1. USAID GAINS SAMANTHA’S POWER: USAID has some 9,000 staff members working in about 100 countries. Many of these professionals, especially including public affairs personnel, must be very happy with their new Administrator, Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, war correspondent who got her start in Bosnia, and human rights advocate. She began her new USAID job on May 3, 2021, and can be expected to bring “star power” and new energy and resources to the development agency and “brand” that had often been undervalued or overlooked during the Trump Administration. (A good indicator of Power’s “high-profile” was the Washington Post’s front-page, May 12, 2021 interview shortly after her arrival at USAID.)
When President Biden announced Power’s appointment, including a seat on the NSC, he described her as “a world renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity” with unparalleled knowledge and tireless commitment to principled American engagement. Therefore, Power can be expected to be a strong, tireless advocate of demonstrating leadership on the global stage and telling America’s — and USAID’s — story. Already well-known around the world, the new USAID Administrator should be able to win friends and influence people through what she calls career-long advocacy “for a more humane approach to the world,” and support for practical aid projects such as vaccine campaigns. For her May 3, 2021 USAID welcome ceremony video and transcript, biography, and Senate confirmation testimony, go to: https://www.usaid.gov/welcome-
2. WASHINGTON POST GOES “MORE GLOBAL” WITH A NEW EDITOR: “Sally who?” That was a common reaction to the Washington Post’s recent announcement that its new executive editor replacing the retired, legendary Marty Baron would be Sally Buzbee. Not exactly a household word, Buzbee was the surprise choice of publisher Fred Ryan — with backing from owner Jeff Bezos — to be the paper’s first-ever female head of the newsroom. They were looking for “a world-class journalist” and “someone steeped in the courageous journalism that is The Post’s hallmark.” Buzbee brings impressive credentials to one of America’s top media jobs. She joins The Post June 1 from the Associated Press (AP), where she was executive editor and senior vice president. Under her leadership, AP won Pulitzer Prizes for international reporting and feature photography.
PD practitioners in particular should be enthusiastic about her appointment. Buzbee has overseen AP’s international newsgathering from 250 locations in about 100 countries. From 2004-2010, she was AP’s Middle East editor, based in Cairo. Her late husband, John Buzbee, was a veteran Foreign Service Officer and Middle East expert. In 2016, he died of colon cancer at age 50 after taking medical retirement from the State Department.
Buzbee can be expected to strengthen The Post’s plans to attract more digital subscribers from around the world (its website already attracts more than 80 million unique visits per month). Also, she will likely expand the paper’s international coverage. The Post has already announced plans to open news hubs in London and Seoul and add bureaus in Sydney and Bogotá, bringing its offices outside the United States to 26.
For AP’s announcement of Buzbee’s appointment to The Post, go to:https://apnews.com/article/
3. “IT’S THE VACCINE, STUPID!”: Much of the world’s attention continues to be focused on the production, distribution, and promotion — or rejection — of one COVID-19 vaccine or another. Amidst an avalanche of credible information and much misinformation “out there,” and while the United States vaccine supply seems about to meet the demand, most of the rest of the world remains desperately short of the vaccine. Two new sources of information might help increase confidence. One is an official U.S. Government website, which many communications and public health professionals will like, and the other is an important policy report by a leading U.S. think-tank on ways to address the “vaccine hesitancy” challenge.
On the advocacy and communications side, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed an impressive website to support the national “We Can Do This” public education campaign to “promote COVID-19 vaccine confidence, encourage prevention, and support our partners’ efforts to reach their communities.” Visit https://wecandothis.hhs.gov to learn about the campaign and access practical materials, such as campaign resources and toolkits, ads, information about the COVID-19 Community Corps, and White House guidelines for “Opening Up America Again.”
On the policy side, Dr. Katherine E. Bliss and Dr. J. Stephen Morrison of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center and Dr. Heidi J. Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Vaccine Confidence Project have co-authored an important analysis titled “Why Vaccine Confidence Matters to National Security.” They emphasize that “public confidence and trust — in vaccines, authorities, and science — continue to fall significantly short of what is required to exit the pandemic crisis.”
The authors clearly explain how the spread of misinformation, through face-to-face conversations, as well as through mainstream and digital media, is “playing a significant role in undermining confidence in vaccines.” Their recommendations on how “to move the United States forward in vaccine confidence and support its external partners” include increased engagement by key social and economic sectors to empower people to make informed choices about COVID-19 vaccines; greater executive branch coordination and action beyond the emergency; and increased U.S. support for global immunization partners. The report recommends Washington “use its influence to shape a coordinated international approach to the shared concerns of vaccine confidence and misinformation.” For the full report, go to: https://www.csis.org/features/
4. DEBATE RAGES OVER OVERSIGHT BOARD’S FACEBOOK DECISION: The dust is still settling around the historic May 5, 2021 decision of the Oversight Board to uphold the ban on former President Trump for his role in allegedly inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The board — independent but funded by Mark Zuckerberg’s social network — ruled that Facebook either permanently ban or reinstate Trump within six months and also develop transparent rules to explain the rationale.
Key findings were that two January 6 posts by Trump “severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines” and that “it is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.” (The 20-member, Supreme Court-like board was established in 2019 to review and decide on content decisions made by the platform. It has five American members. Non-American members include people like former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Yemeni journalist and human rights activist Tawakkol Karman, and respected Indonesian journalist Endy Bayuni.)
The board’s decision is having huge implications for the United States around the world. The controversial ruling has spurred international debate over many contentious issues, including whether powerful Big Tech should be better regulated and whether elected leaders’ views should be silenced. The next few months will show whether both the social media giants and the U.S. Congress can get their acts together. Meanwhile, Facebook continues active PR and advertising campaigns and lobbying to explain why it supports updated regulations on some key issues, including combating foreign election interference; protecting people’s privacy and data; enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms; and supporting changes to internet laws, including Section 230.
For Facebook’s views, go to https://about.fb.com/
5. THE “REFUGEE NUMBERS” GAME: Of the many foreign policy challenges confronting the Biden Administration, one of the most frustrating — and difficult to explain to both domestic and international audiences — is the number of eligible refugees that will be allowed to be admitted to the United States each year.
The communications challenge is great because the urgent “refugee crisis” often gets confused with another complicated issue: the urgent problem of immigrants, including the surge of undocumented minors and families, at our southern border. A clear indication of how sensitive the refugee admissions ceiling issue has become is that for a few months the new President wavered on the issue. Only under intense pressure from human rights groups, fellow Democrats and even the Secretary of State, did the President finally, on May 3, 2021, affirm the United States commitment to humanitarian values by raising the refugee admissions ceiling to 62,500 for FY 2021.
The purpose of the President’s decision was to finally make clear to the world that the new administration — in contrast to its predecessor — understood the urgent global nature of the refugee crisis and was committed to a robust refugee admissions program that was seen as “not only critical to U.S. foreign policy interests and national security objectives” but also “a reflection of core American values.”
For Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s May 3, 2021 press statement on the President’s commitment to refugees, go to: https://www.state.gov/the-
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.