School of Media and Communication

Phil Taylor's papers


USA Today article on PD failures and GAO Report

Posted 9/15/2003 9:31 PM

Report lists 'public diplomacy' failures

By Carl Weiser, Gannett News Service, WASHINGTON

The Bush administration spends $1 billion a year trying to polish the United States' image around the world, yet polls show anti-Americanism rising to record levels, especially in Muslim and Arab nations where the U.S. government is concentrating its efforts.

A new report from Congress' General Accounting Office explains why the federal government's efforts at "public diplomacy" have failed. The report, released this month, concludes that:

- The State Department's efforts have been scattershot and uncoordinated.

- Foreign service officers charged with promoting the nation's image too often get stuck filling out paperwork, and one in five foreign service officers aren't fluent enough in the language of the country in which they're stationed.

- The government isn't trying to scientifically measure whether its public relations efforts are having any effect. Instead, it gauges success through anecdotes or even by how many speeches a local ambassador gives.

Spending on public diplomacy has risen 9% since the Sept. 11 attacks, and more than 50% in the Middle East and South
Asia. But a comprehensive poll in foreign countries this
spring showed that in Muslim nations from Morocco to
Indonesia, the United States has fallen far from favor. In
many places, Osama bin Laden got more favorable ratings
than President Bush.

"Americans are brilliant at communication. Why in the world
we are all thumbs in this particular area just strikes me as
one of the anomalies of history. But it's an important one to solve pretty fast," says Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Public diplomacy, the government's effort to sway the masses, became a top priority after the terrorist attacks. The Bush administration pledged to dispel mistaken impressions of America, challenge anti-American views and tout the United States' good deeds around the world. But criticism of the government's public diplomacy efforts continues.

Charlotte Beers, the Bush administration's first Undersecretary for public diplomacy, resigned this year for health reasons and has not been replaced. The State Department said it largely concurred with the GAO's report.

Congress was so dismayed at public diplomacy results that it created a special commission to recommend how to reach the Arab and Muslim world better. The commission is headed by Edward Djerejian, a former Middle East expert in the State Department. It is to report its findings Oct. 1.

One of the GAO report's top criticisms is that unlike private companies, the federal government spends little on polling or focus groups abroad. Marketing and public relations experts the GAO interviewed said the $3.5 million the State Department spends on overseas opinion research is about a tenth of what it needs to spend.

Private and business groups aren't waiting for the government to solve its public diplomacy problems. A group of Kuwaiti and American citizens launched the American-Kuwait Alliance last week.

"Homeland security is too important to leave to the government alone," says Kenneth Minihan, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who helped organize the group.

Yousef Al-Ebraheem, a Kuwait University professor and alliance organizer, says he believes perceptions of the United States among Arabs will improve if the United States makes good on its word to turn Iraq into a democracy.

"They want to see some results," he says.

This summer, Keith Reinhard, chairman of advertising giant DDB Worldwide, organized business leaders - their names have not been released - to launch their own public diplomacy campaign. They hope that without government's bureaucracy, stifling mandates or money problems, business will have more freedom to influence public opinion abroad.

"Anti-Americanism is indeed a business problem," Reinhard says. "And one that U.S. business is uniquely positioned to solve."

The United States has had some successes. A government-financed station called Radio Sawa, broadcasting in the Middle East,has proved hugely popular among Arab youths. Some question whether its news snippets are helping in the public relations battle - its songs are what draw listeners - but the government is sufficiently encouraged that it plans to set up an Arabic-language satellite TV station this year.

Barbara Barrett, a Phoenix lawyer who chairs an advisory commission for public diplomacy, says the government is still "retooling" its efforts after being geared toward fighting communism. After the Soviet Union's collapse, public diplomacy all but disappeared from government priorities, she says.

"The end result (of the renewed effort) won't be perfect affection for America," she says. "We will, however, keep working to have an honest and fair perception of America encouraged around the world."

[The Report is in the exhibits section as a pdf file]

GAO_report.pdf This is the report discussed in the USA Today article
d03951.pdf Description

© Copyright Leeds 2014