BBG Watch Media Commentary
As reported by Miami Herald, acting director of Radio and TV Martí André Mendes who has resigned to take a new job at the Department of Commerce told his Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) staff “don’t believe the lies” about an alleged “coup” that supposedly would see him replace Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing with the approval of the White House, for which no one has offered any proof or even a plausible explanation. Mendes and the White House denied the allegations made against Mendes by what appear to be four “current and former BBG officials.” The current ones may be afraid of losing their jobs. The former ones, if there were more than one, may have been motivated by a partisan agenda that anything proposed by a Republican administration would be an assault on independence of the Voice of America. It appears, however, that the Trump White House had no agenda or plan despite unprecedented partisanship in VOA reports and programs against Trump, with some VOA reporters posting obscene memes about him on social media in violation of all government and professional ethics.
Mainstream liberal media reports and a former VOA official implied, however, it was the Trump White House that was trying to politicize the agency. The only propaganda we have seen at the Voice of America so far has been anti-Trump propaganda.
Miami Herald reported Mendes as saying “I am the real whistle-blower.” “The real story is that the current directors (of BBG) are afraid that the Trump administration will name a new CEO,” the newspaper quoted Mendes. We often disagreed with Mr. Mendes, but he is almost certainly right on this point.
John Lansing is an Obama-era selectee of former Democratic BBG chairman Jeff Shell. Mr. Mendes has also been one of Mr. Shell’s favorite managers at the BBG. It was Shell who in recent years had put Mendes temporarily in charge of the agency and frequently praised his performance before proposing Lansing, an outsider, in 2015 as permanent chief executive to the the bipartisan board which he then led with a majority of Democratic members. Mendes appeared to have served Shell and others well and was rewarded with an interim position as Radio and TV Martí director in addition to his regular duties as Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer for the BBG.
Last week allegations against Mendes from unidentified BBG management “whistleblowers” and one or more former BBG officials appeared in reports by CNN and FP, as well as in a letter to the BBG form Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). It now appears that both Mr. Mendes and Congressman Engel may have been unwitting victims of a typical Washington bureaucracy scheme carried out by BBG managers wanting to prolong their stay at the agency and prevent management change and management reforms.
Media reports alleged without offering any evidence to back it up that Mendes may have tried to stage what BBG management “whistleblowers” described for maximum negative impact as a “coup,” again a typical propaganda ploy. But even CNN reported that the White House’s Associate Director of Presidential Personnel, Jennifer Loretta, “said through a White House spokesperson that she has never interacted with Mendes and has no plans to make Mendes an acting director.” We at BBG Watch also could not find anyone in the White House who knew anything about the alleged “coup” rumor or any plans even remotely resembling those described in the CNN report.
Retired Voice of America official Alan Heil reported, however, in his article published by the Public Diplomacy Council that “The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) issued a press release March 19 that triggered the debate.” In that release,” Heil wrote, Engel “alleged that two senior civil service managers at the oversight Broadcasting Board of Governors have sought to persuade the White House to nominate a successor to the current CEO of the networks, John Lansing, and have one of them installed as his successor.” According to Heil’s article, “As Mr. Engel put it, their goal is to convert the five networks ‘into an agency aimed at promoting the Trump administration’s agenda’.”
An article in FP, titled: “Fear of a Coup at Broadcasting Board of Governors: Employees fear the Breitbartization of U.S.-government funded international media outlets,” may have more precisely identified the BBG management “whistleblowers” as “four current and former BBG officials.”
Mendes told FP that accusations against him were “totally and completely false.” He also said that BBG management sources who spoke to FP were trying to “create an environment of fear … to protect their own jobs.” While we have never been big fans of Mr. Mendes, he is right in this observation.
CONGRESSMAN ELIOT L. ENGEL (D-NY)
Engel: BBG Must Not Become a Propaganda Outlet
READ MORE ON CONGRESSMAN ELIOT L. ENGEL’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE
Miami Herald reported Mendes as saying that “the accusations were false.” He “denied any participation in the alleged plot.” The paper also reported that Engel did not reply to a request for an interview and “Lansing did not reply to several requests for comment.”
Alan Heil who reported on the controversy with a sympathetic view of the current Obama-era BBG management appears to have some knowledge of past resistance to management reforms at the Voice of America which were proposed by other Republican administrations. In his 2003 book “Voice of America: A History,” Alan Heil described in some detail how at the start of the Reagan administration he and some other longtime had been reassigned to new positions. He wrote that he was given “the mikado-like title” and described how some of the VOA newsroom employees had met to discuss how to oppose changes and personnel appointments proposed by the White House. Heil also wrote in his 2003 book about a petition against the hiring of one of the Reagan administration’s appointees who held highly conservative views regarded by Heil as dangerous for VOA. While the person was vilified and did not stay long at the agency, the new Reagan team successfully implemented management reforms which were well received by most employees of VOA’s foreign language services. Heil and his colleagues were convinced that Reagan reforms would destroy the Voice of America as a credible source of news, but instead they allowed VOA foreign broadcasters to expand their impact and audience reach behind the Iron Curtain and helped to speed up the fall of the Soviet empire.
Radio and TV Martí employees apparently were also pleased with Mendes’ conservative, anti-communist views. Miami Herald reported that “A group of employees wrote a letter to Trump saying Mendes ‘had returned this organization to President (Ronald) Reagan’s original objectives of informing the Cuban people, that in the previous two years were dangerously distorted by a policy of appeasement with the Cuban communist dictatorship’.”
READ MORE HERE: Director of Radio and TV Martí resigns amid internal crisis — Regalado applies for the job. BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES. Miami Herald, March 29, 2018.
The departure of Andre Mendes, interim director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, is linked to internal conflicts within the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
A Radio and TV Martí employee sent an email to a number of outside observers of the agency, praising Mr. Mendes’ brief tenure at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and expressing disappointment at his departure.
“Today our institution wept with the news of the departure of André Mendes. I do not even want to go into the discussion about the CNN article. … Mendes from the first day he arrived … raised the morale …. We doubled our efforts. We made our dreams of receiving a response from our brothers in Cuba come true.”
We at the BBG Watch were not at all impressed with Mr. Mendes’ managerial actions during his tenure at the BBG, and even much less so by those of his BBG bosses. But in this case it certainly appears that he was thrown under the bus by some of his former associates and used to help them stage their own “media coup” to hold on to their jobs a little longer.
We did not believe for a moment that the White House was considering Mr. Mendes as a candidate to lead the agency. BBG management “whistleblowers” appeared to have misled Congressman Engel in a big and embarrassing way. Engel’s colleague, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), did not, however, fall for their ploy. Royce said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon that he:
ED ROYCE: “‘looks forward’ to the next step in reforming the embattled agency whose flagship, the Voice of America, has come under criticism for drifting from its mission of countering anti-American narratives promulgated by Russia and other adversaries as well as mimicking mainstream cable outlets’ anti-Trump bias.”
READ MORE: Royce Urges Trump to Initiate BBG, VOA Reforms by Naming New Director, Susan Crabtree, The Washington Free Beacon, March 21, 2018.
A high-level Washington source familiar with the House Foreign Affairs Committee commented further on Rep. Royce’s statement to the Washington Free Beacon.
“Seems to me that any organization forced to put down revolts from within is in a leadership crisis. The Mendes debacle illustrates that the dysfunction that has plagued this agency has not receded under Lansing and Bennett [VOA director Amanda Bennett].
The administration needs to nominate – and the Senate confirm – someone to run the agency asap.
Those inside the BBG attempting to protect the bureaucratic empire they’ve built are using the rally cry of ‘Trump TV’ to fearmonger and stymie reform. Congress should demand implementation of section 1288 of the 2017 NDAA immediately.”
The good news in all of this may be that Congressman Engel and perhaps even CNN and FP editors will not fall so easily next time for the gloom and doom stories from these current and former BBG management “whistleblowers” who want to protect the failed status quo.
The very idea of referring as “whistleblowers” to high-level officials and managers who are responsible for the Broadcasting Board of Governors being a dysfunctional agency — “practically defunct,” as observed in 2013 by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — with its lack of impact in countering propaganda and disinformation from China, Russia and Iran, and dismal employee morale, is, needless to say, an abuse of a useful and respected whistleblower label. It should be reserved for BBG employee whistleblowers, many of whom come to us with complaints against the BBG senior management and managers in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
The current White House choice for the BBG CEO position appears to be Michael Pack who has an impressive resume. Unfortunately, he has not yet been cleared for his nomination to be submitted to the U.S. Senate.
While the news about a “coup” at the BBG was almost certainly false and a result of a clever ruse by some of the current BBG officials, appointing a temporary management team, if possible, while doing a White House/Office of Management and Budget audit of the agency, should be done immediately as long as it is carried out in accordance with current laws and regulations. The agency is in a desperate need of reform and reorganization.