1. Masthead Spring 2018
- Editor's note: In this issue of Masthead
- Gather Q&A: Engagement journalism comes of age
- 3 things you should know before starting a Facebook group
- Heritage panel: Conservatism supports, survives Trump
- Envoy: ISIS is down but not out
- State Dept. report: U.S. counters threats from China, North Korea
- 8 Supreme Court cases for editors to watch
- Official: Global rights are a continuing priority
- Video 4 minutes: State Department Briefing by Peter Haas on trade objectives, jobs, security, steel and aluminum, economic strength, better deals
- Video 3:35: Haas answers to Q&A on WTO, NAFTA, newsprint tariff, TPP and trade war
If you are working on some kind of engagement project, whether the intent is to grow your audience, build trust or to advance some other strategic purpose, you’re not alone.
In this issue of Masthead, we catch up with Andrew Rockway from Gather, a digital hub and resource repository for journalists working on engagement efforts. He answers our questions about the engagement community and what he sees as an emerging consensus about what engaged journalism even is.
You’ll also want to read Elizabeth Souder’s tips for hosting a robust Facebook group that keeps readers engaged around topics of interest.
We also have updates from colleagues who attended this month’s Heritage Foundation discussions and annual briefing at the U.S. Department of State.
How is conservatism faring during the Donald Trump administration? What Supreme Court decisions should you be watching for before the summer recess? What should we expect to see from the president’s June 12 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? Your colleagues share what they learned in last week’s briefing.
Jennifer, editorial writer at the Cayman Compass in George Town, Grand Cayman, and editor of Masthead
Send story ideas, questions and feedback to Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the conversation at http://asne.org/opinion-writing or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AOJopinion/
Gather Q&A: Engagement journalism comes of age
It has been just over six months since the official launch of Gather, a digital community and resource repository for journalists working on engagement efforts. The Jefferson Center’s Andrew Rockway, who is a member of the Gather steering committee, caught us up on the project so far.
Q: How is it going?
A: We’ve seen a tremendous response in Gather’s first few months! We have 1101 active members, with hundreds more pending, from 54 countries. We recently launched a lively Slack group that has more than 200 active members. Gather members have submitted 75 case studies highlighting engagement efforts in their newsrooms and 82 “resources,” including accessible overviews of popular engagement tools, online training opportunities, and curated research from experts. Members also participate in biweekly “Lightning Chats,” 30-minute sessions devoted to hot topics in the field such as “hosting live events” and “bridging divides with face-to-face conversations.”
Fundamentally, Gather offers a space for the growing number of folks, inside and outside of newsrooms, working to strengthen connections between communities, journalists, and critical information. We’re excited that so many have bought into the platform as an opportunity to learn from one another and grow together.
Q: Any surprises? What do you think has been most useful about the space?
A: Perhaps it’s not a surprise, but there’s no single channel or method that works best for engaging people (even engagement professionals). That’s why we have multiple ways to connect with resources and other members: our weekly email, our real-time Slack channel, our Lightning Chats, and the platform itself. Even if you only have 10 minutes a week, there are a lot of ways to get value from Gather.
Perhaps most useful to Gather members is the chance to make connections with each other. A lot of people doing engagement work don’t have colleagues who have similar expertise, and it can be tough to find people to brainstorm with or get feedback from. Gather makes it easy to throw out a question and get some help. Especially on Slack, we’re seeing people more informally seeking feedback, commiseration or advice.
Q: It sometimes seems every news organization has a different definition of “engagement” and what it looks like. Do you see a growing consensus about what constitutes meaningful engagement journalism?
A: There’s pretty significant diversity on Gather in terms of the newsrooms represented and the roles of individuals in those newsrooms. Engagement looks different for each organization, since each has their own goals and focuses. Some are more invested in engagement on social media, or in events, or in comment sections, or on particular issues. That said, we’re starting to see a shift toward “engagement” as the catch-all for meaningful two-way relationships between newsrooms and their audiences and communities, rather than to describe social shares, time-on-page, or other “engagement” metrics.
Q: Are there ways this might be particularly useful for opinion editors and their teams?
A: Opinion editors have a lot of freedom to creatively incorporate engagement approaches into their work. The Tennessean’s “Costs of Growth and Change in Nashville” series started with their Opinion Engagement Editor, David Plazas, riding the bus to talk with residents across Nashville and hosting community conversations across town. Engagement doesn’t have to be complicated or novel to be effective. The resources and members on Gather reduce the barriers to trying something new by promoting new ideas, offering feedback on your ideas or questions, or steering you away from things that haven’t worked well.
Q: One of your learning modules is titled “How do I explain engagement to my boss?” – a key question as newsrooms struggle to do more with less. How would you describe the business case for engagement efforts, which can be resource intensive?
A: As a field, I think we’re still learning how engagement fits into a variety of business models. Outlets like the Texas Tribune and MinnPost have found events (and event sponsorships) a great addition to their revenue mix. Newsrooms using Hearken, a popular engagement tool, have seen more page views on engagement-driven articles, a greater ability to sell ads against engagement-driven stories, and more people becoming members after engaging with the newsrooms through Hearken.
There’s no magic fix for the revenue challenges many newsrooms face. Engagement offers opportunity to diversify and, perhaps more critically, reassert your value to your community. If your community doesn’t see the work of your newsroom as trustworthy and critical to their lives, they’re not likely to support you financially.
Q: On a related note, some seasoned journalists have been wary about engaging readers differently. Are there newsrooms where that ice is melting? Any examples you can share?
A: Yes, the ice is melting and Gather is full of examples of damp carpet in newsrooms around the world. The Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Iowa Ideas - a two-day conference to seed ideas, build new connections, and explore solutions - requires significant buy-in across the newsroom to run the event and devote resources (the team estimates that 3,300 hours were invested in the project series) to solutions-focused stories based on community ideas and priorities.
Q: In the web space, you have a number of resources from the old “Public Journalism” days – a movement that drew some criticism as being dumbed down or pandering. Do you see engagement efforts as an evolution of that approach? If so, what is different? What is the same?
A: Geneva Overholser offers an excellent analysis of public journalism then and engaged journalism now. Both are driven by an ethic of public service and an understanding that journalism, and information more generally, play an integral role in civic and community life. But the days where journalists can act independently and drive change are mostly over. Engaged journalism means working with community members, not just on their behalf. It also means exploring new ways to support and establish a feedback loop with community members. Outlier Media in Detroit communicates with its audience, mostly low-income residents, via text message. Your Voice Ohio news partners are sitting down in conversation with community members across the state to understand Ohio’s addiction crisis, not just to demand accountability from policymakers, but also to provide resources to community members, like where to find treatment or support services.
Q: What else should opinion journalists know about engagement journalism and the Gather community?
A: Come join us at letsgather.in!
Andrew Rockway, program director at the Jefferson Center, leads deliberative and engagement program development and implementation, coordinates communications, and manages the organization’s grant portfolio. Andrew earned his Master’s of Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where he focused on policy analysis and environmental policy. Andrew serves as a founding board member of Minnesota Public Radio’s Generation Listen Advisory Board.
3 things you should know before starting a Facebook group
By Elizabeth Souder
If you want to start a meaty, ongoing discussion on a topic of great public interest, start a Facebook group. And if you want to dive into a black hole of time and energy commitment, start a Facebook group.
I administer a private Facebook group called the 47%, a female-only group about women and work. (In the U.S. about 47 percent of the workforce is female.) This is not part of my job as an opinion editor, but the group has been invaluable as I and some writers develop ideas for opinion pieces and as we gather an audience for our work.
It started four years ago a friend posted something about her job on Facebook, and a few of us women commented. I don’t remember the topic, but the brief discussion left all of us with a comforting sense of kinship, as we felt the relief of putting into words some difficult aspect of work that we women had all experienced. I said: Let’s make a Facebook group where we can talk like this all the time, and within five minutes, The 47% was born. The group remains private, and we now have 1,732 members, all word-of-mouth.
Here are three things I’ve learned that wish I’d known from the very beginning.
1. Start with a specific topic, but not too specific. A good topic for a Facebook group is one that binds people together in a way that is important to them, even emotional. But if the topic is too narrow, it’s hard to build to a critical mass of members creating something together. Women who work is a pretty good sweet spot because the topic is large and emotional, but not so large that it resists healthy boundaries.
2. Set boundaries. As a group grows to include strangers, it eventually becomes important to set firm boundaries. Two types of boundaries are important: do not tolerate abuse and protect the purpose of the group.
Social media has become a type of public square where anyone can take part in debate, and I think that’s important for democracy. Sadly, this is a new experience for many people. The conversation can feel uncomfortable and emotional, and some folks respond with personal attacks. Godwin’s Law isn’t a joke: As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1. Bullying will kill a group, and you need a referee who can firmly and respectfully enforce rules against personal attacks.
My rule: No negative comments about people in the group. We can talk about a person’s argument or actions, but not about her. I won’t step in to an argument about ideas; the women can all defend themselves. But I will come to the defense of anyone who is under personal attack.
A few bad experiences with bullying helped me refine the purpose of the group. I wish I’d started with a firm mission; I might not have lost so many strong members along the way. The 47% is a female-only group of working women that exists to discuss issues women face at work. We are fiercely nonideological; our purpose is to bring together liberals and conservatives to discuss mutual concerns about women at work.
A couple of times members have added men to the group. These are good men who are sympathetic to women’s issues. I struggled to decide how to proceed, and we had a tough discussion among group members. I was persuaded that opening the group to men would change the nature of our discussions, and would destroy something that makes the 47% special. So I have to remove men who find their way in, often with a note of explanation to the woman who added him.
During the presidential election we had another existential crisis, as many women wrote fierce posts supporting Hillary Clinton. We lost some wonderful, conservative contributors before I finally declared we would not be partisan. I now remove partisan posts and often must remind everyone that we will show respect for our conservative sisters because we need them.
This sounds like my role is Chief Finger-Wagger, but I try to do the policing quietly, and to be more visible with encouragement. Likes are cheap, so I like just about everything. I use too many exclamation points, but I think people feel good when they get a Great! from the admin. When someone posts an interesting article by a female journalist, I ask how we can get her into the group. Occasionally, when I think a particular member might have knowledge on a certain post, I call her into the conversation. It is not in my nature to be an extroverted ray of sunshine, and I’m learning along the way, but sometimes that smallest word of kindness means a lot.
When people trust that a group has a boundaries, feel more confident about participating. We’ve been able to have honest conversations about abortion because people trust they will be respected. Some of our members have revealed that they are pro-life feminists, a point of view that is deeply unpopular with many conservatives and liberals. And one of our members shared her own story about having an abortion a married woman with kids, under duress from her husband. She trusted us with her story, and it changed our understanding of abortion. No, she probably didn’t change any views, but she broadened us.
3. Be prepared to give up control. I can enforce boundaries, but if I tried to control this group, membership would quickly dwindle to one – me. Anyone in the group may post, and there’s no rule about frequency.
As the group has grown, I’ve encountered new situations that weren’t easy for me to handle. I’ve privately turned to others in the group for advice. And recently after a member made some trouble, I asked a friend in the group, someone who does social media for a living, to become a co-administrator.
She agreed, and immediately began some new initiatives that I never would have considered, but have strengthened the group. The whole point of social media is to disperse power. Don’t try to buck it; use it to your advantage.
One of the most gratifying developments from the 47% is in-person relationships and meet-ups that have formed. Last Christmas, a member complained that if she didn’t buy stocking stuffers, the stockings at her house would remain limp on Christmas morning. She found much solidarity in this frustration, so she organized a dinner meet-up that she called the Empty Stocking Syndrome Club, with a tiny-gift exchange.
I can’t predict which topics will strike a chord, and often I’m most useful if I just sit back and enjoy the music.
Elizabeth Souder is assistant opinion editor for The Dallas Morning News. email@example.com
If you are a working woman, you are most welcome to join the 47%.
Heritage panel: Conservatism supports, survives Trump
By Andrew Kreig
The conservative movement’s policies largely coincide with President Donald Trump’s agenda and so will emerge intact if not stronger following his presidency.
That was the view of at least three of four conservative scholars convened on May 6 at The Heritage Foundation by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).
“We did some surveying,” said Dr. Lee Edwards, panel moderator and Heritage Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, “and we found out that the Trump administration adopted 64 percent of the recommendations in our latest mandate for leadership. 64 percent. By the way, that’s almost the same percentage as that adopted by the Reagan Administration in his first year.”
Two of the panelists —Dr. Michael Franc of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Dr. Matthew Spalding of Hillsdale College —concurred in general, saying that Trump reflects vital parts of the conservative movement.
But syndicated columnist Mona Charen https://eppc.org/author/mona_charen/, a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, raised a warning for conservative movement.
“Can conservatism survive this taint?” she said. “I’m not sure.”
“Trump is transforming American conservatism into a playground for criminals and villains,” she concluded. “Trump’s staggering lies are a blot on the party and all who support or justify them.”
The panel at a Heritage conference room a few blocks north of U.S. Senate office buildings launched a half-day program at the foundation and at a nearby Hillsdale building that ASNE arranged to enhance member interactions with newsworthy thought-leaders and their topics.
Edwards https://www.heritage.org/staff/lee-edwards, moderator of the opening panel at Heritage, is a prominent historian of conservatism and is the author or editor of 25 books. They include biographies of President Reagan, Sen. Barry Goldwater, National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. and Reagan Attorney Gen. Edwin Meese III.
Edwards opened the panel, entitled, “Can Conservatism Survive Trump?” by answering, “No.”
“Just kidding,” he continued. “Yes, of course they can survive.”
Edwards described conservatism as an intellectual “movement” with more resiliency than a political “party,” particularly one dominated by a president.
Charen listed conservative goals advanced by the Trump administration. Among them were trust in “market forces” over regulation, “judicial restraint” and increased military spending.
She then cited what she called Trump’s departures from conservative goals, including what she described as his failure to support free trade agreements, sound budgets that control increased deficits, established, rules-based congressional procedures that serve as a check-and-balance on the executive branch, and norms of decent political behavior.
Regarding the latter, she criticized, for example, what she called his lies, hiring of relatives and adulterous behavior.
Franc, the director of the Hoover Institution’s programs based in Washington, DC, https://www.hoover.org/profiles/mike-franc took a more positive view of the administration’s actions and its prospects.
Franc described Trump’s polarization of the political class as continuing a long-term trend that is good for conservatives and their advocacy groups, such as his.
“The ‘sorting process,’ which I’m fascinated by, is almost complete by a lot of different measures” on Capitol Hill said Franc, explaining that Republicans and Democrats are almost entirely divided along conservative-liberal lines, with few conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans remaining.
Regarding specific actions like agency decision-making and judicial appointments, Franc continued, “I think one of the reasons I tend to be happy with most of his domestic policy activity is because, whether he wanted to or not, this president was forced to only choose people who come to him via the Federalist Society, Heritage or other conservative institutions.”
Sharing a positive view of the Trump legacy was Spalding https://kirbycenter.hillsdale.edu/about/staff/matthewspalding, Hillsdale College’s associate vice president and its dean of educational programs. A former Heritage executive, Spalding said a legitimate question is “should conservatism survive Trump,” given the president’s rare ability to raise popular issues missed by many other politicians.
During a question-and-answer period, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Opinions/Solutions Editor David D. Haynes asked, “Should the Republican Party ‘survive’ Trump —and is there anyone in the party now … who you would put your money on to stand up for this ‘integrity….?’”
“One of the problems is that both parties are extremely weak,” Spalding responded. “Right now, Trump is dominant and Congress has to work with that.”
Andrew Kreig is a Washington, DC-based commentator who edits the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project (justice-integrity.org), which reports on misconduct claims against federal prosecutors and other officials. He began his career with 14 years at the Hartford Courant before becoming an attorney, law clerk to a federal judge and non-profit executive. (Andrew [at] justice-integrity.org
By Bill Sternberg
The Islamic State, which once controlled a large swath of territory it called a caliphate across Iraq and Syria, has been rolled back to three small areas of influence in Syria, according to retired Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff.
Wolff, the deputy special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, said that “we’ve had significant success” and that more than 7 million people have been freed from the extremist group’s oppressive rule.
The focus of the 75-nation coalition’s efforts is shifting from combat operations to stabilization and reconstruction, he told the American Society of New Editors annual briefing at the State Department on May 7.
Wolff has served as special envoy for the past two-and-a-half years, spanning the end of the Obama administration and the beginning of the Trump administration. During his 45-minute presentation, he provided this overview of the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL and Daesh:
- U.S. troops in Syria “are quite important” in creating a secure environment in liberated areas and in training Syrian forces opposed to the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. President Trump has said he wants to withdraw the 2,000 American forces in Syria and leave stabilization efforts to other nations.
- Operations in war-torn Syria are far more difficult than those in Iraq, where the government is cooperating with the coalition. Wolff spoke days before Iraq announced the capture of five members of the Islamic State, including a top aide to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi remains at large.
- The Islamic State’s three remaining areas of control include two in eastern Syria and one in southwest Syria adjacent to the Golan Heights. ISIS also has several thousand fighters operating in Afghanistan; they are believed to be responsible for recent deadly attacks on polling stations there.
- The military group retains a sophisticated media operation to recruit members and extoll the supposed glories of the caliphate. But as ISIS has lost territory, the message has shifted from “it’s a wonderful place” to “hang on,” which is “really a message of desperation.”Despite the gains, Wolff cautioned, it is too soon to declare victory and go home. “We can’t spike the ball in the end zone and say we’re done,” he said. “We’d better stay at this, because the bad guys haven’t renounced their goals and aspirations.”
State Dept. report: U.S. counters threats from China, North Korea
By Andrew Kreig
The United States takes a stern stance against threats from China and North Korea, according to a senior U.S. Department of State official who briefed ASNE members this month at the department’s headquarters in Washington, DC.
“We’re not going to abide China’s attempts to displace the United States in Asia,” Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said on May 7 during the department’s annual briefing for ASNE members.
Thornton, acting assistant secretary since March 2017 and a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service since 1991, began her remarks by describing how the Asia-Pacific region contains one third of the world’s population and contributes one third of the world’s gross domestic product.
She said that the GDP growth of 160 percent during the past decade via state-private cooperation “is no longer viable.” Other state department concerns include what she described as “backsliding on democracy and corruption” in Southeast Asia that can hurt the American as well as other interests.
Thornton focused much of her remarks on pending negotiations with North Korea regarding its nuclear weapons.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet on June 12 in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the White House announced on May 11 after North Korea released three American prisoners in advance of the talks.
During the ASNE briefing Q&A, Gregg Zoroya of USA TODAY asked Thornton why North Korea’s leader would have an incentive to strike a deal on nuclear weapons if he sees that these deals (as in the case of Iran) might last only so long as a remaining term of a president.
Thornton responded that Kim has promised his people that he would provide them economic development and a better life along with nuclear weapons.
Sanctions led by the Trump administration, she said, are pressuring North Korea’s economy and are “what’s bringing him to this point.”
“The United States,” she said, more generally, “is a Pacific power and we’re going to remain a Pacific power.”
Andrew Kreig is a Washington, DC-based commentator who edits the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project (justice-integrity.org). He began his career at the Hartford Courant before becoming a non-profit executive lecturing widely, including in Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney and Singapore, about communications issues. (Contact: Andrew [at] justice-integrity.org).
By Carol Rosenberg
Expect 39 more Supreme Court decisions by summer recess, an ASNE panel was told, with the so-called Travel/Muslim Ban and gay wedding cake appeals among the most high-profile coming this season. Four experts offered this extremely approachable summary of several that may be of particular interest for editorial writers:
1. Trump v Hawaii: If you call it the travel ban you are on one side of the case, call it a Muslim ban and you are on the other. This challenged the third iteration of the Trump policy to make good on his campaign pledge and Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued the multi-agency review wiped it clean of earlier sins. At issue, in part, is whether the president has unfettered discretion or needed to consult with Congress, which does not permit discrimination by nationality in immigration policy; whether it violates the Establishment Clause by appearing to target Muslims; whether Trump’s campaign remarks about Muslims contaminate it. Former acting solicitor general Neil Katyal argued this was an overreach of presidential powers and is not necessary for national security. Expect this to be among the last decisions.
2. Gill v Whitford: Although this was argued on the second day of term, expect it to be a last-day decision, in no small measure because the court mid-term added a Maryland case, Benisek v Lamone, in its discussion of what constitutes a “manageable standard” for partisan gerrymandering. Whitford involved Wisconsin where the GOP controlled legislature and GOP governor redrew districts to favor the GOP. The Maryland case designed a district for the Democrats. The devil in this one will likely be in the details.
3. Carpenter v United States: This one involves a criminal case, the limits of a warrantless search and where constitutional privacy protection meets the Digital Age. Specifically, whether a warrant is required to seize and use your cellphone records to chart your location using pings set off by cellphone towers in the course of alleged criminal activities. In this case, the pings put the challenger near the location of armed robberies to help convict him. At issue: Does a cellphone user voluntarily share his location with a cellphone company so no warrant is required? Can your phone can be used against you in a court of law?
4. Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd v Colorado Civil Rights Commission: When is a wedding cake artistic expression, or as one proponent of the argument called it, an artisanal bakery product? The presenters made it sound like a lot of theories are being thrown against the wall to see what sticks. Is it like a county clerk denying an interracial couple a wedding license, even though it is private enterprise, not government? Or is it an attempt to police expressive activity, since anyone, gay or straight, could buy a generic wedding cake there off the shelf, meaning the shop was not denying a customer service -- just a wedding specific cake. Expect Justice Kennedy to be the decider, and he was interested in the commissioners remarks about religious accommodation.
5. JANUS vs. AFSCME Council: This is kind of an unfinished business case because in an earlier version, in which the late Justice Scalia was expected to be the tie breaker, it went 4-4. He passed away before it was decided. Our panel described it as a question of whether unions should be charging fees for collective bargaining, and whether, as the challengers claimed, everything a union does amounts to political activity. In that instance, Justice Kennedy didn’t think people should be forced to associate with advocacy they didn’t agree with. So, expect Justice Gorsuch to be the decider.
6. Minnesota Voters Alliance v Mansky: We all know that placard-waving advocates and candidates can’t walk into a polling place, that electioneering ends a certain number of feet from a voting booth. But this case addresses where personal attire meets free political speech meets voter intimidation. Is it really electioneering to be wearing an NRA logo or a Go Republicans T-shirt? That sort of thing. CATO supported the challenger, who was actually wearing a Tea Party T-shirt and our CATO presenter predicted the law was too broad and would go down 7-2.
7. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v Becerra: Or NIFLA v Becerra, as our presenter called it. In this California case, the question is: is a state law that mandates elaborate notice in multiple languages, depending on the market, on “pro-life free clinics that don’t provide abortions” too much? The health care centers argue they are forced to market a message they don’t agree with. Is a 29-word disclaimer in up to 13 languages burdensome? Where does this meet or clash with informed consent? What about a 13-language market with a billboard that says Choose Life?
8. South Dakota v Wayfair Inc.: This is an Interstate Commerce challenge in this ever-expanding age of internet marketing and seeks to return to the states a larger slice of the tax pie. Or, in the alternative, the taxes that are deserved. South Dakota passed a law requiring online retailers with more than $100,000 in sales to collect and transmit taxes back to the state. Mail order retailers typically had to be physically in the state for a state to get the tax. Perhaps the justices will punt to Congress on this one, with Justice Alito’s idea that legislation could provide a more tailored approach and solve this. Retroactivity is a concern.
Want to check back with the four later? They were moderator Mark Walsh, who writes for SCOTUSblog and the ABA Journal; Elizabeth Slattery of Heritage; Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountabilty Center, who described herself as the liberal on the panel and CATO's Ilya Shapiro.
Carol Rosenberg is a military-affairs reporter at the Miami Herald. @carolrosenber.
Official: Global rights are a continuing priority
By David Haynes
The U.S. continues to emphasize human rights around the world as President Trump imposes a less expansionist view of American power abroad, a top State Department official told journalists at ASNE’s State Department Briefing May 7.
The State Department, charged with implementing Trump’s America First foreign policy, caught heat in April when human rights groups charged that the department’s annual human rights report had “massive omissions,” leaving out domestic violence in Brazil and human rights violations in Japan and other nations.
Others were critical that the report failed to use the term “reproductive rights” and seemed to soften language on rights violations in Yemen and the Dominican Republic, Foreign Policy magazine reported.
And the report no longer referred to “Occupied Territories” in describing Israel’s presence in Gaza and the West Bank, which squares with an administration tilt toward Israel that includes recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and opening an embassy there, a highly controversial move in the region.
But Michael Kozak, senior bureau official Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, says the department’s basic mission is unchanged.
“When we talk about American values and universal human values, they are one in the same thing,” he said.
Kozak said the department is pressuring governments around the world to improve their records on human rights, including Russians under the Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. go after individual government officials and business people, freezing assets and banning use of the U.S. banking system. Among those snared under Magnitsky by the Treasury Department was Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whom U.S. officials said was responsible for torture and extrajudicial killing.
Kozak said emphasizing basic freedoms goes a long way - freedom of expression, a free press and the freedom to associate with others. “They will figure out what they want to do. We don’t have to school people on why democracy and human rights is a good thing. It comes naturally.”
But does it complicate his job when President Trump speaks admiringly of authoritarian leaders such as Russia’s Vladmir Putin or Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan or tweets about the “failing New York Times”?
Kozak said diplomats and human rights advocates abroad distinguish between what Trump says (or tweets) and what he does.
“(Trump) is using his freedom of expression to call out what the considers inaccurate reporting. … President Trump is not criminalizing reporters he doesn’t like. He is not taking away their broadcast licenses,” Kozak said, adding he thought that was “a fairly clear distinction” between how he operates and how the press is treated in repressive regimes.
“He says he admires some tough characters but then what does he do? … I have yet to find human rights advocates in other countries who say we don’t want your help anymore because you’ve said or done something.”
David D. Haynes is editor of the Ideas Lab at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.