Government International Media: Meet The USAGM PR Flash Meister
By The Federalist
John Lansing. He is the chief executive officer of the United States Agency for Global Media or “U-SAG-M” as we like to call it.
But there’s more:
Meet John Lansing: The USAGM PR Flash Meister!
Periodically, Lansing issues grand pronouncements in “Flash Reports.” These reports are generally for internal USAGM consumption. But they are no doubt used as material in the agency’s “sales pitch” to Members of Congress when the agency seeks to increase its funding. Consider the heading to these “reports:”
USAGM Strategic Priorities
The fact of the matter is that regardless of “The Flash Meister’s” sales pitch, the end result is generally the same:
Other than the folks in the agency’s propaganda machine, it’s doubtful that many agency employees put much substance to the bold claims found in these reports. Even one of his agency’s photos (as seen in the feature image for this commentary) looks like a Five-Year-Plan socialist-realist Soviet propaganda poster. John Lansing obviously does not realize how silly this photograph makes him look.
And the numbers used by the agency to claim audience sizes or gains are usually suspect. More than likely, a work of fiction or manipulation, as asserted recently by a former USAGM audience research expert whose warnings about a methodology producing misleading audience results were ignored by the agency’s management.
The bottom line in today’s 21st century world is that it is extremely difficult to influence events around the world from the dark and dingy hallways of the Cohen Building in Washington, DC. As the saying goes, “All politics is local.” People may agree with conclusions reached in agency content but the ability of people in target areas to make substantive change is difficult. It all comes down to who has the money and who has the guns and how the money and the guns are aligned. If the money and guns are not aligned with “supporting freedom and democracy,” the outcome is usually more of the same or worse.
In short, people may have to be influenced more by conditions on the ground than by broadcasts from afar. Someone has to make a conscious decision to go against the grain and challenge a repressive and/or failed regime with all the attendant risks. Change has become all the more problematic if big money from some source backs the status quo, as ugly as it may be. Assessing risks is critical. It is also something that doesn’t factor into the dream world of U-SAG-M.
Consider one example: people in Venezuela are in the streets demanding that the Maduro government fall. But it is still there. For how long remains to be seen. But what is evident is that Maduro and his clique will not go quietly into the night.To unseat the government via street demonstrations creates unknown consequences.
When it comes to U-SAG-M, “supporting freedom and democracy” is much more easily said than done. Lansing and others among the agency’s career bureaucracy can enjoy thumping themselves on their backs and tell the world what a great job they’re doing, but the reality is far different. They can make documentaries decrying a host of human calamities, but the calamities remain and appear unabated by anything the dreamers inside the Cohen Building concoct.
Voice of America (VOA) Amanda Bennett and her “excellent Management Team” members Sandy Sugawara and Kelu Chao recently held a so-called “town meeting” covering several topics.
Gone are the days when the “town hall meeting” was held in the Cohen Building auditorium. These meetings have since been downsized considerably, to a small conference or “briefing” room off the VOA newsroom. This kind of downsizing is symbolic of the agency continuing misfortunes. Pretty soon, the next meeting site will be one of the Cohen Building storage rooms.
Sources gave us a rundown of some of the topics raised and their takeaways from this sparse event:
At the top of the list is Bennett herself.
Some in attendance remarked that Bennett appeared to be seriously uninformed, misinformed or under-informed, relying heavily on broad generalizations or turning matters over to Sugawara or Chao. She repeatedly referred questions to an agency email address where the Third Floor can ponder responses.
Having a Pulitzer Prize is no guarantee of technical or managerial competence. From day one, Bennett has demonstrated that she is way out of her element.
Bennett started the meeting by trying to put a positive spin on what the agency is doing: the old “motion without movement” mantra from the Third Floor.
Following Bennett’s cheerleading exercise, one of the first topics broached in this meeting concerned the agency’s contractor workforce. The agency has announced that it will no longer work with vendors to provide contractors for the agency. Instead, the agency will do “personal service agreements” (PSAs) with contractor employees.
If you are a contractor employee, you should be thinking, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Does this seem like déjà vu all over again?
It certainly does because the agency went down this road once before resulting in a train wreck with government regulations, exceeding the number of allowable contractors, some tax withholding issues with the IRS, etc.
Thus, the agency appears poised to do what it does best: repeat a nightmare.
According to the notes of those who have watched the show and shared them with us, for her part, Bennett responded with mumbo-jumbo, citing that she could not answer a lot of related questions, describing the PSA issue as “so complicated” and “very, very complicated” referring contractors to the aforementioned email address for inquiries. She went on to say that there would be “tons of communications on this” and also allowing that it was almost “guaranteed something is going to screw up…”
A real confidence builder…demonstrating that the agency doesn’t know what it is doing.
But Wait, There’s More!
Recently, the agency had (yet another) failure of the DALET system which is its primary, one and only broadcast production tool. As Kelu Chao noted, this failure was “not the first time,” in a gross understatement.
So now, Chao notes that the agency is trying to find options for DALET and noting that technical things in the agency are not “very holistic.”
Sugawara then added that an agency official is pushing for a backup system and that the agency should have redundancy.
Wait a minute!
In other words, there-is-no-backup-system?!?!?
Well, there you have it: the agency subscribes to the CHAOS approach to its crucial production system agency-wide! And “chaos” is exactly how the latest meltdown has been described by agency employees.
These officials are not to be believed! Unfortunately, if you are on the operations side of this agency, it’s all too true: no back-up equates with chaos.
The only thing missing from the presentation by Bennett and company was trying to put the blame for lack of preparedness on the employees – absent any guidance, direction and planning from the Third Floor.
On and on this meeting droned.
The key takeaway remains that Bennett is generally clueless about the nuts and bolts of what it takes to get programs on the air.
She is equally clueless when it comes to key personnel decisions including a return to the “PSA” arrangement for the agency’s contractors.
A confidence builder in the agency’s leadership she is not.
And that applies even more so to her senior deputy Sugawara.
In short, the overall situation inside the Cohen Building is wildly out of control.
If one were to engage in some reasonable speculation, one might reach the conclusion that this agency is dying a slow and painful death at the hands of those in charge.
We have concluded long ago that the agency is likely past the point of no return. It has little if any impact in its programming. It audience numbers – always suspect – appear to be a fiction of severely bloated proportions. Related to each of these is the fact that other international broadcasters appear to have left the agency languishing far behind their own efforts.
The agency is also way out of line when it comes to the VOA Charter. Under Lansing and Bennett, the agency has abandoned all pretenses of being Charter-compliant and has embraced political or ideological bias, leaning hard to the American political Left.
This agency is no paragon of journalistic integrity. It has become a screed not unlike you will find on any American cable outlet, whether from the Left or Right.
Don’t think of “balance” as an agency watchword. The new paradigm is “imbalance:” anything that remolds the agency into an instrument of “resistance” within the Federal bureaucracy.
If you need yet another example of how far off the rails the agency has gone consider this:
The agency responded after a while with this explanation to inquiring journalists:
“When USAGM and VOA leadership were notified of this incident, an investigation was conducted and found that it was a technical error resulting from a hot mic from a live shot in Venezuela in which a motorcycle drove by.”
“A likely story,” remarked one former agency employee. Others have pointed to VOA videos and numerous VOA reporters posts and memes lampooning Donald Trump, his wife and their family, many of them with a highly offensive and obscene content. In one VOA produced video, which was subsequently removed in response to outside criticism, Donald Trump was called “Pig” while at about the same time VOA was posting in full and without any counter political videos of the Hillary Clinton election campaign
Yet another former VOA reporter observed that even if the agency’s response in this case were true, why did the embarrassing video remain online, and why a VOA Spanish Service broadcaster felt the need to complain to Congress instead of bringing the matter up with the VOA and USAGM Management?
Is it because these incidents have happened before without any effective Management response? Is it because John Lansing was telling NPR “we have the greatest respect for the President” while memes showing Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika and as a male sex organ posted by a “VOA Expert” journalist remained online for months before and months after he made his “PR Flash Meister” assertion to American taxpayers who pay USAGM bills, among whom are both Trump’s supporters and Trump’s opponents.
Do organizations recover any semblance of balance and non-partisanship from this kind of hijacking to satisfy a political agenda? Not likely.
There is no walking back from the abyss of bias and blatant partisanship that Obama appointees Lansing and Bennett have taken the agency. In addition, they have also created a by-product of complete lack of accountability (except when either of them feels threatened). In every way, this is a rogue operation within the US Government.
Can this agency be seen as anything other than a tool for the extreme socialist agenda by elements of the Democratic Party? It’s hard to say, but once the soul of the organization is sold to this particular devil, it would not seem likely.
In essence, the agency has become a propaganda outlet for the extreme American political Left.
Failing to address this dysfunction has only served to make the situation worse and unsolvable short of a complete dissolution of the agency
If this was a private sector media firm, one would probably not care as much. It would be just one among many in the Tower of Babel domestic US broadcasters. But as an agency supported by US tax dollars, it is increasingly apparent that it has no business being part of the Federal Government.