Former director decries bias, partisanship, lack of vision at Voice of America

Robert R. Reilly

BBG Watch Commentary

Amanda Bennett Swearing In As VOA Director April 18 2016

Amanda Bennett, Obama administration holdover director of U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 million) Voice of America (VOA), and John F. Lansing, holdover CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), (both seen in the photo) have attempted to deny in recent interviews with mainstream U.S. media (NPR and Los Angeles Times) that there is anything biased or partisan-driven at their dysfunctional federal agency ($777 million, including VOA). Neither NPR nor The Los Angeles Times has bothered to do any fact checking on these claims of BBG and VOA executives.

Critics among close watchers of the mismanaged agency, however, including current and former VOA journalists, have been exposing BBG/VOA management’s “propaganda of success” as being unsupported by facts and in complete variance with reality.

Still, media such as NPR, The Los Angeles Times, “Politico,” and The Washington Post keep reporting BBG and VOA management’s one-sided happy claims without any checks or challenge. Some of VOA and BBG executives and reporters have contacts or past professional or personal links to some of these media outlets. They print, post online or broadcast what they are told, because they know very little about BBG and VOA, and don’t do any independent checking.

Because such sloppy reporting by mainstream media helps to cover up major current violations of journalistic ethics and current violations of the VOA Charter, which is U.S. public law, these media outlets are guilty in this case of spreading fake news to American taxpayers who pay the agency’s bills and the salaries of its officials and employees.

The focus of these media reports are speculations, bordering on hysteria, as to what the Trump administration might do in the future at the Voice of America and the agency. While what the Trump administration plans for VOA could be an area of future concern, not a word is being said in these media accounts about very real violations of standards of objective journalism and extreme partisanship under the current BBG/VOA management. Frankly, both the U.S. Congress and the new administration could have very good reasons to abolish VOA considering how outrageous some of the violations of the VOA Charter have been under the current agency leadership.

There have been, however, a few articles published in various blogs by former agency officials, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) officials, and former VOA journalists which expose the unprecedented spike in the level of mismanagement and partisanship at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America in recent months and call for immediate reforms to save VOA and the agency.

U.S. International Broadcasting – A Way Forward, Joseph B. Bruns, Public Diplomacy Council, January 2, 2017.

THE FATE OF VOA IN THE BALANCE, By Alex Belida, CPD Blog, February 6, 2017.

 

Optimizing Governance of US International Media in Historical and International Context, By By A. Ross Johnson, Wilson Center, History and Public Policy Program, February 10, 2017.

 
Some of these accounts critical of the agency’s management and/or offering solutions are finally reaching mainstream media. While these analysts may not agree on what would be the optimal solution (an independent news organization, a public diplomacy organization, a war of ideas organization, or a combination of all three) they are in general agreement that “these once fine institutions have crumbled…”

In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, “How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear,” Robert Reilly, former VOA director during the George W. Bush administration, reveals a complete meltdown of good management and a sense of purpose at the U.S. international media outreach agency.
 

How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear, OPINION | COMMENTARY, By Robert Reilly, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), February 17, 2017.

 
Current BBG CEO John Lansing told NPR’s Morning Edition that “It’s our job is to report all sides of a story and we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President, and their point of view is something that’s newsworthy and we report that.”

Bob Reilly wrote in his WSJ op-ed that “he saw the Robert De Niro video that Voice of America’s Ukrainian service posted online last October, adding subtitles and VOA’s logo,” in which “Mr. De Niro unloads about Mr. Trump: ‘He’s so blatantly stupid; he’s a punk; he’s a dog; he’s a pig; he’s a con’—and so forth.”

 

 

Reilly reported that “No context was provided for this rant, and the Ukrainian service took it down after being criticized.”

Reilly was not referencing in his WSJ op-ed any current BBG officials or their recent comments, although he did quote a 2008 comment by a BBG executive who is still with the agency.

“One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter to ask why a taxpayer-funded news service, whose job is to tell America’s story to the world, would do this,” Reilly wrote in his WSJ op-ed in reference to the VOA Ukrainian service De Niro video.

Donald Trump with Nazi swastika GIF - a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter's personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.

Donald Trump with Nazi swastika GIF – a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter's personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.

Donald Trump penis GIF - a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter's personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.

Donald Trump penis GIF – a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter’s personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.

There have been even more outrageous examples of VOA bias, not used in Robert Reilly’s WSJ op-ed, such as VOA reporters posting on their publicly accessible social media pages memes showing Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika, showing him as a sex organ, calling him “F*ckface Von Clownstick,” Disgrace” and making fun at a VOA event of his wife and daughter.

But according to VOA director Amanda Bennett, “You don’t do a story that doesn’t show the opposite viewpoint. If you’re making a criticism of somebody, you allow the person or the institution you’re criticizing to make a comment.”

In fact, many of the Trump-bashing Voice of America programs had zero balance and no response. During the 2016 Democratic primaries campaign, VOA also posted a one-sided commentary bashing Bernie Sanders.

And in a most recent one month period from mid-January to mid-February 2017, VOA had a record number of five (5) Trump-bashing personal columns on its “U.S. Opinion & Commentary” page without any similar personal columns in defense of Donald Trump and his policies.

Robert Reilly wrote that “The first thing the Voice of America’s new leader will have to face is how seriously disoriented the broadcast has become.”

Reilly added that in 2008, “the staff director of the board of governors at the time, said: ‘It is not in our mandate to influence’.”

“If this is so, why bother? Why should the taxpayer keep funding Voice of America?,” Reilly asked.

Reilly argues that VOA was never meant to be only a news agency. “Its duty was always to reveal the character of the American people and thereby the underlying principles of American life,” Reilly wrote. He points out that the war of ideas was part of the Voice of America’s successful mission during the Cold War and argues for implementing “a refashioned version of the strategy today.”

“Information warfare is being waged against the U.S. by Islamic State, China and Russia, among others. President Trump should nominate someone to lead the Voice of America who knows how to fight such wars—just as well as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knows how to fight kinetic ones. Together, they could win.”
 

READ MORE (Subscription Required): How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear, Robert Reilly, Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2017.

 
 
 

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