PUBLIC DIPLOMACY OR PROPAGANDA? TARGETED
MESSAGES AND TARDY CORRECTIONS TO UNVERIFIED
Having rapidly risen to the spotlight, public diplomacy is being labeled
by scholars as a new field of international relations.1 Although it is natural
for a government to frame issues of public concern,2 attempt to “shape
international rules that are consistent with its interests and values,” and
persuade perceptions so that foreign policy “actions . . . appear legitimate
in the eyes of others,”3 controversy has arisen. The “spirited
debates . . . among analysts and practitioners” over how to interpret public
diplomacy might best be epitomized by Professor Bruce Gregory’s inquiry:
whether the term “public diplomacy is code for propaganda.”4 Indeed, if
recipients view the state purveyor’s message favorably, crafted discourse
designed to influence international relations may be labeled public
diplomacy.5 Alternatively, a gove rnment that more cl early engages in a
Copyright © 2012, Robert Bejesky.
* M.A. Political Science (Michigan), M.A. Applied Economics (Michigan), L.L.M.
International Law (Georgetown). The author has taught courses in International Law at
Cooley Law School and for the Department of Political Science at the University of
Michigan, American Government and Constitutional Law at Alma College, and Business
Law at Central Michigan University and the University of Miami.
1 See Bruce Gregor y, Public Diplomacy: Sunrise of an Academic Field, ANNALS AM.
ACAD. POL. & SOC. SCI., March 2008, at 274, 274–75 (noting that the term public diplomacy
was adopted in the 1970s and now sees widespread use throughout the world).
2 See Michael T. Wawrzycki, Language, Morals, and Conceptual Frameworks in
Dispute Resolution: Establishing, Employing, and Managing the Logos, 8 CARDOZO J.
CONFLICT RESOL. 209, 215 (2006) (explaining that framing “allows one to manipulate the
choice alternatives another has in its disco urse, and therefore enables the framer to
influence how others think and to obtain their consent without ever even giving the
impression that one is attempting to be persuasive”).
3 JOSEPH NYE, SOFT POWER 10–11 (2004).
4 Gregory, supra note 1, at 275.
5 See id. (noting that the term public diplomacy was adopted to avoid the negative
connotations of the term “propaganda”).
968 CAPITAL UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW [40:967
“deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate
cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response” from the recipient
may be “propagandizing.”6 This article considers definitional particulars
by examining the accuracy of a government’s message and the identified
First, clearly false government messages should not be regarded as
public diplomacy because they violate principles of comity and trust in
international relations.7 However, there is a deeper and frequently
overlooked consideration. If a government employs self-interested
advocacy on an issue of public concern, but data underlying the advocacy
are ultimately false and remain uncorrected until the issue becomes stale,8
perhaps the negative cognitive impact on recipients during this interim
period should also disqualify the discourse from being called public
diplomacy. One might even deduce gradations in the sender-government’s
false statements by applying tort law taxonomy. For example, fraud occurs
when statements are known to be untrue; misrepresentations involve
concealing material facts that would have made the discourse false; and
negligent misrepresentations are statements made in careless disregard of
their accuracy or without reasonable grounds for believing the
representations to be true.9
Second, while a government may specify a target audience and label
the message, thereby tacitly identifying the type of dissemination and
intent for that message, the target audience is no longer isolated with
today’s global media.10 Information diffusion may even obviate
differentiation between foreign and domestic audiences. Cursorily,
enumerating a target recipient may inject a biasing heuristic that permits
6 GARTH S. JOWETT & VICTO RIA O’DONNEL L, PROPAGANDA & PERSUASION 7 (5th ed.
2011) (emphasis removed).
7 Nuclear Tests (Austl. v. Fr.), Judgment, 1974 I.C.J. 253, ¶ 46 (Dec. 20) (“One of the
basic principles governing the creation and performance of legal obligations, whatever their
source, is the principle of good faith. Trust and confidence are inherent in international co-
operation . . . .”).
8 See LAURENCE H. TRIBE, AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 1050 (2d ed. 1988) (noting
that when the government delays publication of important stories, it deprives the stories of
their timely news value.).
9 CAL CIV. CODE § 1710; RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 551 (1976); Gagne v.
Bertran, 275 P.2d 15, 20 (Cal. 1954).
10 John H. Johns, Foreign Policy, National Security, and Nation Building, 6 REGENT J.
INT’L L. 313, 359 (2008).
2012] PUBLIC DIPLOMACY OR PROPAGANDA? 969
overlooking or extenuating attributes of the message that might otherwise
be unacceptable for “unintended” target audiences. What may be called
public diplomacy for a foreign audience, and presented as a message that
the nation champions may in fact be controversial, unsubstantiated, or
polarizing. Likewise, a message relayed to the domestic audience may
portray rather unified foreign approval when the message is polemical.
Given that this new field of international relations seemingly arose in
conjunction with, if not substantially due to, the invasion and occupation of
Iraq,11 this article categorizes post-invasion information examples to
substantiate the tardy correction hypothesis and the multiple-recipient
distinction. The research distinguishes among government statements
provided by media from within the United States, from Iraq but
disseminated to Americans, and from Iraq but intended for Iraqi and
foreign audiences. The analysis is further sub-categorized by substantive
message—namely that one of the following possible reasons for invasion
was met: (1) that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in
violation of United Nations (U.N.) Security Council resolutions; (2) that
Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda;12 or (3) that Iraqis required liberation from
Sadaam Hussein’s regime.13
II. SHAPING AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS
A. Instilling Patriotism
Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Administration of President George
W. Bush routed the course for military action against Iraq by imbuing the
media with several months of security threats.14 The nation later learned
that Iraq neither had WMDs nor had connections to al-Qaeda, and that
allegations were carelessly made.15 Even as allegations were presented,
11 See Gregory, supra note 1, at 284 (noting that terrorism and the Iraq War have been
driving current research on government, media, and public relationships).
12 Because the name “al-Qaeda” has been translated from Arabic to E nglish by various
sources, it is spelled differently among the many translations. This article refers to “al-
Qaeda”; however, other acceptable spellings include: “al Qaeda,” “al-Qaida,” “al-Qa’ida,”
and “Al Qaeda.” These alternates are maintained when quoted from other sources
referenced in this article. All variations refer to the same group.
13 Robert Bejesky, Weapon Inspections Lessons Learned: Evidentiary Presumptions
and Burdens of Proof, 38 SYRACUSE J. INT’L L. & COM. 295, 304–12, 358, 360 (2011).
14 Robert Bejesky, Intelligence Information and Judicial Evidentiary Standards, 44
CREIGHTON L. REV. 811, 855–56 (201 1).
15 Id. at 858–63.