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Powell on public diplomacy and the 24-hour news cycle

How the 24-hour news cycle is affecting diplomacy and civil discourse in America. General Colin Powell in conversation with Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of The Aspen Institute.

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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Patricia Walton
    General Powell has articulated my own concerns with the formula cable coverage of so much of what passes for news. Filling that 24 hour mission beats every subject to the point that it no longer qualifies as news but steps over that line to one of perceived entertainment. I would welcome information on what real time steps, if any, are being taken on any cable networks to bring the behavior into more synchronicity with the original intent of proving news. The consultant slippery slope becomes the "fact" while leaving many true facts behind.
    (5 votes)
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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson from the aspen institute and i'm here with General Colin Powell tell us about your role as Secretary of State and the fact is you were less traveled than most secretaries of state why did you feel it was important to tend to things in Washington rather than the symbolic nature of travel when I became Secretary of State I got a letter from the grand old man of American diplomacy George Kennan the real reason I'm writing you is I am disturbed by a recent trend where secretaries is they think all i have to do is travel let me remind you of the two responsibilities of the Secretary of State one is to advise the President and conduct diplomacy for the nation and the second is to run a department to run a department in a large systems embassies if you are spending too much of your time flying around you are diminishing their responsibilities with respect to your two primary duties and it kind of fit with my thinking I don't mind traveling I traveled quite a bit I went to as many countries as I needed to I never missed a single international conference but unfortunately the media in this business likes to count miles travel and with no relationship to measure effectiveness what does it got to do with anything and so I traveled less than my successors but I never missed anything the only time I missed something that I should have been at is when I was not in the country I was busy traveling and so I found it wiser to go to the conference's I had to don't linger don't add on tourist things have been done all that and to try to make sure I was running an effective Department you talked about the role of the 24 hour news cycle television the press changing diplomacy go into that a bit more what do you think that the 24 hour news cycle has done to American diplomacy it's not only the 24 hour news cycle its nature of the 24 hour news cycle with cable television and constant commentary shows all day long and is not enough news rarely to sustain them so they just comment on commentators so you have commentary all day long and pulling down random things from the world of tweets or bloggers and you name it and everybody is watching and criticizing everything that's out there so you really can't get away with anything very long but if you can get away with it for 24 hours it moves on and so I'm concerned about what this is doing not only to diplomacy what it's doing to civil discourse in the country there's that there's a military expression from clause of it and it says beware the vividness of transient impressions and transient impressions have become the general state of the media and so we find ourselves in this cacophony of noise but it's more than noise it's visual things cacophony of images constant all the time and every sickness somewhere in the world is not necessarily an epidemic and if it's an epidemic it isn't going to wipe out the world but that's what it's presented as when you were secretary of state you put a portrait of George Marshall yes your office what did you learn from Marshall I think Marshall one is one of the great soldiers of American history and one of the great diplomats and fascinating individual I've always admired him and an Eisenhower the two of them as my military mentors and what I most admired about Marshall was of course his ability but his sense of selfless service and the most impressive story that I have a marshal that always has inspired me is when he argued against Truman's pending decision to recognize the State of Israel he thought it was wrong he thought I would create all kinds of problems and he labored the president not to do it and President Truman listen to it all Marshall had done what he's supposed to do and then he did it anyway and when Marshall went back to the State Department after the decision and people would say oh my goodness secretary Marshall are you going to resign and he said what's wrong with you am I the president my job is to give him my best advice his job is to decide what's best for the American people why would I ever think of resigning over that and that's always been my way I owe my superiors my best personal advice not just off the top of my head but I've thought it through I've listened to others and I'm following my instinct to say mr. president here's what I think about this and they're not obliged to us in any of it and i've had some who did and some who didn't depending on the issue but I've done my duty Marshall always did his duty thank you