1. IKE’S MEMORIAL AND PUBLIC DIPLOMACY ACCOMPLISHMENTS: The National Park Service has just opened its fifth presidential memorial off the National Mall. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the memorial honors Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is appropriately located on Independence Avenue, SW between 4th and 6th Streets, SW, across from the Voice of America. Although it took years to design, approve, and build, the memorial — with its bronze sculptures, stone bas-relief and unique stainless steel tapestry of the D-Day landing on the coast of Normandy — is an appropriate permanent memorial to a great American general and president. Tip: It is best viewed in the evening when the tapestry changes appearance under different natural and architectural lighting.
PD visitors can use the occasion to recall Eisenhower’s many contributions to diplomacy, international communication and peace. It was Eisenhower, after all, who created the U.S. Information Agency (1953); held the first televised presidential press conference (1955); convened the White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy that led to the People-to-People program and “sister city” affiliations (1956); was the first president to speak directly to foreign audiences over U.S. government radio (1957); and approved the VOA Charter (1960). Also, he effectively used strategic messages — who can forget his “Great Crusade” WWII order; his “I Like Ike” campaign slogan; his “military-industrial complex” warning; or his statement that “Information and education are powerful forces in support of peace. Just as war begins in the minds of men, so does peace.”
2. UNITED NATIONS (UN) REMAINS BROADLY SUPPORTED AS IT MARKS ITS 75TH YEAR: The recent annual opening of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) – traditionally a huge media circus with massive New York City traffic jams – and the observance of the 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding, was rather subdued, and didn’t get much attention because of the pandemic. The addresses by the heads of state, including President Trump, were all pre-recorded, and seemed to elicit relatively little interest and give-and-take compared to those of many previous years. No world leaders showed up at the first-ever virtual UNGA meeting, and each of the 193 UN member states was allowed only one or two in-person, masked representatives in the huge, famous meeting hall. The President used most of his September 22, 2020 speech to repeat that China should be held accountable for spreading “the China virus” and to defend his foreign policy record. (For an AP story headlined UN Diplomacy Goes Impersonal, But What’s Lost Along the Way? go to: https:/apnews.com/61b70cbdfe98bd086815690e95f05c05.)
Still, the UN and international cooperation remain important to much of the world, which continues to like the idea of nations cooperating rather than competing on the world stage.
An annual, 14-country Pew Research Center survey released shortly before the opening of the UNGA found that “many (people) believe greater global cooperation could have reduced the human toll from COVID-19” and revealed “strong support for taking the interests of other countries into account even if it this requires compromise.” Consistent with past surveys, the new study found that “younger, more educated adults were more supportive of multilateral organizations and cooperation.” The survey covered adults in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On U.S. views, the research found: “Americans are more favorable toward the UN than not: 62% have a positive view, while 31% have a negative view. The U.S. public’s views of the organization have been relatively consistent in recent years. Still, there has been a large upward shift in approval from 2007, when 48% of Americans had a favorable view of the UN.” For the full results, go to: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/09/21/international-cooperation-welcomed-across-14-advanced-economies/
3. NEWS LITERACY PROJECT EXPANDS: Anyone in U.S. public diplomacy knows how “fake news” or misinformation can affect international relations and damage the flow of credible news and other information. PD veterans will recall, for example, how Soviet disinformation efforts abroad during the Cold War tried to implicate the United States in causing the AIDS pandemic or the selling of Third World “baby parts” for use in organ transplants. But the problem of rampant false information and a lack of news literacy within the United States itself is a relatively recent concern and a new challenge to civic education and democracy.
At the forefront of news literacy education has been the News Literacy Project (NLP), a nonpartisan national education nonprofit established in 2008 by Alan C. Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Los Angeles Times reporter. Its original mission focused on providing American middle and high school teachers and students with programs and resources to help them be smart, active consumers of news and information. Recently, as the information landscape has become more complex and the need for news literacy at home and abroad has rapidly grown, NLP has expanded and created free resources for the general public as well.
Realizing the problem of misinformation does not end at the nation’s border and “a free society cannot function without a well-informed public and a vigorous and independent free press,” NLP CEO Miller said NLP has added several “global services” to help educate teachers, government decisionmakers, students and others about the importance of news literacy skills, habits and mindset. This includes a “Global Playbook” that provides lessons learned, best practices in news literacy and valuable resources to help introduce or expand news literacy education worldwide. A new version of Checkology, NLP’s innovative, browser-based e-learning platform, for the general public “helps users how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources (and) understand media bias – as well as their own.” Educators and others in more than 116 countries have registered to use the platform.
Also, through a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, NLP was able to assist educational and journalism NGOs starting or expanding news literacy efforts in Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland and Ukraine. Among NLP’s other free resources are “The Sift,” a weekly newsletter for educators, and “Get Smart about News,” a version for the general public. In addition, NLP has developed timely materials to address COVID-19 misinformation and help voters learn to spot election misinformation to ensure that every vote and voter counts in November. For more information, visit newslit.org.
4. THE NEED FOR MORE “MORT REPORTS”: The old-style American foreign correspondent seems to be a dying breed. As the recent news of the loss of China-based correspondents for The Washington Post, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News so clearly highlighted, the days when U.S. media could afford or had permission to post correspondents in far-off news centers may pretty much be over. As a reminder of the good, days of international reporting, let me recommend a new book by arguably America’s most traveled journalist, Mort Rosenblum. For 39 years and across some 200 countries (and with numerous ambassadors and embassy press officers as good contacts), Mort tirelessly covered global stories for AP and was editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune from 1979-81.
Now dividing his time between Provence, Paris, Arizona and airline seats, he stays engaged by producing “Mort Reports,” a lively, not-for-profit newsletter of analysis based on what he says is “non-alternative fact, not opinion,” adding “If we get something wrong we fix it.” The veteran journalist has just published a paperback, Saving Our World from Trump: Mort Reports, which offers current affairs reportage and analysis on the damage he believes President Trump has done in the United States and abroad. For more information, go to www.mortreport.org and to www.mortrosenblum.net.
5. 2020 ELECTIONS WORRIES: With an eye on the unusually tense and somewhat confusing U.S. elections, think-tankers and academics are doing some important research and programs on key issues, such as foreign efforts to influence the outcome. Let me cite two recent items focused on a big concern — disinformation from abroad — and one on public diplomacy. As part of the Atlantic Council’s Election 2020 programming, its Digital Forensic Research Lab experts have succinctly raised – and answered – some major questions on disinformation as the elections approach: How should the problem be labeled, what are the Russians, Chinese and Iranians doing, and what should be done about the spread of political dis- and misinformation within the United States? For the text of her Five Big Questions as America Votes: Disinformation, go to: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/five-big-questions-as-america-votes-disinformation/
The Brookings Institution, too, has been interested in attempts to influence the upcoming U.S. elections. Sarah Kreps, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow and professor of government at Cornell, has written a piece titled The Shifting Chessboard of International Influence Operations. Arguing that foreign influence in U.S. elections is not new, she said what’s different this time around are “the actors, their preferred outcomes, and their preferred mechanisms of influence.” She concludes: “With Russia, China and Iran all seeking greater influence online, the dynamic somewhat resembles a Cold War arms race, but with information rather than missiles as the weapon.” For her analysis, go to https:www.brookings.edu/techstream/the-shifting-chessboard-of-international-influence-operations/
In so-called “normal” times, U.S. elections offer terrific public diplomacy opportunities. But this election is different due in part to the pandemic, which has severely limited the extent to which foreigners can personally experience our historically “free and fair elections.” Many PD experts lament that the 2020 elections will not be able to attract many in-person international journalists and other visitors. Neil Simon, a USC Center for Public Diplomacy blog contributer, has voiced his concern about wanting to see the U.S. continue to be open to international observation. For his Will U.S. Elections Be a Missed Chance for Public Diplomacy piece, go to: https://www.uscpublicdiplomacy.org/blog/will-us-elections-be-missed-chance-public-diplomacy.
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.