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Richard Stengel
Richard Stengel
MSNBC Commentator • Former Under Secretary of State
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Richard Stengel
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Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, TIME Managing Editor, and author and journalist Richard Stengel has seen and led the transformation of mainstream media. He used those skills at the State Department, describing his role there as “Chief Marketing Officer of Brand USA.” Stengel remains centered at the crossroads of media, policy and politics – as an Adviser to Snapchat and a Commentator on MSNBC.

The longest serving Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2013-16), Stengel brought public diplomacy into the 21st century, modernizing State’s communications, expanding the department’s digital footprint, and ensuring that every ambassador was on social media. His next book, Information Warrior, an account of his time as Under Secretary, is due out in 2018.

At the State Department, Stengel launched and led numerous programs and initiatives, including the Global Engagement Center, the United States’ only stand-alone anti-ISIL messaging entity, the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, the first joint American and foreign counter ISIL messaging hub ­– now a template for others around the world --  and English for All, a government-wide effort that promotes teaching English abroad. He also oversaw all of the department’s extensive educational exchanges including the Fulbright Scholarship. Witnessing the global rise in disinformation – coupled with increasing restrictions on press freedom, Stengel led and directed the department-wide effort of counter-ISIS messaging and counter-Russian disinformation.

Prior to the State Department, Stengel was the managing editor of TIME  for seven years, transforming it into a digital and social media powerhouse on a global scale. He oversaw all print, digital, tablet and marketing functions, and redesigned, re-focused and reinvigorated TIME. Under his stewardship, TIME won its first-ever Magazine of the Year Award as well as numerous other National Magazine Awards, including for general excellence. Stengel also won an Emmy for executive producing the TIME documentary: “Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience.”

He has penned more than 25 cover stories for TIME including “The Case for National Service,” which helped launch the national service movement and contributed to the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

A New York Time’s bestselling author, Stengel’s collaboration with Nelson Mandela produced his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, as well as Mandela’s Way about his experience working with the South African Leader. Stengel later served as an associate producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary, “Mandela.”

Named the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center for 2017, Stengel was the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University where he taught “Politics and the Press.” A magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where he studied English and history.

As Senior Adviser to Snapchat, Stengel keeps pace with technology and policy as startup companies must  comply with government regulations as they seek a profitable business model.

He is a weekly guest on the The 11th Hour with Brian Williams and appears regularly on Morning Joe and Andrea Mitchell Reports.

Full Bio >
  • Is a strike in Syria required to show Assad US is serious? (2017)
  • Wheaton College Commencement (2011)
  • Secretary Kerry Swears-in Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (2014)
  • Richard Stengel reflects on Nelson Mandela and shares new book "Mandela's Way" (2010)
  • Under Secretary Rick Stengel: State Department Counters ISIS' Online Message (2016)
  • Richard Stengel speaks at Global Ties (2015)
  • Under Secretary Richard Stengel "Why We Need to Harden Our Soft Power" (2014)
  • Renewing America through National Service and Volunteerism (2009)
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Speaking Topics
Global Information Wars & Fake News

From his perch as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs – a job Stengel has described as being the Chief Marketing Officer of Brand USA – Stengel witnessed the global rise in disinformation coupled with increasing restrictions on press freedom. This is a dangerous combination for democracy. What has been labeled “fake news” is just the tip of the iceberg of state and non-state sponsored propaganda, disinformation and outright lies.

As the State Department’s leader of both counter-ISIS messaging and counter-Russian disinformation, he saw first-hand the power and effectiveness of what he dubbed “the weaponization of information.” ISIS turned itself from a small unknown terrorist group to a global brand of infamy through smart use of social media. Russian media, ranging from “Russia Today” to troll factories and smart bots, sought not only to change their own narratives but the narrative in other nations.  Countries like China and Turkey and many others are learning from these examples and aggressively policing their own media space. And in the post-Snowden world, countries are passing “data localization” laws that force information to pass through local servers. Stengel not only diagnoses the problem, but recommends ways that countries, companies and individuals can fight back.

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Maintaining a Democracy: The Case for National Service

Ever since Stengel wrote and published the TIME cover story “The Case for National Service” in the summer of 2007, arguing that service is essential to maintaining a democracy, Stengel has been a prominent leader and public advocate for national service. That cover story spurred the creation of Service Nation and the first national service summit in 2008. The highlight of that summit was the Presidential Forum on National Service at Columbia University which brought together candidates Barack Obama and John McCain for a nationally televised conversation moderated by Stengel and Judy Woodruff. Later that year, Stengel testified before the House of Representatives on the topic of “Renewing America through National Service and Volunteerism.” His work was credited with having shaped the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act. Stengel was awarded Citizen of the Year at the Annual National Conference on Citizenship on 17 September 2010. He has also been presented with the 2010 Lifetime of Idealism Award, awarded to him by City Year, for “his commitment to promoting and expanding opportunities for Americans to serve.”

As Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Stengel championed the idea of service and urged young people to volunteer and study abroad and enter public service at the national or local level.

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Media Transformation

As the longtime editor of TIME and now as a strategic advisor to Snapchat, Stengel has seen and led the transformation — and democratization — of mainstream media. As the head of TIME, Stengel turned it into a digital and social media powerhouse on a global scale, managing the transformation of a historic brand into a contemporary one.

Once, media was top-down – but now with the rise of social media, the model has moved from one-to-many communication — to many-to-many, where everyone talks to everyone else. This has made the consumer and the content-maker king and has led to the decline in the power of mainstream media. It has also led to the rise of disinformation and so-called “fake news.”

As the TIME editor that made You – that is, user-generated content – as the TIME Person of the Year in 2007, he now works with Snapchat to turn the billions of daily pieces of user-generated pictures and videos into content for everyone. It just might save the news business.

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Lessons in Leadership: What I learned from Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela used to say that every leader had one basic thing in common: the willingness to lead. Stengel worked with the great South African leader on the latter’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” and then wrote his own book about Mandela called “Mandela’s Way: Lessons in Life, Leadership and Love.”

Stengel spent a year-and-a-half with Mandela, seeing him and talking to him every day, and formed an unusual bond. He saw first-hand Mandela’s strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Mandela’s own extraordinary self-discipline and vision was honed by 27 years in prison, but as Stengel said in “Mandela’s Way,” he can explain Mandela’s style and rules of leadership at a fraction of the cost that Mandela had to pay.

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In 2007, Stengel made Vladimir Putin TIME’s Person of the Year and spent four hours with the Russian leader as part of an interview, photo session and dinner. Stengel wrote that that Putin had restored stability to Russia and put it once again on the international power grid. He noted that whether Putin becomes more like Stalin or Peter the Great remains to be seen. At the State Department, Stengel dealt with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its quasi-invasion of Ukraine and experienced first-hand the power and reach of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation engines. He started the first non-classified counter-Russian messaging entity in the U.S. government. Stengel looks at Russia through the prism of media. From the beginning, Putin understood the power of media; the first thing he did as President was to seize the national television station. Through media, he has raised himself up as a Russian icon and restored Russian’s sense of their place in the world. Stengel will do a SWOT analysis of Russia, it’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s threats and opportunities.

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Ruling with Soft Power: How Public Diplomacy Works

Public diplomacy is a nation’s “soft power” – its culture, its values, its brand. It is how it projects itself to the world. American soft power has been one of its strategic advantages ever since John Winthrop described America as “a city upon a hill.” It was American soft power – as much as military might – that brought down the Berlin Wall.

As Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Stengel used to say that he was the chief marketing officer for Brand USA. (As Editor of TIME, Stengel said his job was “to explain the world to America and America to the world.”  Not a bad definition of public diplomacy.)

At the State Department, Stengel brought public diplomacy into the 21st century by making sure every ambassador was on social media and expanding the State Department’s digital footprint. He redefined public diplomacy as a “conversation” that a nation has with people around the world. This is easier said than done. Public diplomacy is hard to define and even harder to execute. He can explain how to do it better.

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Books & Other Works
  • Mandela's Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage
  • TIME The Constitution: The Essential User's Guide
  • Person of the Year 2007
  • Cover Story: The Case For National Service
  • Person of the Year 2006
  • You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery
  • Long Walk to Freedom The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
  • January Sun: One Day, Three Lives, a South African Town
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“He is both a great journalist and a great citizen. A lot of reporters are conflicted by their role as journalist and their role as citizen and they resort to an absolute neutrality; Rick wants to make the world a better place, it’s as simple as that.”
Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour
“Rick was fantastic. The program was sold out both days and he was the most highly rated speaker...Thanks to you and your team for making this happen.”
Virginia Law Foundation
“You are a credit to the magazine in which you serve and are certainly a credit to young people as an advocate and the opportunities that will be afforded to them through your efforts – and your great belief in these upcoming generations that are going to make it easier for us to retire.”
Steven Spielberg
“Rick Stengel embodies not only an idealism that inspires, but an idealism in action.”
President and CEO, Civic Enterprises
“He has an incredible love of our country and its ideals. And he’s figured out a way to communicate that and use his extra platform as managing editor of Time magazine to make a real difference.”
Alan Khazei, Founder & CEO, Be the Change, Inc.; Co-Founder, City Year
“TIME magazine would not be in such wonderful shape if wasn’t for the brilliant editing and directing skills of Rick Stengel. He is truly a gifted editor, writer, and advocate – one of those superstars.”
Ann Moore, CEO Time, Inc.
“Rick was great. He took a great deal of time with students after his presentation. Parents really loved his message. I have received really positive feedback from his presentation.”
St. Timothy's School
Civic Engagement
Community Service
Digital Transformation
Information Technology
New Media
Social Media
Social Media