BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE
BBG Watch has confirmed that Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) director and CEO Andy Lack will be leaving the federal agency in charge of U.S. international media outreach through such outlets as the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and other U.S. taxpayer-funded news and information entities after only a few weeks on the job. He is reportedly getting a new job at NBC. He joined as CEO and Director of the BBG only in January 2015 after he was officially sworn in by BBG Chairman Jeff Shell. Lack’s selection followed an almost year-long search process that began in October 2013. The Broadcasting Board of Governors officially announced his selection on September 23, 2014.
BBG Watch can report that BBG Chairman Jeff Shell will be flying to Washington to address BBG employees about Andy Lack’s departure from the agency. The all-staff meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday shortly before noon.
Sources said that Jeff Shell was surprised by Andy Lack’s plans for a new job at NBC and did not expect or want such a development. Jeff Shell is deeply disappointed that Andy Lack will not be running the BBG as Shell and others had hoped, our sources told us.
Shell is likely to announce Wednesday who will now be in charge of day-to-day operations of the BBG after Andy Lack’s departure, well-informed sources told BBG Watch.
The possibility of Andy Lack getting a job at NBC was first disclosed by Variety.
READ: NBC News Shakeup: Andrew Lack in Talks to Return in Top Role (EXCLUSIVE), Cynthia Littleton, Variety, March 3, 2015
Reports that Andy Lack has been in negotiations to return to a leadership role at NBC, even as he took the first steps to embed himself as CEO of the BBG, raise huge questions, and have stunned employees in the troubled federal agency.
Lack was fiercely sought for the role of CEO, during a search by the BBG. During a February 18th session, the board’s chairman Jeff Shell heaped praise on Lack, who took the opportunity to make his first public comments.
At his swearing in on January 20, Jeff Shell said:
“To say we are fortunate that Andy has agreed to accept this challenge is a huge understatement.” … “He is an experienced media executive, a respected journalist, and an energetic and inspirational leader. We are grateful that Andy has decided to serve his country and lead the BBG at this critical juncture.”
“Executives and news staff at the troubled Broadcasting Board of Governors responded warmly last month to inaugural remarks from the agency’s first-ever chief executive officer,” Government Executive (GovExec.com) reported.
“I feel really good about where we are headed,” Chairman Jeff Shell said on February 18, remarking on the newest board members and the arrival of Andrew Lack as CEO. “Our new board members each bring their own expertise, and Andy is an icon in the news business who understands the essence of what we do – the content,” Shell said on February 18.
Lack also addressed staff from the VOA central newsroom, which has been devastated by myriad questionable management decisions and plummeting morale that plagues the entire agency.
Standing near a portrait of Edward R. Murrow in the VOA/BBG headquarters at 330 Independence Avenue, Lack vowed that he had come to grow, not cut.
GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE: Andrew Lack, a veteran of NBC News, CBS News, SONY Music Entertainment and Bloomberg Global Media Group, was hailed as an “icon of the news business” at his first board appearance, by board chairman Jeffrey Shell. Lack, according to an unofficial BBG newsletter, reassured the larger Voice of America staff separately that “I didn’t come here to cut, I came here to grow.”
And in a pointed swipe at existing management, Andy Lack announced that he would take over a suite of offices occupied for decades by the main management structure of Voice of America and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).
If all the reports about Andy Lack leaving the BBG are true, huge questions arise.
Lack was identified as the leading candidate, and then final choice as BBG CEO last year. That’s long before the Brian Williams fiasco.
What did Lack tell BBG Chairman Jeff Shell or anyone else on, or linked to, the board, about these negotiations in the weeks since the Williams suspension?
Why would Shell and the BBG conduct a public coronation of Lack at the February 18th board session against a background of any uncertainty about Lack’s determination to stay in the job?
While our sources said that Jeff Shell was both surprised and disappointed by the news of Andy Lack’s imminent departure from the BBG, these questions need to be asked.
When did Lack inform Shell about the talks with NBC? Ultimately, what was it that turned around Lack’s enthusiasm? Was he being completely honest regarding how much fire-in-the-belly he had for the CEO job?
The breaking news lit a fire of rumors and discussion in the BBG/Voice of America headquarters.
Employees used words such as “stunned”, and one said the atmosphere was like “a bomb had dropped.”
Voice of America Hobbles
As news of the Lack negotiations with NBC was breaking, taxpayer-funded Voice of America was delivering another example of the kind of mediocre coverage of a major event that has landed it in so much trouble.
VOA did not carry live, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress, providing only Twitter items (in a barely visible window on VOA’s English news front page) by its correspondents during the address in the House of Representatives chamber.
In contrast, the BBC in London carried Netanyahu’s address on its main world news website from well before it began, including scenes of the Israeli leader shaking hands with lawmakers in advance of the controversial speech.
Given the global attention to the event and its ramifications, it’s hard to identify a reason why VOA would not have wanted to carry it live, or produce original studio-based television programming for global simulcast.
Were the The White House or State Department involved in any way in pressuring VOA not to carry Netanyahu’s speech? It’s a perfectly valid question to ask.
But even without such pressure, this was yet another major Washington-based story on which users of VOA’s global websites made due with a single static story, while the BBC and other outlets carrying Netanyahu live, were seen to dominate.
And such news coverage failures were part of the background to efforts to bring Lack in to attempt to salvage the agency, which was described as “practically defunct” by former Secretary of State and likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
During a recent hearing, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) declared his intention to re-introduce legislation aimed at reforming the BBG. A House-passed bill failed to make it to a vote in the Senate.
Several BBG Watch reporters contributed to this article.