Public Diplomacy

Matt Armstrong to the BBG!

Today the White House announced that Matt Armstrong is being nominated to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, here.  Previously Matt was the

Matt Armstrong

Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

On a personal note, this is really good news. Matt is a genuinely nice guy, has the patience of a saint (with me, at least, because I’ve asked him a lot of naive, strange and probably stupid questions through the years) and he is absolutely brilliant.  While Matt and I differ in some opinions of certain parts of USG information ‘activities’, those differences have always remained collegial and friendly.

On a professional note it is good to see President Obama nominate someone who is not coming out of the broadcast industry, as Matt is an expert in Public Diplomacy and will surely energize and help evolve the BBG’s practices.

His experience as the Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy gives Matt unique insight as to the inner workings of the Public Diplomacy process and system across the United States Government.  My feeble description of what he did was to get all the pieces and parts of the USG that deal with broadcasting America’s message to the rest of the world to better cooperate and communicate and to assist Congress to better fund and govern the Public Diplomacy ‘community’.

I consider Matt to be the preeminent expert on the Smith Mundt Act, I have a sneaking suspicion he was involved in crafting H.R.5736 — the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, found here.  I blogged about it here.  I don’t know what happened to it but I know it didn’t pass.  As an external observer my gut feeling was the bill was not properly sold to the American public and cries of ‘propaganda’ and ‘George Orwell’ gained greater volume than any coherent message in support of the bill.  Whenever I attended BBG meetings in the past, all the governors resoundingly supported rescinding the Smith Mundt Act.  Matt wrote extensively about the Smith-Mundt Act on but huge misunderstandings still exist – widely.  Matt held a Smith-Mundt Symposium and wrote about it here. It was well attended but I even found people at that symposium who didn’t understand it.   What floored me was the lack of salesmanship of this bill to the American people, intended to educate and therefore negate the conspiracy theories of brainwashing and other nonsense.  There was not a full press by all the governors and other experts, releasing articles in hundreds of publications and websites, someone dropped the ball on that one.  I read literally dozens of blogs misinterpreting what the act was intended to do.  I guarantee Matt learned from that incident and he’ll remind some Congressional staffer of that past failure.  I only hope Matt or that staffer asks me to help organize such a campaign when a future Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is being written.  Update:  One of the comments said the Smith-Mundt Act either was passed or was rolled into other legislation.  I’m checking now.

The BBG is also caught in a conundrum, in my opinion.  Hidden way deep in their literature is their mission statement, and I do mean deeply.  The BBG says their mission is to ‘provide fair and objective reporting’.  I kept asking “in order to do what?”  As a military planner that mission statement was incomplete to me, there should always be an expected outcome.  After I dug and dug I found a statement, buried on something like page 65 of one of their handouts and it said “in order to promote democracy”.  I recently did a number of interviews with BBG seniors, with VOA editors, with Radio Free Asia editors and so on.   To a man (and some ladies), they all had their hearts in the right place.  They all went to great lengths to avoid personal bias in the reporting, in the editing, throughout the whole process.  That is laudatory, in my opinion.  I also asked them how do you avoid the stigma of your broadcasts being labeled as propaganda.  Their response was ‘we provide fair and objective reporting, the audience is smart enough to recognize propaganda.’  I commend that.  However, and here my logic is fuzzy, would someone please show me a study that shows me how ‘broadcasting fair and objective news promotes democracy’.  Fair and objective reporting, in my opinion, provides an educated audience who is well informed, but I do not see how that promotes democracy. Sure, in places like Russia, China, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, the news is strictly censored by the government, but that does not demonstrate how fair and objective news inserts, enables, fosters, or even assists democratic reform.  I have a feeling it’s like how a lot of IO is done, based on a gut feeling and not on scientific analysis.  It’s like Dr. Lee Rowland, in the UK, advocates in his TAA process, which should be the first step in Public Diplomacy and IO:  “under what conditions will this behavior change?” The problem I find is that all the Public Diplomacy professionals drank the same kool-aid as did the IO professionals.  ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it’.  I intend to raise this with Matt.

Matt Armstrong is the best thing for the BBG since…  ever.  He is energetic, extremely intelligent, better connected than anyone I’ve ever met and will be a powerful advocate and catalyst for change in the BBG – and for the entire PD community.  I expect good things to follow…

4 thoughts on “Matt Armstrong to the BBG!

  1. Congress did pass (and the President did sign) the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act (or rolled it into legislation that was passed). ________________________________

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