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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

JULY-AUGUST 2015

61

FEATURE

Deconstructing the uproar over a controversial Al-Jazeera interview,

the author offers insight into the challenges of public diplomacy.

BY ALBERTO M . F ERNANDEZ

Alberto Miguel Fernandez spent 32 years as a public

diplomacy officer in the Foreign Service, both with the U.S.

Information Agency and the Department of State. He served

as chief of mission in Sudan and Equatorial Guinea, in

addition to tours in Afghanistan, Jordan, Guatemala, Syria, Nicaragua,

Kuwait, the Dominican Republic and the United Arab Emirates. His

last assignment before retiring from the Foreign Service in 2015 was as

coordinator of the interagency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism

Communications. He is a recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for

Excellence in Public Diplomacy.

G

lenn Beck once called me an

“enemy of the state,” and “not a

patriot.” He did this on CNN during

prime time, before his descent into

the fringes of apocalyptic Internet

television, in reference to a single

phrase from a 30-minute inter-

view I did on Al-Jazeera (in Arabic)

in October 2006. My concession

Surviving

Al-Jazeera and

Other Public

Calamities

that “there was U.S. arrogance and stupidity in Iraq” briefly but

intensely caught the attention of the media and blogosphere.

Beck was joined in his outrage by Michelle Malkin, the

New

York Post

,

National Review

and assorted bloggers, all participants

in what Middle East scholar Marc Lynch called “the Fernandez

Stupidstorm.” Lynch, one of the fewWesterners who actually

watched and understood the entire interview, was an informed

defender, as was Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for

Near East Policy, writing in the

Weekly Standard

. My hometown

newspaper, the

Miami Herald

, also came to my defense.

I received a dozen calls from total strangers telling me that I

“should go back to Mexico (or Venezuela or Mecca or Tehran)” or

congratulating me for “coming out against the war/sticking it to

the Man.” Some good came out of the notoriety, too: I reconnected

with an old Army buddy and with a good friend from high school.

And a leading Egyptian magazine,

Rose al-Youssef

, produced a puff

piece on “The Fate of the Man Who Told the Truth.”

Yet except for a few foreign policy cognoscenti and Middle

East scholars, almost no one knew actually what they were talking

about. Both the right and the left were wrong. I had neither come