We are thrilled to report that Trinitarian Liz Colton has again been published in the Asheville Citizen-Times. Please read her opinion piece titled "Opinion: Fact check in war coverage: Diplomacy does not end when war begins" by following the link to the Asheville Citizen-Times website or below. Well done, Liz!
Opinion: Fact check in war coverage: Diplomacy does not end when war begins
Elizabeth "Liz" Colton Guest Opinion
Published November 12, 2023
Today in covering the world’s current wars, most news stories imply and even some headlines declare: “War Begins, Diplomacy Ends.” This is not true. Diplomacy does not end when wars begin.
Diplomacy has been and is going on all along and continues in wars, often more actively and in all directions, even between combatant states through third parties. Diplomacy aimed to resolve world conflicts is not just conducted by the few most powerful countries or only one body of the United Nations. Yet news of global conflict seldom reports the vast and intricate drama of diplomacy today.
As a journalist who covered wars and terrorism and also diplomacy, including hostage negotiations, I know that war and conflict are in many ways easier to report than diplomacy in terms of getting ongoing stories that make news. Why?
Wars provide immediate fodder for stories that audiences love-hate. Dramatic action stories happen visibly and audibly almost non-stop, casualties, horrific images and events for show and tell. There are eager, much bigger, voracious audiences for war stories. War news sells.
Coverage of diplomacy takes time, and it takes understanding of both diplomacy and news to get it covered. Diplomacy is challenging, complex and difficult to tell. Some would say that daily diplomacy is not dramatic enough for continuing coverage. I disagree.
Covering many earlier Middle East negotiations, I learned about covering news of diplomacy from a broad viewpoint. Back in 1982, I tracked the U.S. special envoy Ambassador Philip Habib’s “shuttle-diplomacy” as the focus for our ongoing ABC News coverage. Like a journalistic stalker, I was there to greet him with my microphone and our camera-sound crew as he came in and out of high-level meetings in major capitals. Never once did he speak a word in response to my incessant questions. Our dramatic daily reporting of his tireless and outstanding diplomatic efforts, though, was not just about him but also giving what my wide-ranging sources on the ground in those far-flung places were saying about the daily success or hiccups or failure of the negotiations.
A few years later, when I was in Washington as NPR’s diplomatic correspondent, I met and developed a friendship with Ambassador Habib, then retired again. He praised my reporting of his earlier Mideast negotiations, saying that it was always accurate, even when it wasn’t good news for the U.S. diplomatic efforts.
Covering the story of diplomacy from more than one viewpoint takes commitment on the part of news organizations and diplomatic correspondents to present a full story. It’s two ways. Diplomats working on all sides need to want to get their stories out, thus, gain an understanding of how news works, what makes news. As someone who’s been a journalist covering wars and diplomacy and also later a diplomat working as a press attache’, I’m addressing journalists and diplomats as well as all interested in diplomacy and the future of our world.
Diplomacy is drama. Diplomacy can make news. Then why is diplomacy not covered more often or much in depth? Why does it seem we have news of only some diplomacy and seldom reported with much understanding? Diplomacy works to avoid war and conflict, which dominate the news.
From the beginnings of human beings, when we became human, diplomacy and diplomatic activities were, as I believe, among the first kind of behavior that made us human. One group reached out to another to resolve neighborly conflict, to establish peaceful relations. That was diplomacy, the beginning of diplomacy with the beginning of human beings.
Now today diplomacy, international affairs, and the news are intertwined. Major diplomacy is going on worldwide. The seldom reported stories of diplomacy show us static pictures and brief accounts of handshakes between leaders or a senior diplomat disembarking from a jet in shuttle-diplomacy or a Nobel peace prize laureate delivering an acceptance speech without giving us the deeper story of what’s happening. There are much bigger stories behind these pictures, much more than a single country’s shuttle diplomacy. We need to know the full story, whether the diplomacy is working, views from other sides.
War’s action with all its grim tolls is not the only story of interest. Diplomacy is also there, dramatic and extremely important. Covered as the exciting story it is, diplomacy can be reported as major news to reach national and global audiences. Wars may begin. Diplomacy continues always.
Elizabeth (Liz) Colton, a former diplomatic and war correspondent, also later a diplomat and press attache’, now teaches diplomacy, the news media and journalism with UNITAR and international universities, also currently serving as Diplomat & Journalist in Residence at Warren Wilson College.
Wars may begin. Diplomacy continues always.
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