Wednesday, April 15, 2009

JUDITH!!! JUDITH!!! JUDITH!!! - Who is Judith McHale?

Judith McHale shall sit atop the not so vast R Empire at the U.S. Department of State. I must link back to an earlier posting by our dear friend Mathias with some comments building upon the criticism launched by Marc Lynch, who quotes Al Kamen and the like.

First point here, PD is not entirely PR, but we've seen that there is some overlap here...and McHale did preside over Discovery Communications - I see some wildlife features connecting the U.S. to conservation in the making - and she is not in the same position as a Charlotte Beers in "selling a message." Shall we do a brief rundown between the two? Sure, Charlotte Beers comes into an administration with far different perspectives on the U.S. position in the world on top of starting work a little under a month after 9/11...with great contradictions in U.S. action in the world to overcome by the time she leaves office in March 2003, the 28th to be precise...can you think of anything particularly important that happened around this time that may have a huge impact on plan she may have had for U.S. PD? It's slipping my mind at the moment...must not have been too big an issue because Lynch and company cite her tenure as though it were gospel truth on how PR-types turn out in PD. Our German colleague from last night might beg to differ on this generalization of PR and PD.

Back to McHale, she comes into the position under a new administration that is abuzz with new energy. I shall let the pictures speak to the world that McHale has an opportunity to engage (yes, Beers' window is noticeably more narrow an opening than McHale's):

The View From Charlotte Beers' 7th Floor Office Window

The View from Judith McHale's 7th Floor Office Window

No doubt, this is still not an easy time to be in this position, but there is an opportunity for change that McHale could very well pull off. I'll cover that more in the second point to follow.

Second, she does serve in a number of capacities that would lead one to believe that she's not completely new to the practice of foreign policy/diplomatic endeavors. She was instrumental in developing Discovery Communication since the mid- to late-1980s and played a major role in launching their network to over 100 channels in 170 countries in 35 languages with over 1 billion subscribers as of 2006. Notably, she also initiated the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership (the Ambassador of which is Dennis Haysbert from "The Unit" - and according to this clip, you don't want to mess with him or the other guys he so calmly discusses how to conduct an assassination with - who happen to work for LEARN...but he's not quite Mr. T as you can clearly trust him to give you good advice on car insurance) that supplies free educational programming to more than half a million students in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The GEF/Africa Growth Fund focuses on supplying capital to small- and medium-sized businesses that provide consumer goods and services in emerging Afrian markets. She also serves on the boards of Vital Voices, the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, the National Democratic Institute, and she obviously knows how to reach out to the youth - only being halfway fecetious on this point - since she was in early on MTV Networks' international efforts as General Counsel. The cherry on top here is that she is a Foreign Service brat - a child of a Foreign Service Officer and lived abroad in apartheid South Africa and Britain growing up. More details come to you courtesy of the Paley Center for Media. She also partner with the BBC in launching BBC America while at Discovery Communication.
Comparatively, and we will cover these things in reverse, Charlotte Beers was not a Foreign Service brat, worked 100-hour weeks at strings of advertising and marketing firms where she focused on profit margins, market research, and employee morale. Nothing against her success in a tough industry, but a few things against the way she proceeded at the State Department. She could have better served the position by focusing her organizational skills on integration of PD into the Building and building on it institutional capacity, since she was seemingly successful doing things like this in the private sector. Rather, she focused on a campaign and linked herself inextricably to it...and went out the door with. Check out this PBS interview text and I invite your comments on the pros and cons of the Beers approach.
An interesting dynamic will stand upon reviewing the interaction between McHale and proposed A/S (Assistant Secretary) in R. Philip J. "P.J." Crowley. Most recently of the Center for American Progress, but having 28 years of experience as a spokesman for the U.S. government (3 while Special Assistant to the POTUS for National Security Affairs - as Senior Directo for Public Affairs at the NSC and 11 at the DOD, notably PDAS (Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - one notch below Assistant Secretary and one notch above Deputy Assistant Secretary) of Defense for Public Affairs. He is retired from the Air Force, served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Provide Comfort (gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn't it? I bet he had a hand in the name on this one). He worked with NATO in Kosovo briefly in 1999. Before joining the Center for American Progress, though, he was a national spokesman for the property/casualty insurance industry - now, I'm from about 1,300 miles outside the Beltway, but that seems like an awefully nice way of saying lobbyist. In any case, I think there will be an interest dynamic between the new media mogul superstar and her public affairs sidekick.
Two Point Summation:
First, we should be hesitant to heed any word from the likes of Marc Lynch when he launches a criticism that the words "war of ideas" were absent from a speech McHale espousing her spin on PD.
Second, these two women have proven themselves capable in professional capacities related to different portions of PD that we've discussed during this course. So, I say give love a chance and laissez les bontemps retournez et puis roulez encore, hopefully, because it is now even more likely that McHale will be there - let's just see if she has her taxes in order.

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