Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War: Lost and Staying Lost
By The Federalist
The quickest and surest way for John Lansing to fail as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is to continue with the “business as usual” operating model that he and his bosses on the BBG favor. This is and will forever be a guaranteed prescription for the continued failure of US Government international broadcasting. The career bureaucrats of the BBG International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) have been and are continuing to make this agency inept.
This agency is a conglomerate of a variety of entities which the board has demonstrated it cannot manage and neither can one CEO, even someone with extensive international affairs, foreign policy, public diplomacy, journalism, public sector and government service experience. Except for some brief work as a photojournalist, Mr. Lansing has none of these. He is without any doubt a successful private sector TV entertainment manager. His boss, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, is likewise a highly accomplished cable TV and Hollywood film industry executive. They are by all accounts fabulous business managers, but private sector managerial experience or business experience are not enough to run such a complex government/public sector/private sector/media/journalism/public diplomacy/foreign policy/counter-propaganda operation. Such a multi-field experience cannot be quickly acquired. No single individual can do it. The operation needs to be split up and run by experts in their respective fields.
By itself, the Voice of America (VOA) alone would be more than a full-time job for Mr. Lansing. He is surrounded by people who are dedicated to undermining any attempt on his part to effect change within the agency, especially change that could diminish their power.
Mr. Lansing should be bringing in his own people to give him a fresh look at how this agency operates. Instead, he has the same cast of “usual suspects” going about their undermining campaign: for example, putting some of them in charge of figuring out why the agency is a poor performer in the annual Federal employee workplace surveys, people who make all kinds of excuses and describing “progress” in terms of “baby steps.” The intended goal of these “baby steps” is to make sure nothing happens that exposes them for the failures they are and allows them to continue to collect six-figure paychecks all the way to the time they can retire.
This has been going on for years. What is the common denominator?
The same agency officials studying the “problems” they themselves have created and who have no intention of fixing the problems. They want to preserve the status quo.
They are the problem!
In so many words, Mr. Lansing is going nowhere fast.
So fast that he doesn’t appear to even notice the speed at which he is being undermined.
There are other equally significant problems, not the least of which is the agency’s crippling loss of influence and impact, especially in the Middle East and on social media platforms.
Yes, the BBG claims big gains in audience, by their questionable standards. But the fact is, the agency is toast and a verifiable way of turning things around does not exist. As BBG Watch observed:
“They [Broadcasting Board of Governors officials] said that the BBG has increased its audience to ‘unprecedented’ 226 million. Technically, they did not lie about the number if one accepts their estimates at face value (many, including VOA journalists, don’t), but they definitely did not tell the whole truth how their estimates were made and what they encompass. 24.4 million of the audience came from Mexico, and other millions were for programs from which newscasts had been intentionally eliminated by the BBG to satisfy local censors.
If Mexico, a troubled but democratic nation which has plenty of ties to the US and relatively free press, is not included in the audience count, BBG’s overall reach in the most strategic countries and regions has been at best stagnant or declining (considering global population growth) for years.
Those numbers are highly suspect because they are unconfirmed and unverifiable by virtue of the agency’s playing sneaky by not publishing its survey questions and results – which would give an analyst a good idea of how the agency is tricking its numbers. In short, to outward appearances, the agency has something to hide – and it isn’t success. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube audience engagement numbers do not lie. They show minimal impact with only a few exceptions.
Again, this is what BBG Watch observed:
“In 1989, VOA had an estimated weekly audience of 130 million, composed almost entirely at that time of radio listeners overseas. The world population grew from 5.2 billion in 1989 to 7.2 billion in 2015. If we don’t count VOA audience in Mexico [24.4 million] and in Indonesia [31.4 million], where VOA placement programs reportedly do not include live news, then VOA audience size now and in 1989 are practically the same despite a tremendous growth in world population and the emergence of entirely new digital media platforms.”
It is evident that the agency is hoping its salvation lies in the Internet and social media. In that regard, it is way behind the curve. It’s not even appreciably in anyone’s rear view mirror.
The Internet has been the proverbial Pandora’s Box for the agency. Yet another BBG Watch finding:
“VOA English News had less than 10 Facebook posts the weekend of the Paris terror attacks. Compared to Russia’s RT, BBC and Germany’s DW, which had dozens of Paris-related news reports, VOA got during that period only 1 percent of “Likes” and readers’ comments in the category of Paris terror-related Facebook posts.”
The practical effect of the Internet has been an explosion in a variety of media far beyond traditional media players and sources. All one needs to do is a Google search for the recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and you will see links that are not readily familiar or recognizable.
These “sources” are perhaps fronts for certain politically or ideologically driven organizations or individuals. They play to what is commonly referred to as a “confirmation bias:” a certain editorial compass that confirms the bias of the reader/viewer. If you can’t find one that fits your point of view, you certainly will be able to search one out.
It isn’t clear that the BBG understands this. But the effect is this: VOA no longer has the almost automatic credibility or legitimacy that it may have once commanded.
Now, it has to struggle to maintain both credibility and legitimacy.
Comments to VOA websites, of which there are very few, demonstrate that the agency is under assault. Some of this are by Internet “trolls” intentionally bludgeoning the agency’s reporting. Some of it may also be the impact of effective counter-messaging by other Internet sources including US adversaries. Either way you cut it, the Voice of America is not the respected news source as it once might have been.
In the current model, while dealing with the 43 VOA language services and a cumbersome VOA and IBB bureaucracy that seemingly can’t get the simplest thing right, Mr. Lansing must also contend with issues relating to another huge part of the organization in the various grantee organizations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Sawa/Alhurra Television (a major problem all by itself) and others.
Cumulatively, this is not a well-oiled machine in the best of circumstances. It is layering more problems on top of existing problems.
This puts Mr. Lansing in a no-win situation. He may not agree. But those of us with experience with this agency know its bureaucrats very, very well.
He will fail.
It is inevitable. Time is not on his side nor is the existing operative model the agency’s salvation.
H.R. 2323 is reform legislation that is being considered in Congress, both in the House and in a bill being worked on in the Senate.
This legislation would split the existing conglomerate into two separate organizations: one consisting of VOA and the other consisting of the grantee entities.
With the agency’s long-established record of being:
…this is the appropriate thing to do. With the agency’s record, why would anyone not want to break it up and make it manageable?
The only thing accomplished by preserving the status quo setup and giving the BBG government bureaucracy even more power would be to perpetuate failure. Let’s not deceive ourselves. Mr. Lansing will be gone sooner or later. And even while he is still here, he will not be running the agency; its entrenched permanent bureaucracy will. H.R. 2323 would break it up.
The BBG wants to preserve the existing structure. That’s nuts. There is no other way to put it.
In typical fashion, the BBG believes that throwing more money at the agency will fix its problems or make it more effective.
That is an absolute crock.
With the same people in charge, doing their best at producing rotten work and a rotten work environment, giving this agency more money is irresponsible and goes well along the way toward meeting Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. In this agency, it’s the same group of characters with the same result and wasting even more taxpayer money.
And the Congress is right in not giving the agency any increased funding without some tangible manifestation of improvement. To date, there hasn’t been any, and all the signs point to the agency becoming more derelict in its ability to function effectively.
American taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize a perennial failure. That’s what this agency is. It is clearly time to establish a new working model.
This legislation is very necessary. It has the intended objective of clearing away the smoke and mirrors approach that obscures the incompetence and agendas of senior management officials. They need to be above the radar.
Way above the radar.
Where they can be seen, they can be dealt with as inept, incompetent and overpaid underperformers. It is long overdue to promote the efficiency of the Federal Service within this agency.
At this juncture, the only consideration they deserve is to be reassigned and/or retired and replaced.
When it comes to the senior bureaucrats in this agency doesn’t have leaders. It has pretenders. Mr. Lansing isn’t going to be remotely successful so long as he is surrounded by a group of individuals who are not much better than a collection of charlatans.