public diplomacy

Remembering a Great Public Diplomat: David Burke and the BBG

davidburke David Warren Burke, a man who stood for the finest in public diplomacy, journalistic integrity and the independence of media, died this past Friday. America lost a great public servant.

Just a week before his death, the Broadcasting Board of Governors announced the winners of the 2014 David Burke Distinguished Journalism Awards for exceptional integrity, bravery, and originality in reporting. David Burke was the first Chairman of the BBG’s governing board, a position he was named to by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and for which he served until 1998.

The BBG award winners of this year’s David Burke journalistic prize include reporters from VOA, RFE/RL, RFA, Al Hurra, and the Office of Cuban Broadcasting – men and women who put their lives on the line to tackle tough topics like ethnic conflict in the Central African Republic, violence in Ukraine, and security challenges in Iraq.  David would be so proud of them.

The loss of David Burke is personal for me. David was my first boss, a mentor, and a friend. He attended Tufts University and always believed in giving back to your university. As Executive Vice President of ABC News, David Burke gave back to his alma mater by hiring young, aspiring journalists (who had attended Tufts)  to work for him. I was fortunate to be one of those whose career he shaped.

Ironically, later in life, I became under secretary of state for public diplomacy, representing the Secretary of State on the very board that David Burke had once chaired:  The BBG. Things come full circle. Today, I salute the man who brought sense and sensibility to news, government, and public service.  My thoughts are with his wife, Trixie, the Burke family, and the long list of David Burke admirers.

Cover photo courtesy of


About Tara Sonenshine

Tara Sonenshine is a distinguished fellow at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. Previously, she served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as Executive Vice President of the U.S. Institute for Peace.


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