Smith-Mundt and the 'Ground Zero' mosque

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Josh Rogin posts at The Cable that the Smith-Mundt Act came up in the Tuesday public affairs briefing at the State Department. Josh's summary is a better read than the transcript:

  • Imam Faisal Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, will be traveling on a U.S. government sponsored excursion to the Middle East, including stops in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. He will discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance," Crowley said. The trip is organized by the State Department's International Information Programs bureau and will not include any fundraising. This is his third trip with the State Department; the first one was in 2007 under the George W. Bushadministration. "So we have a long-term relationship with him," said Crowley. "His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known, and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States."
  • Crowley defended that the State Department posted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's impassioned defense of the mosque despite that the White House has said it should remain a local issue. "It's not normal that the federal government would get involved in what is I think a zoning issue in New York City," he said. "We are obviously supportive of religious tolerance, not only around the world but in the United States."
  • Crowley said the article was posted on America.gov, which is aimed at foreign audiences, rather than State.gov, which is aimed at U.S. web surfers, to avoid violating the Smith-Mundt act, which prohibits State from spreading propaganda inside American borders. "As part of our efforts to help people understand a vigorous debate that is going on, within New York and around the country, we posted Mayor Bloomberg's remarks on america.gov, which is our website that is geared primarily to helping people overseas understand views on important issues here in the country," he said. The administration still has no official position on the mosque, he added.

What an unnecessary distraction and complication of what should be a simply communication to global audiences. There is one bit of clarification in Josh's summary that can't go ignored: Smith-Mundt doesn't prevent propaganda of any kind. It does simply what PJ says, it bifurcates audiences: there are those in the US and there are those outside the US. Don't say "foreign" audiences because there are non-Americans in the US and the firewall is geographical. And don't say "overseas" because then you're excluding Mexico and Canada. As a result, there are two very separate web teams communicating to the world at the State Department. Back to the mosque...

The same day as the presser, the 10th, Marc Lynch asked on Twitter:

Not finding much on the jihadist forums about Ground Zero Mosque circus, one way or the other -- anyone out there seeing more?

I wonder if the "jihadists" read America.gov or State.gov?

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