First Monday Forum attendees got a panoramic view of U.S. public diplomacy over the past 70 years through the practiced eye of Dr. Vivian Walker, Executive Director of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.
Previewing the Commission’s annual recommendations to the U.S. Congress and public, due out in about one week, Dr. Walker also looked back at all its reports going back to 1948. This year marks its 70th anniversary.
The bipartisan board identifies and examines issues around the conduct of American PD. In recent years the report has also offered a remarkable compendium of facts and figures about information, culture, and outreach performed by the U.S. State Department, its embassies and consulates, and the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Summarizing “the arc of recommendations” decade by decade, Dr. Walker found striking parallels over the 70 years in the Commission’s critiques and concerns. You’ll find her slide presentation here.
She drew lots of questions from the standing-room-only audience. This one struck me. I’ll paraphrase.
What does the Commission think about how to maintain reasoned dialogue in the midst of “competitors in [defining] the truth?”
Although disinformation and propaganda have been with us since the Commission was founded, the revolution in digital media has made it easier to challenge and falsify demonstrable facts to create untruthful narratives. The Commission put out a groundbreaking report on that very subject a few years ago under the title “Can Public Diplomacy Survive the Internet?”
Dr. Walker noted a related problem: diplomats have pointed to the demand for instant response and the triviality of social media comment as a major obstacle to doing more substantive work. Empowering them to move beyond social media and spend more time in personal contact with groups and individuals in their host countries — Edward R. Murrow’s famous “last three feet” — was for me the most salient lesson of the day.
You can view the entire presentation courtesy of C-Span at https://www.c-span.org/video/?467852-1/us-advisory-commission-public-diplomacy-executive-director-remarks
Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More