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American Diplomacy at Work?

12:13 PM, Nov 23, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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Last Friday, the American embassy in Rome held a panel discussion on the subject “Is the Internet Changing People’s Engagement in Democracy?” Fair enough. But the curious part is the identity of the featured speaker: one Sam Graham-Felsen, identified on the embassy website as “the Chief Blogger of the Electoral Campaign of President Obama” – by which is meant, “Chief Blogger” of the electoral campaign of then presidential candidate Obama in 2008. The event was co-sponsored by the Eisenhower Fellowships, a program chaired by former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell.

American Diplomacy at Work?

Also participating in the discussion was Beppe Severgnini, an editorialist for the leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera. The Corriere published an article on the event with the title “Web Strategies: The ‘Secrets’ of Barack.” The article cites Severgnini to the effect that he was “shocked” that no representatives from Italy’s major political parties were on hand. But one wonders if Severgnini would have been as impressed if the Italian embassy in Washington held an event featuring not, say, a member of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, but rather a political operative from Berlusconi’s electoral campaign? Would he not worry that this involves a troubling confusion of genres or even indeed a touch of the cult of personality?

As the Corriere article notes, the now 29-year-old Graham-Felsen previously wrote for The Nation before becoming candidate Obama’s “Chief Blogger.” In any case, one participant in the embassy’s “webchat” had a pertinent question for Graham-Felsen: “What specific studies does one do to become a professional blogger?” 

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