Beacon No. 100: Hughes Talks Talking to ALDAC
*THE UNDERSECRETARY ADVISES THE PROS ON PUBLIC SPEAKING.
Some enterprising soul at State recently leaked one of Karen Hughes'
memos to the Washington Post. Its topic is "Speaking on the Record," and
it purports to allow officials at ALDAC—an acronym for "all U.S.
diplomatic and consular posts"—some latitude in speaking to the media or
in other public settings.
The Post helpfully printed a * *copy of the memo*
which I will now present with some annotations:
1. Last year, I sent out a message detailing some guidelines for
speaking on the record and engaging with media. With the launch of our
regional hub effort, it is especially timely to reissue this message so
that my policy on this is crystal clear. I also want to reiterate up
front that media outreach, especially television interviews, should be a
top priority in mission activities and when developing the schedules for
visiting USG [ U.S. government] officials.
**Translation: Court the media.
2. I want you to know that my office and I are here to support you as
you go out and do media. I know that doing any media, especially
television, is a challenging endeavor. But it is a challenge we must
address in order to effectively advocate our policies to foreign
audiences. I also believe it is critical for Chiefs of Mission to get
out on the media and to support their staff who do appear on television.
When you do media, the stakes are high, but it's important. No one is
perfect and there is always the chance that any of us will occasionally
make mistakes -- that doesn't mean we should stop appearing on
television or participating in press conferences. We need people out
there giving our side of the story. The real risk is not that we
occasionally misspeak, it's that we miss opportunities to present our
views, and leave the field to our critics and detractors.
**Translation: Chiefs of Mission are especially on the hook—get out
there! Don't worry so much about fouling up.
3. During my recent trips and meetings with many of you, I have heard
concerns about problems with getting clearance to speak on the record to
reporters. I promised I would send out a message clarifying my policy on
this issue, and providing what I hope is clear guidance for you all in
dealing with the press. In this message, I want to share "Karen's Rules"
in the hope that you all will have a better idea of what I expect, and
how you can react.
**Translation: Following are some rules on media interaction, named for
4. Rule #1: Think Advocacy. I want all of you to think of yourselves as
advocates for America's story each day. I encourage you to have regular
sessions with your senior team to think about the public diplomacy
themes of each event or initiative. As a communicator, I know that it is
important to get out in front of an issue or at best have a strong
response to a negative story. One of my goals during my tenure at the
State Department is to change our culture from one in which risk is
avoided with respect to the press to one where speaking out and engaging
with the media is encouraged and rewarded. I want you out speaking to
the press, on television interviews preparing and executing a media
strategy, and providing our points on issues. As President Bush and
Secretary Rice have stated, public diplomacy is the job of every
ambassador and every Foreign Service Officer. We want you out there on
television, in the news, and on the radio a couple of times a week and
certainly on major news stations in your country and region.
**Translation: We are engaged in countering our adversaries' day-to-day
spin. Take risks to do that—but only within existing media strategy.
5. Rule #2: Use What's Out There. You are always on sure ground if you
use what the President, Secretary Rice, Sean McCormack or Senior USG
spokesmen have already said on a particular subject. I always read
recent statements by key officials on important subjects before I do
press events. My Echo Chamber messages are meant to provide you clear
talking points in a conversational format on the "hot" issues of the
day. You never need clearance to background a journalist though you
should certainly pay careful attention to how your comments may be used.
**Translation: Your superiors' words are safe ones, but you have more
latitude when speaking on background.
6. Rule #3: Think local. Because your key audience is your local -- or
regional -- audience you do not need clearance to speak to any local
media, print or television. And, you do not need clearance to speak to
media in your country, even if it is US based or from a US publication,
if you are quoting a senior official who has spoken on the record on a
particular subject. The rule of thumb to keep in mind is "don't make
policy or pre-empt the Secretary or a senior Washington policy-maker."
**Translation: Your superiors' words are safe words.
7. Rule #4: Use Common Sense to respond to natural disasters or
tragedies. You do not need to get Department clearance to express
condolences in the event of a loss, or express sympathy and support in
response to a natural disaster. Obviously in the latter case do not
commit USG resources for support or relief without approval from the
Department; but do not wait for Department authorization to offer a
statement of sympathy unless the individual or incident is
controversial. Your regional hubs can help you in these instances as well.
**Translation: You may freely show sympathy.
8. Rule #5: Don't Make Policy. This is a sensitive area about which you
need to be careful. Do not get out in front of USG policymakers on an
issue, even if you are speaking to local press. When in doubt on a
policy shift, seek urgent guidance from your regional hub, PA [public
affairs] or your regional public diplomacy office. Use your judgment and
err on the side of caution.
**Translation: Your superiors' words are safe words.
9. Rule #6: No Surprises. You should always give PA a heads-up in the
event that you speak to U.S.-based media. This ensures that those who
should know are in the loop on what is happening.
**Translation: Speaking to American media trumps speaking with media
10. Rule #7: Enlist the help of the hubs (for those who have regional
media presence) or my office if you don't get a quick response for
clearance or help. The hub network is an extension of my staff, and we
are here to support you in your efforts to get the USG position on the
record and out in the media. Both Sean McCormack and I are committed to
making sure you have what you need to advocate a US position on the key
issues at your post.
**Translation: We are available for consultation in advance of media
11. I know this is a departure from how you all have operated over the
years. But forceful advocacy of US interests and positions is critical
to our effort to marginalize the extremists and share a positive vision
of hope for all countries and people. I encourage you to take advantage
of opportunities to speak out, and look forward to our aggressive
promotion of US policy.
**Translation: Now get out there and speak!
Public diplomacy is unavoidably an indirect pursuit, like farming: You
prepare the soil, plant more crops than you need in the knowledge that
some will be lost, care for them and, absent disaster, reap the rewards
only much, much later.
However, in memos like the above, Undersecretary Hughes does not seem to
be acting as a public diplomat so much as a spin controller. It's her
luck that the U.S. badly needs one of those too, and that President Bush
and Secretary Rice seem happy to let Ms. Hughes do the job she chooses
rather than the job her title implies.
But who, then, is to be America's top public diplomat?
(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review
for the initial item. I also highly recommend reading the Post's article
* *accompanying the memo*
which quotes two organizational psychologists on the memo's
contradictory messages to U.S. diplomats—a group that is already
excruciatingly well-trained and well-prepared to speak in public.)
**posted by Paul D. Kretkowski at * *9:33 AM*