Posted: 6:55 pm ET
The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.” It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”
One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s Xi, Watch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi , First lady honors courageous women from around the world, Arab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their stories, New coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.
U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content. Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website. As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.
Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at @StateDept.” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”
One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.” Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department. The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.
I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience. Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps @ShareAmerica can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.
Shortly after this post went up, we saw this: