Another State Department memo on public diplomacy guidelines got into the media (overseas as well as in the US) earlier this year. See "Karen's Rules" for Public Diplomacy.
I'm never thrilled to see in-house communications like this one get leaked to reporters. I'd much rather see people act like adults and professionals and work out their disagreements internally. But, as the apparent source of this leak noted, it says something about the atmosphere inside an organization when people feel justified in resorting to leaks.
"Karen's Rules on Diplomacy: Talk to the Media - If You Dare," by Elizabeth Williamson - the Washington Post, 8 November 2006, p. A25 (registration required)
Karen Hughes, the State Department's undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, sent a long memo to chief diplomats, top deputies and public affairs officers worldwide Friday, spelling out "Karen's Rules" for working with the media.
The rules offer a window into how State's chief communicator communicates with her minions across the world. Hint: The memo was given to The Washington Post by a recipient who points out that if all were well, nobody would have leaked it....
Hughes encourages diplomats to engage with the media, but it is apparent that the message enforcer does not share control easily. As a service to public diplomacy (partly, anyway), we consulted with a couple of organizational psychologists about what Karen's Rules suggest about Hughes.
Tulsa-based psychologist Robert Hogan offered several observations, including:
"I think it is smart for her to give folks permission in advance to make a mistake, to take some risks in order to be proactive. I wonder if anyone will believe it. . . .
"It is a good example of micromanagement, although done in a pretty nice way. Good leadership involves recruiting talented people and letting them do their job. Here she tries to provide rules for every imaginable case. She presents a thicket of rules, and if all the guidelines are followed, a person won't be able to say much of anything....
Marlin S. Potash, a New York-based psychologist who specializes in organizational behavior, focused on "a tone that came across as somewhat condescending or first-grade-teacher-like." She added, "I think it's meant to communicate that this is a terribly important thing that's meant to be attended to, but the impression the recipient gets is 'You question my dedication, my experience and my ability to handle this situation.' "...
[begin text of memo]
SUBJECT: ALDAC [All Diplomatic and Consular Posts] Speaking on the Record
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[end text of memo]
Actually, these guidelines aren't much of a departure from the way that embassies have handled media work for years. Most of the 'rules' -- refer to precendents and official statements, think about local audiences and channels, ask for help when you need it -- is just common sense. A good part of what one of the psychologists quoted by the Post calls a condescending tone lies in this assumption that people don't know their jobs. No wonder some recipients are PO'd.