Coffman hosts foreign-policy panel

Bryce Haugen

Nearly 400 foreign-policy minds met at the Coffman Union Theater on Tuesday night for a lively panel discussion. Moderated by ABC News’ “Nightline” correspondent John Donvan and featuring international journalists, the free event focused on the role of the media in foreign policy.

Panelist J. Brian Atwood, dean of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and former member of the Clinton administration, also participated.

“The goal of this program was to help Minnesotans prepare for the upcoming election by being able to think about foreign-policy issues in a reflective manner,” said Carol Byrne, executive director of the Minnesota International Center, the event’s main sponsor.

In his opening remarks, Donvan called the media’s impact unintentional and said, “I’ve never had the goal of affecting U.S. foreign policy.”

Panel members offered evidence of the media’s influence.

As administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Atwood said, he witnessed the media’s impact firsthand and used it to gather public support for U.S. military intervention in the Rwandan genocide.

“I wouldn’t have been (in Rwanda) if not for the media coverage of refugees, and the U.S. military wouldn’t have gone there if not for the media,” he said.

The panel moved on to discuss bias in the media, with the crowd becoming audibly excited when Khaled Dawoud, the chief Washington correspondent for Egypt’s newspaper Al-Ahram, and Atwood argued about U.S. media’s coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Donvan said that during his 22 years at ABC News, the number of foreign bureaus has dropped markedly, to approximately 20 percent of what it was. He blames market forces; forces that he said can be reversed.

“What people ought to know can be what people ought to know,” he said. “There’s a way to make it interesting, if you work hard enough at it.”

Byrne said that if the public wants more international news, it must demand it.

Although Ruth Fuller and Sue Dodson, long-time members of the League of Women Voters of South Tonka, already follow international news, they still found value in last night’s discussion.

“It’s not like preaching to the converted. I think it gives us a sense of how to move ahead,” Dodson said.

For the two women, that means bringing discussions such as these to their own community.