Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday telegraphed the State Department's public relations strategy in light of the killing of Osama bin Laden: "Our goal is to give it meaning and shape a narrative that will convince people he was a murderer and not a martyr," she said, noting that most of his victims were Muslims.

Clinton made the comments in a meeting with 15 members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers from around the country who received a long-scheduled briefing from State Department officials, an annual event. Clinton was not on the agenda, but the Sunday killing of bin Laden led to a somber Clinton delivering a morning statement to network cameras, followed by a surprise visit to the editorial writers.

She also said the department planned to use the U.S. success in dispatching bin Laden in the perennial budget battles that have grown more acute with demands to cut government spending. "We're working to bolster our partnerships even more," Clinton said. We're going to look for ways to put this in a larger debate we're having here at home on what it takes to stay engaged in the world. Many believe our security apparatus [isn't] affordable any more."

One reason Osama could be caught and killed was that "our tools were so much better and our relationships had evolved in such a way to obtain information that was actionable," the secretary continued.

Administration officials have attributed the location of bin Laden's hideout to intelligence work that involved multiple U.S. agencies.

The removal of bin Laden "opens up opportunities for dealing with the Taliban that did not exist before," Clinton said. Now dead was "the person people pledged loyalty to when they joined the organization. It wasn't to an organization; it was to an individual. Bin Laden was viewed as a military warrior. He wasn't just a talker. He carried with him a quite significant mystique."

The job of the United States will be to "draw distinctions between those who have legitimate aspirations and those who resort to violence. The extremist narrative will have been dealt an even greater blow with his death," she said.

It seems to be the rare U.S. diplomat who thinks the American media covers Africa properly, and Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs, is no exception. He diplomatically called coverage "essential, good but insufficient.

"What we would like is probably more, with greater detail and greater differentiation," he told members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers on Monday.

"Making distinctions between Africa as constituting some 53 states, 48 of them sub-Saharan, and not making broad, sweeping generalizations about the continent. Not portraying everything happening in Abidjan and South Sudan" - scenes of recent instability - "as [the same thing] as Tanzania or Namibia.

"There is progress on the continent," Carson said, and the news media should avoid focusing exclusively on states experiencing "death and destruction" or the "authoritarian and ruthlessness of certain leaders."

No one would think of equating the problems of Bosnia with those of Great Britain, or Spain's economic problems as the equivalent of Germany's, he said, or present "Burma and North Korea as what is happening in Asia."

Carson, a 47-year foreign service veteran, said such distinctions are important because businesses make decisions based on what they see in the media.

In 2008, Jendayi E. Frazer, then assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the Trotter Group of African American columnists that the "very negative" portrayal of Africa, especially in major media outlets, was costing nations in southern Africa 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product because they were in the same neighborhood as the extremely troubled Zimbabwe.

Latin America has more in common with the United States than many Americans think, yet "because things are going fairly well in Latin America," there is less interest in the region among the U.S. media, according to Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

The United States has become the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world after Mexico, Valenzuela, a U.S.-Chilean citizen, told members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers on Monday. "There is no other continent in the world where the countries are as similar to the United States" as Latin America, home to the oldest republics in the world.

Those nations are celebrating their 200th anniversary, founded like the United States with the ideals of the Enlightenment. "There is no other place where you don't have ethnic, religious and separatist movements. [They] are pretty much absent now in the Western Hemisphere," Valenzuela said. One reason for the amount of immigration to the United States is that the Western Hemisphere nations have similar values, he said.

Moreover, there are 1 million legal border crossings daily between the United States and Mexico. NAFTA is the largest free-trade agreement in the world.

Still, Valenzuela said that when President Obama and his family left in March for a five-day trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, the trip was heavily covered in Latin America but in the United States, not so much. Reporters on the trip from U.S. outlets instead asked questions about the uprising in Libya, he said.

Topics deserving more attention, Valenzuela said, include the effect of climate change, particularly in countries touched by the Amazon River, such as Brazil and Peru.

In that, he echoed diplomat Johnnie Carson, who in discussing Africa said the snow at the top of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet the highest mountain in Africa, would melt by the end of the decade.

Among the class of 12 are Claudia Nuñez, a reporter for La Opinión in Los Angeles, who plans to create an online platform that connects statisticians with ethnic media journalists to develop custom reports; Wilson Liévano, editions coordinator-multimedia for the Wall Street Journal Americas, who hopes to develop "a multimedia and contextual wire service" for Spanish-language publications; and Deepa Fernandes, a journalist and executive director of People's Production House in New York, who wants to "investigate technologically innovative infrastructure, enabling collaboration between citizen journalists and traditional newsrooms."

During their stay at Stanford, the Knight Fellows pursue independent courses of study and participate in special seminars. The 2011-12 program marks the 46th year that Stanford has offered journalism fellowships.

"We are indeed concerned that there are no African Americans among our U.S. Fellows," Bettinger said. "Diversity remains a core value of the Knight Fellowships program, and we will be expanding our recruiting for African Americans beyond the sources that have traditionally provided most of our fellows of color."

Bettinger provided this breakdown of the applicant pool: African American, 10; Asian American, 9; Latino, 7; Native American, 1; white, 77. For 2010-11, the current year's class: African American, 9; Asian American, 20; Latino, 16, white, 88.

"Overall, we dropped from 133 U.S. applicants to 104. We're not really sure why that drop occurred, but we are giving top priority to expanding and rethinking our recruiting and marketing strategy and efforts," Bettinger said by email.

"Things have fluctuated wildly the last few years. The total # of applicants for 2009-10 was 166, the year before that was 88 and the year before that was 83. We know that a lot of that fluctuation is due to the economy and the disruption in the news business. We think that some of it is also due to the changes we have made in our program, which we are refining and modifying as we go along."

The next class will be the third whose selection was guided by the program's new focus on journalism innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.

"Dorothy Parvaz left Doha, Qatar, for Syria on Friday to help cover events currently taking place in the country. However, there has been no contact with the 39-year-old since she disembarked from a Qatar Airways flight in Damascus.

"Parvaz is an American, Canadian and Iranian citizen. She joined Al Jazeera in 2010 and recently reported on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami for the network.

"She graduated from the University of British Columbia, obtained a masters from Arizona University, and held journalism fellowships at both Harvard and Cambridge. She previously worked as a columnist and feature writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in the US."

Sanjay Bhatt, a Seattle Times reporter who is president of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, added, "I'm in touch with the Committee to Protect Journalists and monitoring this to see how AAJA Seattle might offer constructive support. . . .

"On Twitter, some AAJA members already have begun to call on the Syrian government to release Dorothy. Hashtag is #FreeDorothy.

"Former colleague Larry Johnson advises: 'She's been missing since Friday. Everyone should contact the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C. Calls are best, emails help. We need to do this now!' he wrote to P-I Help Google group."

 

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.