Discover more from The Newsguy -- Steve Herman
Countering Disinformation and When a 'Fake News Reporter' is Funny
WASHINGTON_ The May issue of the Foreign Service Journal summarizes a recent talk on disinformation I made to the American Foreign Service Association's Diplomats@Work series. (Full disclosure: I am on the AFSA board of governors, but that’s not why I was invited to speak). The May issue of the FSJ is devoted to the topic of public diplomacy and anyone with even a casual interest in the topic will find the articles fascinating.
I have a related article on this topic appearing in the next newsletter of the Public Diplomacy Council of America. And I hope to make an announcement next month about a more ambitious writing project I have just completed.
In addition, I frequently give talks about VOA’s unique role in the public diplomacy space and as an enduring instrument of America’s ‘soft power,’ a term coined by academic Joseph Nye. This was also the focus of academic research during my mid-career master’s degree pursuit some years back.
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I am still keeping a few toes dipped into the swirling waters of academia, with a slightly wider focus of teaching journalism. I just finished my first semester as a lecturer in the journalism department of the University of Richmond. One thing I learned: Teaching a weekly two-and-a-half hour course is much more challenging than popping in as a one-time guest lecturer for a journalism course at a college (something I frequently do). If you’re interested in having me speak to your community organization in person or remotely regarding VOA, journalism or public diplomacy, don’t hesitate to reach out. Although Americans are not a target audience for VOA programming, taxpayers are stakeholders and have a right to know what we’re doing and ask questions about how we cover the news and counter disinformation.
Along with several of my VOA colleagues, mainly those covering 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I took a break Saturday night to attend the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association, of which I’ve been a member since 2017. President Biden spoke and stayed for the entire event.
The first lady, the vice president and the second gentlemen also attended. A real ‘fake news’ correspondent, the Daily Show comedian, Roy Wood Jr., followed the president at the lectern. Someone on Mastodon (to where many Twitter alumni have fled) noted that my posts likely marked the first time the event was covered in the Fediverse by someone in the room.
My favorite slice of entertainment was a video featuring the Property Brothers proposing a White House press area renovation (with a Martha Stuart cameo). There a misleading impression that being a White House correspondent is glamorous but those who toil in the cramped press quarters every day (as I did for more than four-and-a-half years) know the reality is different. I tried to shed some insight in an article I wrote in early 2017 shortly after getting on the beat.
While the WHCA dinner is regularly roasted as ‘Nerd Prom’ or ‘Oscars East,’ at its heart the gala is a fundraiser for journalism scholarships. That’s why I attend despite the criticism it’s an incestuous inside-the-Beltway schmoozefest (it certainly is). The fact that there are Republican and Democratic politicians in the same room with journalists, powerbrokers, celebrities, Cabinet members, generals and admirals and even some lobbyists should not compel the ethicists to ask for the smelling salts. These special interest groups interact on a regular basis, just on a smaller scale. Any untoward collusion occurs behind closed doors, not when there are 2,600 people eavesdropping on their neighbors in the Washington Hilton ballroom (with not a fire marshal in sight, although plenty of Secret Service detail members).
The guest I brought to the event, my longtime good friend Nirmal Ghosh of the Singapore Straits Times, spotted Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy a few tables away so we went over to introduce ourselves. I told Vivek that we had something in common — we’re both natives of Cincinnati. Seven U.S. presidents have been born in the Buckeye State, the last Ohioan to enter the White House as chief executive was William Howard Taft of Cincinnati. If Ramaswamy were to someone best Trump (plus the rest of the Republican field) and then Biden he’d become the youngest president ever, the first Indian-American (Nikki Haley also hoping next year to capture that ribbon) and the first Hindu. All of this was on my mind as Nirmal and I deftly maneuvered an obstacle course of attendees and chairs as we returned to Table 75.
I had legitimate quibbles about the event: The ballroom was too cold (and I was in a tuxedo, not a strapless open-backed dress as were some of the women).
The wines were terrible (c’mon WHCA, do better. I can hit up a couple of Virginia wineries to donate far superior bottles or red and white). The food is reminiscent of the rubber chicken circuit even if the entree featured steak AND fish. Whatever the association nets, however, is going to a good cause. And the event with the president in attendance helped put a brighter spotlight on our colleagues unjustly held overseas — primarily Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal in Russia and freelancer Austin Tice who has been missing in Syria since 2012.
Everybody should jump at an opportunity to attend the WHCA dinner once. You’re probably a bit demented if you go twice. This was my third time.