Saturday, January 1, 2011

U.S. Embassy Baghdad's "Last Three (Virtual) Feet"

DipNote has announced U.S. Embassy Baghdad's latest initiative in public diplomacy, a new program on its YouTube channel called "Window Into the U.S. Embassy."

OK, given the realities of the security situation in and around Baghdad, maybe our public diplomacy options there are limited to social media and YouTube. I can understand that. But, the Dipnote post has this strange concluding paragraph that makes a mockery of the whole idea of impersonal person-to-person communication:

I'm a firm believer in Edward R. Murrow's tried and true words about effective communication with foreign audiences: "The real crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet... one person talking to another." While there's no substitute for meeting Iraqis face-to-face, and building relationships over a cup of steaming tea or a plate of kebabs, here at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad social media is helping us open windows into new audiences and build bridges across those last three (virtual) feet.

DipNote's post seems to be having an argument with itself. In the first place, we will speak to Iraqis at arms length, and in the second place, face-to-face communication is crucial. Which is it?

If there really "is no substitute" for meeting Iraqis face-to-face, then why are we substituting a YouTube program for just that? And, if we have no better option but to do just that, why are we invoking the sainted Edward R. Murrow and his all-important "last three feet" in a post about how we will keep the internet between us and the Iraqi public?

What is the "virtual" last three feet, anyway? Virtual as in "simulated," I suppose. We will pretend to talk to you in person, and we invite you to pretend along with us.

The idea of virtual human contact simply doesn't fit into the Murrow paradigm, and by using it Dipnote invites snickering.


Unknown said...

My, you are skeptical.

Face-to-face communication, as Murrow had envisioned it, is still the ideal. But when the security situation creates stumbling blocks, folks in places like Baghdad or Kabul (or, the many PRTs in both countries) have to be creative and should be using new media to engage the local population. Embassy Baghad's online PD efforts should be commended. So, please, save us your snickers.

Desert Diplomat

TSB said...


I understand using new media in lieu of face-to-face communication in places like Baghdad or Kabul. That's not what I find snicker-worthy.

I find it snickerable when DipNote cites Murrow's 'last three feet' in an announcement about the launch of a one-way impersonal communication channel. If the Department is going to substitute a YouTube channel for personal contact, no matter how justified that decision may be, it seems to me that it would have been wiser not to mention "Murrow's tried and true words" about "the real crucial link" for which "there's no substitute."

I certainly mean no offense to anyone doing PD work in Iraq, and I apologize if I came across that way.