BBG Watch Commentary
André Mendes, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) manager in the center of a recent media controversy, has been for a long time a BBG employee the most trusted, promoted, and praised by former BBG Democratic Chairman, Hollywood executive Jeff Shell, who still serves as one of the BBG board’s Democratic members. It was Shell who has put André Mendes in charge of BBG operations at various points during the last few years. In August 2014, Shell also invited President Obama’s advisor for communications Ben Rhodes to address an open BBG board meeting.
SEE: Democrat: Whistleblowers say White House trying to oust broadcast board CEO, By Hadas Gold, CNN, Updated 9:21 PM ET, Tue March 20, 2018
SEE: CNN, Rep. Engel got played by ‘BBG whistleblowers’, BBG Watch, March 21, 2018
SEE: Obama aide Ben Rhodes had a special link to Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG Watch, December 29, 2017
Longtime and more recently hired executives of the agency, which Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce had described as “crippled by an inefficient bureaucracy and incoherent leadership structure“ were called by Jeff Shell “amazing.”
André Mendes has been one of the BBG executives most frequently praised by BBG’s former Democratic Chairman.
“The place wouldn’t be what it is today without that group,” Jeff Shell said at a BBG meeting held late in 2016.
He reserved especially effusive praise for BBG’s longtime executive Jeff Trimble, but André Mendes also received special mention and praise from then BBG Democratic Chairman.
Jeff Shell and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing, also one of Jeff Shell’s picks of trusted and praised BBG managers, were joined in their congratulations by the Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett who critics say has allowed VOA to engage in partisan attacks on Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and other Americans. Bennett rejects such criticism.
Shell, Lansing and Bennett presented themselves as well as longtime BBG executives as being highly successful in a dynamic and effective organization, while in 2013 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the Broadcasting Board of Governors as “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.” These are obviously two completely different narratives.
In January 2014, the Broadcasting Board of Governors established an interim management structure for its International Broadcasting Bureau that saw the appointment of three senior executives to manage the day-to-day operations of the agency. One of them was André Mendes who eventually emerged as Jeff Shell’s top manager.
According to a BBG press release, the move helped “pave the way for a future Chief Executive Officer.” Under this interim management structure, André Mendes served as Director of Global Operations.
BBG Chairman Jeff Shell commented in January 2014:
“The Board proposed this structure to leverage the strengths of three exceptional leaders and set the stage for important agency reforms,” said Jeffrey Shell, chair of the BBG’s governing board.
In a December 18, 2014 press release, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell again praised the interim IBB management team led by André Mendes.
“BBG Chair Jeff Shell thanked the members of the Interim Management Team, Suzie Carroll, Rob Bole and André Mendes, who together have been leading the IBB. ‘It is rare to find three people who can not only work well together, but who can also make change happen. This group has exceeded expectations; they are impressive public servants.’”
Later in 2014, Jeff Shell recruited media executive Andrew Lack as BBG Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. It put a temporary halt to André Mendes’ service in a top position.
In a December 18, 2014 press release, BBG Chair Jeff Shell again thanked the members of the Interim Management Team, Suzie Carroll, Rob Bole and André Mendes, who together have been leading the IBB: “It is rare to find three people who can not only work well together, but who can also make change happen. This group has exceeded expectations; they are impressive public servants.”
Andrew Lack was sworn-in on January 20, 2015 as the Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees the five networks and broadcasting operations of U.S. international media. Those networks include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio and TV Martí, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
In a stunning announcement on March 4, 2015, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell informed BBG employees that new BBG CEO Andrew Lack was departing the agency after only a few weeks at the agency to take a job at NBC News. Shell also announced that André Mendes will serve as interim CEO and Broadcasting Board of Governors Director.
The BBG press release of March 4, 2015 said:
“With this strong foundation from which to move forward, the agency has never been on a better footing to accomplish our mission.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors now has a cohesive governing board, made up of media and communications industry leaders, and foreign policy experts, who will continue to lead the agency at this time of pressing need.
BBG’s Director of Global Operations André Mendes will serve as interim CEO and Director while a search is conducted for Lack’s replacement. He will be supported by a strong team including Robert Bole, Director of Global Strategy and Suzie Carroll, Executive Director.”
On August 17, 2015, still under Jeff Shell’s chairmanship, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal government agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media, announced the appointment of John Lansing as Chief Executive Officer and Director of the BBG. Lansing began his service at the BBG in September 2015.
The BBG press release said:
‘John is a proven executive and a remarkable, transformative leader in multiplatform content strategies, development and distribution,’ said BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. ‘With his journalistic sensibilities and success in leading media companies through periods of challenges and growth, John is the ideal person to lead the BBG as we accelerate efforts to shape a global, world-leading media organization that is up to the challenges of the 21st century.’
At that time, Chairman Shell also thanked André Mendes for his service as BBG Interim CEO: ‘On behalf of the entire Board, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the tireless work of André and his dedicated team. During this transition period, André and his colleagues have worked diligently to produce outstanding results and to spur on forward momentum at the BBG.’”
Robert Bole, Director of Global Strategy, and Suzie Carroll, Executive Director, left the agency.
A statement on the BBG website states that “the CEO and Director oversees all aspects of U.S. international media. He provides day-to-day management of BBG’s operations, including oversight of the technical, professional, and administrative support as well as strategic guidance and management of other programs.”
In an email informing the staff of André Mendes’ move to the Department of Commerce, Lansing made a reference to Mendes’ “nearly nine years of distinguished service.” Lansing ended his message: “Please join me in thanking Andre for his tireless service and devotion to the mission of the BBG, and in wishing him well as he moves to the next phase in his successful career.”
During Mendes’ watch at the BBG, the Iranian Cyber Army managed to get control of the Voice of America website in 2011 and for several hours posted an insulting message for then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
SEE: Cyber security: should BBG board believe its bureaucracy or OIG?, BBG Watch, April 20, 2016.
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) said that the agency is still broken under John F. Lansing’s new leadership.
SEE: Royce calls for new BBG CEO and VOA reform, BBG Watch, March 21, 2018
Several years ago, Rep. Royce and the committee’s Ranking Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2323, to reform the agency. BBG CEO John Lansing and BBG Chair Jeff Shell were on the record opposing key provisions of H.R. 2323 to abolish the BBG Board and to restructure the agency. Despite their opposition, the bill was eventually passed in a slightly different form and signed by President Obama. President Trump can now nominate for Senate confirmation a new executive to lead the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The BBG Board would only have an advisory role under a new set-up which still has to be implemented.
They are successful private sector entertainment media executives, but neither Jeff Shell nor John Lansing has any significant prior experience in U.S. government service, foreign affairs, public diplomacy, international news coverage in countries without free press or managing federal employees. If during the Cold War executives in charge of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe or Radio Liberty had a record of such chaotic performance, wanted to do private business in the Soviet Union and China or made a major mistake of the type being made almost every week now at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, they would be promptly asked to resign.
It would have been inconceivable for the President of the United States during Cold War years not to mention VOA, RFE/RL or RT when speaking about countering Soviet propaganda.
As one former high-level presidentially-appointed U.S. government official told us, the BBG is no longer even an afterthought in Washington.
Are you in good hands, BBG?