the Voice of America approaching (Feb. 1st), it is an ideal time to assess the future prospects for U.S. International Broadcasting (USIB).
USIB has, over the past 70 years, grown into a multi-headed conglomerate. Besides VOA, it now includes Radio Free Europe (founded 1950), Radio Liberty (founded 1953 and merged with RFE in 1976), Radio Marti (founded 1983) and TV Marti (founded 1990), Radio Free Asia (founded 1996) and the Middle East Broadcasting Network comprised of Radio Sawa (founded 2002) and Al-Hurra TV (founded 2004).
The current Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), headed by Walter Isaacson, this month approved resolutions (see record of decisions Jan. 13) aimed at consolidating these operations. As a first step, the Board will study the feasibility of merging into a single corporate structure the three so-called Grantee or surrogate entities – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Network. Secondly the Board will seek legislative approval to create a Chief Executive Officer to oversee day-to-day operations of these non-federal elements of USIB as well as the federal elements, the Voice of America and Radio-TV Marti.
(This article was updated on 20 November ’17 with a new chart that reflects incumbent tenures through 1 July ’16 and some other edits.)
What is the role of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs? That has been an enduring question of the State Department, the Defense Department, National Security Staff, the Congress and the many others interested in America’s efforts to understand, inform, and influence global audiences. Established thirteen years ago to manage many of the activities formerly run by the abolished United States Information Agency (USIA), its role within State and with other agencies across Government has been subject to reinterpretation nearly every time there was a new Under Secretary. The last report of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy looked at the turnover in the position of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The Commission found that the position has been unfilled for over 30% of the time since it was established. Moreover, the average tenure of the six Under Secretaries since 1999 was about 500 days, or less than 17 months. Indeed today, the office remains unencumbered since June 30, 2011, while Tara Sonenshine awaits confirmation by the Senate. Technically, the office is never “vacant” as there is always someone in an “acting” capacity. Today, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock runs the office in lieu of a confirmed Under Secretary.
The Commission compared the tenure of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs with two peers: the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (on January 1, 2012, this office became known as the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights) and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. As shown in the table below, the differences in tenure and gaps in incumbency are stark.
As Sonenshine is unlikely to be confirmed before February due to the Senate’s calendar, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs will be unfilled for an aggregate of more than 1,400 days, or nearly 1 out every 3 days over the past thirteen years. Below is a chart showing how long confirmed Under Secretaries served, and equally if not more important, how long the office was not filled by a confirmed appointee.
The above chart does not, of course, reflect how the Under Secretary perceived “public diplomacy,” how they worked with (or didn’t) the Department, from the 7th Floor to other Under Secretaries to the field (namely, but not limited to, the public affairs sections the Under Secretary is notionally connected), other agency partners, or the private sector and civil society. Nor does the chart indicate consistency in vision or leadership by the incumbent, or the degree of support by the Secretary or the White House of that vision or leadership. Nor does the chart indicate how well, if at all, the Under Secretary helped, protected, or promoted the public diplomacy “cone” (State’s label for career track), sought input from the field, or empowered the field. Nor does the chart indicate how the Under Secretary provided leadership, direction, or held accountable those offices directly within the office’s remit, such as the Bureau of International Information Programs and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or indirectly, such as the Bureau of Public Affairs, the Global Engagement Center (formerly the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication), and the Public Affairs Sections at embassies and consulates worldwide.
At the time of this writing, the website of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (known inside State as “R”) states both the purpose of public diplomacy the role of the office succinctly:
The mission of American public diplomacy is to support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests, and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics and by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world.
The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs leads America’s public diplomacy…
But does this office continue to sit in a leadership position? In addition to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (a bureau of understated impact and potential), R has the Bureau of International Information Programming (IIP), which is the Department’s “public diplomacy communications bureau,” and the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC).
Not public when the report was published last month was the elevation of the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (S/CT) to a bureau under the Under Secretary for Civil Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (or “J”), the office formerly known as the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (or “G”). The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) called for the elevation of S/CT to the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism (now “J/CT” to reflect its position under J). The QDDR suggested a close connection with R: “the Bureau will play a key role in State as efforts to counter violent extremism, working closely with the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the new Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications” (p.45). Reportedly, the Bureau was placed within J, capably led by Under Secretary Maria Otero, because of that office’s role in “transnational issues.” Is R then limited to “communication”?
The Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (PA) is independently expanding his office’s social media presence independent of, and bypassing, the Under Secretary’s office. This is, according to many inside of State, to increase the A/S for PA influence over posts, which is a natural direction when the Assistant Secretary is charged with communicating with audiences in the U.S. and abroad. It is worth noting that the real relationship of PA to the Under Secretary is more peer than subordinate. (To reflect this relationship, one of the few entries in this blog’s style guide is writing the full title for R as “Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy (and Public Affairs)”.
Are these challenges reflective in how much “communication” R actually oversees? And is R’s domain eroding?
Back to the Commission report, it offered several questions for further research:
1. What do the long gaps between appointments of Under Secretaries for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs indicate about views on the role and skills necessary for the position, or the importance of public diplomacy and the role of the State Department in leading and coordinating Government activities that intend to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics?
2. What do the short tenures indicate about the challenges of the position?
3. Does the Under Secretary adequately support the careers of public diplomacy officers in light of leadership turnover and frequent and long periods when the position was unencumbered?
I’ll add to that list additional, more blunt, questions:
- How does the office stay in the game and not get circumvented, or bypassed, and its resources and missions not get poached without an Under Secretary at the helm?
- Has the Under Secretary’s role with other federal agencies, let alone within the Department, diminished due to uncertainties and shifting priorities resulting from the turnover and short tenures?
Certainly, Tara Sonenshine will have her hands full when she is confirmed after the Senate again takes up her nomination later this month.
This might be a good time for Congress, the State Department, and the White House to have a board of experts look into how the Government organizes and conducts activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics.