Wiki Assignment 1

For the first of our three-part assignment on Wikipedia, ( I’ve picked the entry on Public Diplomacy.  “PD” is an interest of mine and at The Fletcher School there is a center dedicated to the study of the discipline.  I think its conduct is crucial to a successful US foreign policy.  Further, I think that without a thorough understanding of what Public Diplomacy is and is not, it can be difficult to practice effectively and garner domestic support for improvement.  The Wikipedia article has a lot of information, but doesn’t flow cohesively to give a strong idea of Public Diplomacy and what it involves.

The Wiki article has several facts in it, but I don’t think is structured as well as it could be to paint a full picture of Public Diplomacy.  There is only one definition to start with, and a key part of this topic is explaining how nuanced the definition can be and how it continues to evolve. Later on in the ‘History’ section there is a link for more definitions, but this should be up front.  Right away in the first two lines it talks about propaganda which needs to be characterized and understood in the proper context so PD is not thought of in the same negative way.  There is controversy associated with PD to be sure, and this needs to get addressed. Again, later on in the article there is some discussion of propaganda that would distinguish it from Public Diplomacy, but it doesn’t belong down there.   Next, different types of PD would be good to illustrate how it is done, followed by examples.  Additionally, explaining the role of the U.S. Information Agency up to its absorption by the State Department would be very helpful in understanding the role of Public Diplomacy today as done by the US government.   I think re-structuring and fleshing out more would help in making this article much more readable and comprehensive.

Further, the sourcing leaves much to be desired as there is a whole section that does not have anything referenced.  The article doesn’t actively appear to be promoting bias, but naming a section ‘Public Diplomacy as Beyond Propaganda’, and not having any sources does not help.  Additionally, the last paragraph about the GW report appears taken out of context, as the link shows an article indicting the activities of a specific office and not the discipline as a whole.  There is a lot of material to work with here that needs better referencing.

I would add sources such as:

Tuch, Hans N., Communicating with the World: U.S. Public Diplomacy Overseas, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990, chapter 1, pp.3-11

Callahan, Robert J. “Neither Madison Avenue Nor Hollywood.”, Foreign Service Journal, 83


Cull, Nicholas J., “Public Diplomacy: Taxonomies and Histories”, in Cowan, Geoffrey and Nicholas Cull, Eds., Public Diplomacy in a Changing World, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, March 2008

Brown, John, “Public Diplomacy and Propaganda: Their Differences”, Knol, 2008

Sreebny, Dan, “Public Diplomacy: The Field Perspective”, in Kiehl, William P.,, Ed.,  America’s Dialogue with the World, Washington DC: The Public Diplomacy Council, 2006

A summary of what I would add:

Definitions: Public Diplomacy has no one definition and it has changed over time.  It is broadly the communication with foreign publics to establish a dialogue to inform and influence.  Additional definitions are…

Differences with Propaganda, Public Affairs, Public Relations, and Marketing.

Public Diplomacy seeks to be truthful and transparent in its conduct.  Propaganda is multi-faceted but is generally meant to deceive in some way.  Public Affairs is communication with the US public, not foreign publics.  Public Relations is product based and usually commercial.  Marketing is profit based and doesn’t involve a dialogue.  There are elements of these that may be involved in practicing Public Diplomacy, but they are not the same. 


The first modern use of  the term Public Diplomacy was by Edmund Gullion in 1965.  While found as a term before then, this was the first time with its modern meaning. The United States Information Agency was dedicated to the practice of communicating with foreign publics in a variety of forms: its mission :

  • To explain and advocate U.S. policies in terms that are credible and meaningful in foreign cultures;
  • To provide information about the official policies of the United States, and about the people, values and institutions which influence those policies;
  • To bring the benefits of international engagement to American citizens and institutions by helping them build strong long-term relationships with their counterparts overseas;
  • To advise the President and U.S. government policy-makers on the ways in which foreign attitudes will have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of U.S. policies

The USIA was folded into the State Department and is part of the Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy and is now a Foreign Service Officer ‘cone’.


Dialogue is key to successful Public Diplomacy as is engagement through a variety of mediums.  Television/radio (VOA/Radio Free Europe), films, speakers, cultural exchanges, and increasingly today new media such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and SMS.  Successful PD seeks to understand the audience and the issues, then figure out the best instrument to address them in a credible way. 


Revealing US spy photos of Russian missiles at the UN was a great example of communicating to not only the governments of the world but the people as well.  The use of SMS messaging for President Obama’s June 2009 visit to Cairo to allow people to read his speech and respond was an innovative use of new media to reach out to foreign publics who wouldn’t otherwise have heard him.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s