Monday, June 29, 2009

Round One -- The Debate in the RCA Color Studio

In his memoir Six Crises, Richard Nixon wrote about his famous confrontation with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the American Exhibition at Sokolniki Park.

Here is how Nixon described the scene as he and Khrushchev entered the color TV studio on the exhibition grounds. It was only the first "round" -- Nixon used a boxing metaphor to describe what ensued -- in what would be several rhetorical sparring matches on July 24, 1959 during the tour of the exhibit grounds by the two leaders.

"...Through a combination of circumstances neither of us could anticipate, we found ourselves by accident, rather than design, standing on a stage with literally millions of potential viewers and listeners watching every action and listening to every word we were saying. We had come upon a model television studio featuring a new type of color-television tape. A young Ampex Company executive steered us to a stage in front of a camera and asked each of us to say something which later could be played as a form of greeting to visitors to the fair.

"Khrushchev at first seemed reluctant to say anything. He apparently thought he was being tricked. But then he saw a large crowd of Soviet workmen in a gallery overhead, and the corps of newspapermen around us, and the temptation was too much for him. He seized the opportunity as eagerly as an American politician accepts free television time. Instead of greeting the visitors to the exhibition, he took out after me.

"First, he said the Soviet Union wanted to live in peace and friendship--but was fully prepared to protect itself in war. Then, boasting that the Soviet Union would be on the same economic level with the United States in another seven years, he twitted me by saying, "When we catch up with you, in passing you by, we will wave to you. Then if you wish, we can stop and say: 'Please follow up...'"

A CBS report of the TV studio portion of the debate conveys the degree to which the verbal back and forth between the two leaders, captured in image and in sound, made headlines around the globe.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fifty Years Later -- From Face-Off to Facebook

George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs is organizing a conference on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Nixon-Khrushchev "Kitchen Debate" and the U.S. exhibition at Moscow's Sokolniki Park -- still the single most famous initiative in the history of U.S. public diplomacy. The conference will examine the significance of those events as well as explore new opportunities for U.S. public diplomacy in a Web 2.0 world.

Entitled "Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century," the all-day conference will be held on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at GWU's Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st Street NW in Washington, D.C. Hosted by CNN special correspondent and GW professor Frank Sesno, the conference is open to scholars, journalists, diplomats, and innovators in the use of new media, along with interested members of the public. The conference website is located here.