A Fool’s Paradise

FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog  The Federalist Commentary, October 16, 2008, San Francisco — U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting have become a fool’s paradise, putting the “ugly American” stereotype on display.

One example has been discussed at length…the strategic “vision” of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to adopt an all-or-nothing Internet strategy for its media.  No other international broadcaster of consequence is taking this approach.  One can only be truly amazed at this “Don Quixote” approach to the U.S. international broadcasting mission in the face of today’s social, economic and political realities.
Another aspect of the BBG’s faulty world view has also been discussed in depth; namely, the decision to end Voice of America direct broadcasts to Russia, without regard to the political realities of the reconstituted nationalism under Vladimir Putin.

The latest manifestation of the endless reservoir of fantasy is a video contest on the subject of democracy in which the State Department is soliciting amateur video entries worldwide.  It doesn’t matter that this subject gets broad treatment on such video websites like YouTube.  But then again, originality has become one of the casualties in the fool’s paradise of mediocrity in the U.S. public diplomacy bureaucracy.

One can rightfully question what the criteria will be used for evaluating this contest since the U.S. taxpayer will be footing the bill for the prizes.  In searching through YouTube content with “democracy” as the subject, one can find a broad and diverse selection of offerings, some not quite complimentary to the U.S. government perspective.  Will critical video essays on the subject of democracy be among the winning selections?  Probably not.  One can hardly imagine a selection critical of the subject that the State Department seeks to promote.  If that, in fact, becomes the case, then we (i.e., the U.S. Government) will have spent more US taxpayer funds and learned nothing from this exercise.

One is left to wonder who came up with this latest faux pas.  Previous efforts have been made by the State Department to package “democracy” like a commodity, sometimes with the assistance of Madison Avenue or other advertising or public relations firms, where previous Under Secretaries of State have either come from or gone to after serving in this position.

This “Democracy” contest is yet another unbridled display of arrogance and ignorance, in true Ugly American style.  Those who concoct these projects appear to be blissfully dismissive of two processes: 

First, government is an evolutionary process.  Societies are rarely transformed overnight.  They have established cultures, traditions, histories and heritage.  Embracing social, economic and political concepts where they have heretofore not existed can be a difficult proposition, with less than ideal results.

Second, the next crucial component is that of self-determination.  People want to get where they are going in their own time and place.  Forcing something down people’s throats when they are not prepared for it is a prescription for trouble.

This State Department video contest would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad and vacuous.  This is a superficial treatment of a social and political process.  It bears no resemblance to reality.

Incredibly, each in its own way, the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are poised for failure, not learning from their own mistakes and ill-conceived notions of what is required to engage in meaningful, intelligent and thoughtful interaction with global peoples on the complexities of maintaining a democratic society.

The Federalist 2008/3