BBG Watch Commentary
Two former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members have criticized Voice of America (VOA) practice of posting retweets without any explanation from President Putin’s propaganda media outlet RT and from other anti-US shadowy sources, including a Twitter user who regularly retweets RT and calls herself “Pro-#Russia,#Assad,#Gaddafi. F**k the #EU,#US.” The obscenity is spelled out on a Twitter account called “Steiner1776” with the additional description: “A frustrated #german and #socialist.” True identity of this person or persons could not be established by BBG Watch, but this Twitter users posts daily multiple tweets, all of them pro-Kremlin and often repeating Kremlin’s key propaganda claims and themes that are known to be false.
Former BBG member Blanquita Cullum wrote that the Voice of America practice of “retweeting something from Putin’s propaganda outlet RT without a legitimate news purpose–such as to expose propaganda–is UNACCEPTABLE!”
Former BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe called it “disgraceful” and called on VOA head David Ensor “to take control and remedy this or resign.”
While VOA executives have removed a retweet from “F**k the #EU,#US” Twitter user after outside criticism and apparent intervention by BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and possibly other current BBG members, VOA English news website still shows a number of retweets from RT, including a photo tweet from an RT photographer who had earlier posted an altered photo with a fake sign mocking the First Lady Michelle Obama’s call for the release of kidnapped African girls while making an anti-U.S. and anti-President Obama propaganda point with an altered slogan.
The altered slogan on the Michelle Obama photo said: “Nothing will bring back the children murdered by my husband’s drone strikes.”
Voice of America did not post the fake Michelle Obama photo, but VOA did post another, later tweet from the same RT photographer showing what was presented by VOA as a legitimate news photo from eastern Ukraine.
The RT photographer posted the photo used by VOA shortly after he had posted the fake Michelle Obama photo. It is not clear whether VOA checked Twitter accounts of “F**k the #EU,#US” and RT photographer before retweeting their tweets. The “Steiner 1776 – F**k the #EU,#US” tweet stayed on the VOA website for many hours.
VOA also had posted over the weekend another RT retweet and presented it as a legitimate contribution to its online news reporting. This RT retweet is still being displayed on the VOA website. It links to an RT news report which includes information from an RT correspondent who was described in a National Geographic news article last week as making “unsubstantiated and incendiary” claims from eastern Ukraine.
David Stern wrote for National Geographic in his analysis of propaganda use of social media in Ukraine and Russia that “Through repetition, and because these ‘reports’ have appeared in a medium of mass communication, all this takes on the veneer of truth, or at least of legitimacy.”
By retweeting RT tweets and tweets from other fanatical anti-US sources without identifying them as real or potential purveyors of propaganda, the Voice of America adds the veneer of truth, or at least legitimacy, to their online activities. RT retweets are posted by VOA next to retweets from such news organizations as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. RFE/RL does not retweet RT without any explanation and without a legitimate news reason.
VOA retweets often enhance propaganda point being pushed by the Kremlin. For example, a retweet from “Steiner1776” used by the Voice of America referred to the Ukrainian government in Kyiv as “regime.” It also suggested that Ukrainian forces were deliberately shooting at civilians rather than shooting at armed rebels.
As another sign of poor management and lack of oversight, the Voice of America had posted earlier a map showing Crimea to be part of Russia. The map stayed uncorrected on the VOA news website for many hours.
Former BBG member Blanquita Cullum posted the following online comment on her Facebook account in response to these Voice of America retweets:
“The fact that VOA is retweeting something from Putin’s propaganda outlet RT without a legitimate news purpose–such as to expose propaganda–is UNACCEPTABLE! VOA is the Jewel in the Crown of U.S. International Broadcasting. As a former governor, I strongly suggest that it is time for the current Board of Governors to take immediate action. Time for the Director of VOA–to read the VOA Charter and commit the Journalistic Code to memory. The “Code” clearly states, “VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views.” Clearly, the Board must insist that the VOA newsroom do its job to report ethically and responsibly. The newsroom and the leadership must be held accountable for excellence in journalism or it is time to clean house!”
According to a bio on the BBG website, “Blanquita Walsh Cullum was named to the board in 2002 by President George W. Bush and served until 2010. She came to the board as a radio broadcaster whose nationally syndicated programs BQ View and Newsbeat were carried coast-to-coast by the Radio America Network. She was the founder of the Young American Broadcasters Program. Ms. Cullum began her broadcasting career in San Antonio, Texas, where she worked for KENS-TV, KITE-Radio, KTSA-Radio and KSJL-Radio. She has also worked as marketing director for the Coors Corporation, and marketing specialist for the National Bureau of the Census. She served as White House liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and executive assistant to the deputy director of FEMA during President George H.W. Bush’s administration. She also served as president of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts.”
Former BBG member Ambassador Victor Ashe also had a strong reaction to VOA’s use of retweets from RT and from “F**k the#US, Steiner 1776”:
“This is disgraceful. It is time for VOA head David Ensor to take control and remedy this or resign. He continues to make excuses. Why does the Board permit it? If he will not correct this then he must depart.
Pending nominees should be asked their views on this. Unfortunately this is not a new development and tax dollars are paying for this outrage while Putin smiles.
I hope Jeff Shell steps forward and takes action.”
According to a bio on the BBG website, “Victor Ashe was confirmed to the board on June 30, 2010 and served until August 1, 2013. Ambassador Ashe holds the distinction of being the longest serving mayor of Knoxville. During his time in office, from 1988 to 2003, he was the President to the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 1994 to 1995 and received their Distinguished Service Award for Leadership in 2003. Ashe served as the United States Ambassador to Poland from June 2004 to October 2009. In 2004, he was a Fellow at Harvard University’s JFK Institute of Politics.”
The VOA Journalistic Code states that “VOA is alert to, and rejects, efforts by special interest groups, foreign or domestic, to use its broadcasts as a platform for their own views. This applies to all programs and program segments, including opinion or press roundups, programs discussing letters, listener comments, or call-in shows.”
In addition, the VOA Charter (U.S. Public Law 94-350) states that “VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”
Voice of America Director David Ensor said in a recent interview that VOA will not be a mouthpiece of the White House or anybody else.
“Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else. It is a proud journalistic organization more than seventy years old.” — VOA Director David Ensor