Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

A debate has once again re-ignited over the relative meaning of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, sparked this time by a keynote by Bruce Gregory at GWU on October 5.  It was rejoined by Amb. William Rugh in an email exchange with Bruce, both of whose comments were posted and re-rejoined by Craig Hayden.

Reading these posts I got a strange feeling of deja vu.  Checking on this, I found that–sure enough–last year at about this same time we were discussing the same issue.  My contribution is here with links to the other debaters.

Hmm.  Methinks there could be a pattern here.  More evidence:

  • Constance Philipot has been blogging on SC/PD over the last month.
  • The Wikipedia page on Strategic Communication (which mentions the definitional debate) was last edited on October 24, 2009.
  • Blankley, Dale, and Horn did a piece on PD/SC at Heritage in November of last year.
  • Dennis Murphy published an issue paper dealing with SC/PD in January 2008 (meaning he must have been writing it in the Fall).
  • Richard Halloran discusssed the issue in Autumn of 2007.
  • James Jones’s JFQ piece on Strategic Communication was published in the 4th Quarter of 2005.
  • The Congressional Research Service published a report on PD that addressed its relationship to SC on Oceober 31, 2005.
  • The 2004 DSB Task Force report on Strategic Communication was released on September 23.

So there clearly seems to be a greater-than-chance tendency to debate PD/SC in the fall.  What could explain this?  I offer a handfull of postulates (from least to most serious, and not necessarily mutually exclusive):

  1. Astrological alignments:  The autumnal equinox happens at this time of year.  According to this page, “Mercury is Retrograde, conjunct Saturn, and square Uranus. In order to make the changes we want to make, we need to take care of business. What we will need to do– again– this Autumn is: Review details we glossed over, judgments taken out of context, listen more carefully, and make the distinction between words spoken for the effect and the real meaning. Then, when we have fulfilled our word, we can make changes.”
  2. Change of seasons:  Our colleagues in the cold-weather states, realizing that winter is setting in, get cranky/contentious.
  3. Academic calendar:  Energized by summer break and relieved that the beginning-of-the-semester crush is over, academics get frisky and start debating, drawing-in people from the government.
  4. World events:  Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan heat up this time of year, making SC/PD a more salient topic.
  5. Issue-attention cycle:  Downs (The Public Inerest, Vol 28, 1972) theorized that public attention to an issue follows a set of stages in which an “alarmed discovery” figures prominently.  So every year there is some alarmed discovery with respect to PD/SC in time to heat up debate for the fall.

Without giving the evidence (you can check for yourself), I note that there also seems to be a counter-peak of discussion of PD/SC following the vernal equinox each year, and these same postulates might be applied to that.  Your comments and additional postulates are encouraged.