1. STEPS TOWARD LONG-OVERDUE CHANGE: In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, racism continues to grab the attention of much of the country and even the wider world. Let me cite just a few recent media efforts that might be of interest to PD professionals.
A little-noticed move that should have far-reaching effects on journalism and other groups everywhere was the June 19, 2020 Associated Press (AP) decision to change the AP Stylebook, its influential writing style guide. The AP will now “capitalize the ‘b’ in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.” A lower case “b” will now mean only a color—not a particular group of human beings. The AP announcement said: “Our discussion on style and language considered many points, including the need to be inclusive and respectful in our storytelling and the evolution of language. We believe this change serves those ends.” For the news release, go to: https://apnews,com/71386b46dbff1909e71493a763e8f45a.
Other major media organizations are also re-examining themselves. TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal, in the magazine’s July 6-13, 2020 issue, said “companies like ours have a particular obligation to reflect the world and the people we cover” and “we must turn this awakening into long-overdue change.” He committed the company to “increasing the hiring, professional development and career advancement of Black employees and members of other underrepresented groups, and to creating antiracist workplace environments.” The magazine’s latest issue, focused on America’s identity and challenge, included a powerful piece on the real American Dream by a leading Asian American, Viet Thanh Nguyen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and University of Southern California professor. For his “The Model Minority Trap” essay, go to: time.com/5859206/anti-asian-
And change is in the newsroom at the Washington Post, where some promising, new positions have been added. The paper recently announced that it had created new roles, including a senior-level Managing Editor for Diversity, designed to “enhance coverage of the growing national discourse on race in this historic moment.” Some of the other new positions are Race in America writer; a writer on America and multiculturalism; a writer for the About USA newsletter; a National Security writer; a Criminal Justice writer; a Climate and Science writer; a Style writer; and a photographer “with experience in coverage of race and identity.” In announcing more than a dozen new positions, executive editor Marty Baron said:
“This is a historic moment in American history and in race relations. It requires us to re-examine our coverage and concentrate resources on the issues of race, ethnicity and identity that clearly deserve heightened attention. With this expansion, we will be more inclusive in our journalism, providing broader and deeper reporting that today’s social reckoning demands.”
For details, go to https://www.washingtonpost.com/pr/2020/06/18/washington-post-announces-more-than-dozen-newsroom-positions-be-focused-race-including-managing-editor-diversity-inclusion/
2. STREAMING CULTURAL DIPLOMACY: Like so many other educational or cultural organizations, the Smithsonian has been struggling with how it can make an impact while its physical facilities remain closed. Its Hirshhorn and American Art Museums in Washington, DC came up with a brilliant idea of partnering with a global consortium of 11 other art museums in seven countries to make one of their critical video works “radically accessible” by streaming it continuously online for 48 hours over June 26-28, 2020. They chose Arthur Jafa’s “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” which offers a montage, set to Kanye West’s gospel-inflected song “Ultralight Beam,” that reflects the Black American experience and shows how Black Americans created achievements that are intrinsic to the national identity.
Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu explained why the video artwork was featured:
“Our mission is to create meaning and context through the display and preservation of art of our time. With this comes social responsibilities. We grieve with the families and communities who are subject to ongoing injustices, racism and brutality. Every Black life matters. It is Arthur Jafa’s intention that his work be shared across the world.”
The artist-filmmaker agreed with holders of his powerful artwork that it should be accessible beyond museum walls and to people around the world who might not otherwise encounter it. In normal times, his seven-and-a-half-minute artwork would be shown only within a museum or gallery setting (the Hirshhorn first displayed it in a 2017 exhibition on new media). But these are not “normal times”, and both he and Smithsonian were pleased with the special 48-hour broadcast, which was viewed more than 120,000 times from 157 countries. For more about the Jafa stream and related links, go to: hirshhorn.si.edu/event/48-hour-stream-arthur-jafas-love-is-the-message-the-message-is-death/.
3. VISA FREEZE: President Trump’s June 22, 2020 “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak” has caused much confusion and anxiety among groups and individuals concerned about foreign workers and/or exchange visitors. The move temporarily suspended such visa categories as H-1B for “high-skilled” workers in fields such as technology and J-1 for holders participating in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program.
The White House decision reflected concern that the entry of additional foreign workers “presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.” It is too early to say what impact the suspension will have on the economy and on the over-all Exchange Visitor Program, which is a complex mix of 13 private sector exchange categories and two categories that are publicly funded. But some businesses and other organizations, such as the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), have expressed deep concern over the decision. And, clearly, a country like India, which sends tens of thousands of skilled IT workers and students to the U.S. every year, will be adversely impacted. For the proclamation text, go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspending-entry-aliens-present-risk-u-s-labor-market-following-coronaviruus-outbreak/.
Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll indicates that Americans want more, not less, immigration for the first time. A July 1, 2020 Gallup release reported: “Thirty-four percent of Americans, up from 27% a year ago, would prefer to see immigration to the U.S. increased. This is the highest support for expanding immigration Gallup has found in its trend since 1965. Meanwhile, the percentage favoring decreased immigration has fallen to a new low of 28%, while 36% think it should stay at the present level.” Gallup said the bottom line is: “Gallup’s 2020 update on Americans’ views about immigration finds that public attitudes toward immigration remain mostly positive overall, and support for expanding it is rising noticeably among Democrats and independents.” For poll details, go to https://news.gallup.com/poll/313106/americans-not-less-immigration-first-time.aspx.
4. LEARNING FROM OTHERS ABOUT COVID-19: The most effective PD professionals know the importance of learning from mistakes and being sensitive to cultural differences. I was reminded of that when I learned that European countries no longer welcome American visitors because the U.S. hasn’t controlled the virus spread. In this context, let me recommend a recent analysis, “Asia’s COVID-19 Lessons for the West: Public Goods, Privacy, and Social Tagging,” in the Summer 2020 issue of “The Washington Quarterly” out of GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Written by Victor Cha, Georgetown University Vice Dean and Professor of Government, and Senior Advisor at CSIS, the timely article explains why Asian societies like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have been more successful than the U.S. and most European countries in limiting the spread of the virus.
Concluding “it is never too late to learn from some best practices found in Asia,” he offers five lessons to be learned and argues that “availing themselves of social tagging technology may not be the easiest option for the United States and the West, but it may be the least bad choice at the moment.” For the text, go to twq.elliott.gwu.edu.
Meanwhile, it is good to see so many people speaking out on the pandemic crisis and recognizing the need for reliable public information. One of these is Karen Hughes, who was the influential Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2005-2007, and lately has been global vice chair of the PR company Burson-Marsteller. In a July 2, 2020 Washington Post op-ed, “Mask-wearing Is a Moral Issue,” the former close advisor to President George W. Bush concluded that “amid a deadly viral pandemic, wearing a mask is the only responsible course of action.” She wrote:
“I’ve watched in alarm and dismay as the course of action recommended by almost all of our nation’s infectious-disease experts has been shunned by many of my fellow conservatives and Republicans. President Trump, Vice President Pence and many governors either refuse to wear a mask or wear one only occasionally, sending inconsistent messages about the importance of citizens wearing masks even as COVID-19 spreads at record levels.”
For her by-liner, go to Washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/01/mask-wearing-isnt-political-test-its-moral-test-my-fellow-Republicans-are-failing/.
5. INFLUENCING AMERICAN AUDIENCES: PD professionals enjoy watching how foreign PD officers operate in Washington, DC to reach and influence key American audiences. Before transferring recently, Takehiro Shimada, the Minister for Communications and Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Japan, wrote a paper on “Japan-U.S. Public Diplomacy” for the non-profit Sasakawa USA foundation. He talked about U.S.-Japan relations being “built on mutual trust and shared values” and reached the obligatory conclusion that the relationship — while “better than ever” – cannot be taken for granted. But he also provided insight into Japanese thinking about its vital alliance with the U.S. and gave examples of Japan’s PD efforts.
One clear “success story” is JET — the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, which promotes grassroots international exchanges at the local level in Japan. Shimada reported that since JET’s launch in 1987, about 35,000 young Americans have participated. Each year about 1,000 Americans visit Japan as JET English teachers, and on their return many stay in touch through 19 JET alumni chapters in the U.S. Another PD project that the Embassy of Japan encourages is the promotion of Japanese language education in the U.S. He said there are about 170,000 Japanese language learners in the U.S., but a big problem is a shortage of Japanese teachers to meet the growing demand from local U.S. schools. He singled out the Chicago Public School Talent Office for its introduction of the “Visiting International Teachers Program,” which helps Japanese language teachers get licensed to work in that school district. For Shimada’s report, go to spfusa.org/research/japan-u-s-public-diplomacy-built-on-mutual-trust-and-shared-values/.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.