BBG Watch Commentary
For several days, some contributors to BBG Watch were being bombarded with rumors from secondary sources about the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency, rumors which our reporters knew were largely fake. A BBG Watch writer refused to pass on these rumors, but so-called unidentified “BBG whistleblowers” somehow managed to get to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and CNN with their largely false narrative.
BBG Watch knew that much of the information in the story being pushed was false, especially with regard to the White House. While there was some truth in some parts of the whistleblowers’ story, BBG Watch reporters knew that much of it was untrue.
It was not only that André Mendes, BBG’s Chief Information Officer/Chief Technology Officer (CIO/CTO) and since September 2017 also Acting Director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, enjoyed full support of former BBG Democratic Chairman Jeff Shell, and received public praise from him on multiple occasions, it also seemed extremely unlikely that someone at the level of André Mendes would have any recognition or support within the decision-making circles of the White House.
It now appears that the White House has denied most of the rumors included in the CNN report. It also seems that holdover BBG CEO John Lansing, and holdover Voice of America director Amanda Bennett — who got their jobs during the Obama administration with the approval of former BBG Democratic Chairman Jeff Shell who has been a big champion of André Mendes and still sits on the BBG board as a regular member — may be the only beneficiary of the largely fake news sprung on Congressman Eliot and CNN by these unidentified “BBG whistleblowers.”
If there is any truth to the rumor, it appears there was no White House support for any of the rumored actions attributed to the White House by these mysterious BBG whistleblowers.
One well-connected observer of Washington politics told BBG Watch: “there are so many holes in this story that it’s difficult to see truth from fiction.”
Reporters and politicians got played big way on this largely fake news story. The question is by whom?
The CNN report may have helped Lansing and Bennett. But it may have also attracted the attention of the White House to unprecedented mismanagement and bias at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America under their watch. It is not the kind of partisanship and bias that the CNN report seemed to imply but exactly its opposite.
It remains to be seen what the White House will do to address the BBG management meltdown problem, but any White House plans do not appear to involve Mr. Mendes as far as we can tell.
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
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 as “amazing.” “The place wouldn’t be what it is today without that group,” Jeff Shell said. At a BBG meeting held late in 2016, Jeff Shell reserved especially effusive praise for BBG’s longtime executive Jeff Trimble, as well as André Mendes.
Jeff Shell and John Lansing 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. Shell, Lansing, Bennett, as well as some of the BBG board members, all extolled the virtues of the agency’s top bureaucrats who in the words of a Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson have made the agency a “regular bottom-feeder…going backward“ (Sept. 20, 2016) in employee morale, employee engagement and leadership on the part of senior executives.
Both John Lansing and Amanda Bennett have praised their “excellent” and “exceptional” management team in which André Mendes played an important part thanks to Jeff Shell and John Lansing.
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.