U.S. Foreign Press Center Celebrates 40 Years

July 18, 2008
FPC Celebrates 40 Years

About the Author: Jennifer Archibeque is a Program Officer at the State Department's Foreign Press Center.

The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James K. Glassman engaged a crowded room of foreign correspondents from around the world in a discussion about U.S. Public Diplomacy and the War of Ideas at the Washington Foreign Press Center on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. [Full Text|View Video]

He returns today to give the keynote address at the Washington Foreign Press Center's 40th anniversary celebration. The Foreign Press Center (FPC), part of the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department, was created in 1968 to assist the 160 foreign correspondents based in Washington so that they could "provide their newspapers, radio stations and television outlets with better coverage of American developments and with more frequent in depth coverage." It is one tool in America's Public Diplomacy arsenal.

On Tuesday, Mr. Glassman explained that the current mission of U.S. diplomacy "...is to use the tools of ideological engagement -- words, deeds, images -- to create an environment hostile to violent extremism."

Although the Under Secretary emphasized the importance of U.S. engagement in the war of ideas in the Middle East, he also said that this war must be international in scope and that its goal is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of the United States and its policies, but to ensure that negative sentiments and day-to-day grievances toward the U.S. and its allies do not manifest themselves in the form of violent extremism."

As Mr. Glassman spoke, I thought about how the FPC, created under the U.S. Information Agency 40 years ago and then folded into the State Department in 1999, fit into the mission that he articulated.

Had the work that my colleagues and I have done with journalists over the years helped to ensure that negative sentiments had not manifested themselves in the form of violent extremism?

Public diplomacy is difficult to gauge because there is no quantifiable measure for human relationships and mutual understanding. Yet, anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that the answer is yes.

Immediately following September 11th, we took groups of Muslim and Christian journalists from around the world on reporting tours to learn about religious pluralism and ethnic diversity in the United States. During one of these tours, we visited mosques in New Mexico, an evangelical mega church in Texas, and interfaith organizations in Chicago. Afterward, the journalists wrote about how Americans of all colors and creeds were free to practice their faith in the U.S.

The journalists were often surprised at how freely everyone worshipped and by how religious Americans privately were. They wrote about this and talked to others about their experiences.

Had the journalists, in sharing their first-hand experiences when they returned home, caused someone who was susceptible to believing extremist ideology to change their mind? And if so, wasn't information that challenged one's world view a crucial first step?

Journalists' testimony that their U.S. experience challenged their previous perceptions, lead me to believe that the answer is yes. Cross-cultural encounters that FPC officers set up during the course of their every day work helps create an environment hostile to violent extremism.

As we celebrate 40 years in operation with a membership that now exceeds 3,000 journalists, I will think of how important carrying our message the last three feet in face-to-face communication truly is.

Comments

Comments

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
July 19, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Part 1.

I just read the transcript of the Under Secretary and it is fantastic. Very informative, very well written.

Ah, propaganda by any other name still changes your mind just as quick. Ha ha.

First, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree with this concept, one of the marks of a true gentleman or lady, of enlightened societies, is the restraint from using violence to solve ones problems. Respect for another's physical integrity is the hallmark of higher thought and civility.

That being said, in some ways (from a strategic stand point, not a ethical one) the attempt to convince people to not use terroristic methods, to lay down their desire for violence, is akin to trying to get people to stop using the tools that work. Like trying to convince your enemy to use slingshots instead of machine guns. Gorilla warfare and terror tactics are the effective counter-strategies to check a larger, stronger, army. One of the points that creates cohesion in a group like jihadists IS the desire for conflict. It's what makes people strong. Trying to use social pressure to dissolve that ideology is like trying to pull the teeth out of a tiger.

This is a long term strategy, like bombing the factories and economic centers in WWII, mainly because people who already harbor these ideas will not change them unless they have some sort of personal revelation. No matter how much pressure is exerted from the outside, whether its neighbors, parents, or even friends, a group with a us-vs-them mentality will only become stronger when backed into a corner. Look at any cult and you can see that (like Waco, and others). However, if you can get hearts of the youth, before they're "turned" you can plant the seeds of considerate behavior (which is, arguably, the same thing just with a more pacifistic slant). It can be hard, though, if violence is paired with a religion as an ideology because of the very thorough indoctrination that occurs in our youths. A self contained religion may survive longer but is inherently conflict oriented. The triad of desert religions, or Juedo-Chris-Lam as my friend calls it, is particularly inflammatory because in the very structure is the concept that "if you don't believe what I believe then you're wrong and going to hell." Where is there room in that to allow people freedom of thought? Luckily in our society, most of the time, democratic principals trump religious ones.

To bring it back closer to the point, I am excited to see how this program will affect world thought. While broadcasting of media is very effective in changing peoples minds, next to social norms, the most effective is one-on-one conversion. Most people who join these radical groups have some one who plays the role of mentor and they coach, lead, and "teach" their pupils with persistent tried and true methods of repetition, discouragement of dissent, and carrot & stick. To counter that, we need strong leaders in all these communities to take the youth under their wing and give them a more balanced view (what ever that may be). On a cynical note, I've often wondered if we, despite our official stance, actively encouraged conflict and chaos in places like Africa and the Middle East. From a strategic point of view, for places that are out of the reach of our grasp, instability is the ideal state, keeping them from solidifying against us or being an extension of a rival's power. Like China in Sudan. And who wouldn't agree that a united Africa wouldn't be one of the most powers blocs in the world? Now I don't seriously believe that those are the intentions of most of the people in our government, I think most people have a genuine desire to see prosperity and freedom in other countries. But sometimes I wonder.

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
July 19, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Part 2.

As far as our program and the transcript goes, I only have three serious issues.

1. As long as there is oppression, there will be violent groups rebelling. Whether the oppression is economic, cultural, racial, whether it is from the government or an invading force- people will adopt and use violence as a way to free themselves.(And no matter how good intentioned one might be when they go to war illegally with out Declaration and invade, ignoring another country's sovereignty, hint hint, they are going to step on toes. Lots of them).

2. I strongly dislike the term War of Ideas. It's injurious to the entire concept and I wish it would be dropped from the lexicon. Just look at the transcript and see how laden it is with military terms. That's part of the problem right there. So much of our speech and, in turn, our thought is geared around a conflict war-like mentality. Why does it have to be a war of ideas? Why can't it just be a competition or evolution of ideas? Why does it have to be a battle all the time? The war on drugs, the war on terror, the war of ideas, the war on poverty, the war on war, the battle for the hearts and minds of other, and on and on. That kind of speech and mentality we have IS violent and that fuels global perceptions of us. And that brings me to the last point and other concern. Namely: hypocrisy.

3. How can we get other people of the world to listen to us first and then, as the program implies, teach and pressure their children and friends the value of non-violence when we are the worlds top arms producer and are militarily aggressive? When people think of America, what do they think of? Our economy (well, used to), and our Military Might. But not our diplomacy. Or education. Despite the fact that we are very active in both those sectors (to say educational level of the citizens is wishful thinking, foreigners come to the US to GET education, but they don't think of us as educated, of course, by reading the blog comments on the msnbc news website, I'd be inclined to agree). In the last five years, how many recruitment commercials have you been bombarded with for the Navy, Marines, Army, Airforce, and even the reserves. They all saturate us with videos. But never in my life have I seen a video inviting people to become Foreign Service Officers or Ambassadors. We have to get ourselves right before we can expect other people to go along with our ideas. We've got to walk it like we talk it. Otherwise it will just be global manipulation to induce passivity in other nations while we take advantage of it for our own ends.

Joe
|
Tennessee, USA
July 19, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

I see there is no mention of CNN collecting over 2 billion over the years to NOT REPORT news from Iraq.

Why is it that the validity of news and its objective viewpoint is manufactured to the point of sensationalism or political extremism over the Truth in General in America on a daily basis and programs with substance our viewed once weekly if at all? The Russian news source has more updated information than UPI, why is that? Even the Guardian has a more reliable news structure than the general American Press?

American News is more equated to Entrainment marketing values than truth unfortunately. Like reading an English rag....its only about what sells, not news or substance.

It is one field we are not the best in at all?

Frank
July 20, 2008

Frank writes:

I have to agree with (Joe in Tennessee writes) Why Should We Believe the US News? Us should be surrender by independent journalists!!!

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
July 21, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee

I agree. I may be experiencing a little naivete, but when I think of what makes good news, I picture the classic 1950s journalist reporter. These old guys would get on the screen and give the straight facts as they found them. Now it seems to be all about sensationalism, speculation, and unsubstantiated gossip. You have all these talking heads getting up there, half of them aren't any older than 25 trying to talk about policy, bereft of any world perspective that comes from a lifetime of study, and the other half are agents put there by some factions to endorse their view points. And they call them experts. Sheesh.

I think it's wrong to paint all of the media, as some try, as liberal or conservative. Certainly some companies lean more one way that the other, but I see the media now as a dangerous opportunist that will exploit any situation, more so if it stirs controversy. Where has their integrity gone?

I've been trying to get my news through more global sources.

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
July 21, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

No Webs Do We Weave...

To be fair, many journalists do a good job, investigate the story well and are then sabotaged by editors and owners who taint their writings and even interviews all too many times.

The First Amendment was not meant to alter facts for personal or political views, which England did to the Colonist and has been abused. Nor was it meant to have leaders have to choose their words with the use of finite probability theory to be not twisted, even mold elections of a free society with one sided views and slanted profiling.

I'll end this with this: "the "primary purpose" of the First Amendment was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches" (the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary). From the DOS.

It was not meant to control any institution... or branch of government, just the opposite.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 21, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- Well Joe, I think the press tended to leave editorials on the editorial page in the "good 'ol days" rather than trying to editorialize the news and post editorial as fact on the editorial page.

If anything sums up the conundrum as to why Iraqi success of the surge was so underreported, it is a result of basic human nature when one finds themselves proven wrong, to hold onto the belief that what is happening before one's eyes just isn't happening...because one is looking at something else to vainly try and justify one's old perceptions.

This osterich like thinking may in fact be the definition of insanity, but it is just the vaninty of the press at stake here, and intelectual laziness incarnate.

And through this, the public is not well served.

There are some members of the press who prove the exception to this, and I don't intend to insult them by generalizing the entire press corp as insane....(chuckle)...so maybe the rest will make an effort to prove me wrong,.LOL!

.

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