BBG Watch Commentary
As early as in June 2016, Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett was informed in an email sent by an outside international media expert that some VOA English Newsroom reporters were posting politically biased (for those who are professional journalists) and obscene memes against Donald Trump on their personal but publicly accessible Facebook pages on which they self-identified as reporters and employees of the U.S. government-run and taxpayer-funded ($224 million in FY 2017) international media outreach organization.
Bennett acknowledged receiving the warning email and responded that VOA had initiated a search but could not find the offending post. While Bennett and her staff could not find them, these memes and other similar ones are still online on the Facebook pages of some VOA Newsroom reporters. Some have received “Likes” from other VOA reporters. We had no problems finding them today, just as we found them in 2016.
Similar warnings about inappropriate social media activity by VOA reporters who are required to maintain a professional image of strict objectivity were sent to Bennett’s boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors CEO John Lansing. Some Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reporters have also posted similar anti-Trump content on their personal Facebook and Twitter pages. RFE/RL is one of the U.S. taxpayer-funded media entities managed by the BBG. Lansing is Bennett’s boss. Both are Obama holdovers. They both received repeated warnings from outside observers.
These warnings however, did not achieve their intended outcome. Bennett, Lansing, and their deputies in charge of the $740 million (including VOA) federal agency failed to take effective actions to stop multiple abuses and violations of professional conduct by VOA journalists. Posting of obscene and other offensive Facebook and Twitter posts by a handful of VOA reporters intensified later in 2016 and continued into this year.
VOA managers and reporters who either authored some of the obscene Facebook posts or allowed them to be posted were later praised by Bennett for their other, non-U.S. politics-related VOA work. Some were prominently featured on the official VOA public relations website as “VOA Experts” available for media interviews. If Bennett and Lansing did not know about these offensive and sometimes obscene social media posts and other public statements by a handful of VOA reporters, they should have because a lot of people within VOA and outside of VOA knew about them since at least early 2016.
The latest incident of alleged partisan hate speech at the Voice of America, this time from extreme right-wing perspective, has been described in a number of recent media reports, including today’s article in The Washington Post.
While the latest allegations have not been yet fully investigated and confirmed by the Voice of America as being definitely authored by a VOA reporter, numerous other incidents of extreme partisan bias at VOA are well-documented and leave no doubt as to their origin. They are attributed by name to specific other VOA reporters who did not try to hide their identity. Many date back to early summer of 2016. These much more numerous incidents were not mentioned in the Washington Post article.
“A VOA journalist reportedly posted racist Reddit screeds. His reporting was problematic, too.” By Callum Borchers, The Washington Post, November 19, 2017.
The latest reports of racist, sexist and homophobic social media posts allegedly authored by a Voice of America staff reporter led to this statement issued by Bennett on November 14, 2017:
“Voice of America has zero tolerance for public or personal racist, sexist, or politically biased social media communications. Our policies make it very clear that such behavior is prohibited. We are investigating these reports as quickly as possible and will respond accordingly.”
The latest allegations against one VOA reporter, which are still being investigated, are not related to other, well-documented and multiple incidents in 2016 and 2017 in which several other VOA reporters are involved. While in the latest scandal, the alleged perpetrator reportedly tried to hide his work connection to the Voice of America, the VOA authors of other obscene and biased social media posts and public statements freely identified themselves as VOA employees and made public references to their government jobs.
In the latest scandal allegedly involving one VOA reporter, the posts appeared to be pro-Donald Trump. The other social media posts not connected with this incident were uniformly anti-Trump. Some showed Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika over his head and Donald Trump as a male sex organ.
Based on the partial screenshots of some of the biased and obscene memes and other publicly available information, it would have been easy for anyone with even basic knowledge of social media to uncover as early as June 2016 or even earlier who the Voice of America authors of these biased, offensive and obscene memes and posts were. Outside journalists easily found them online after they were reported by BBG Watch. The authors of these memes and posts did not try to hide their identity in any way. Their employment with the Voice of America was prominently mentioned on their public Facebook pages and even on some of the posts. Some of the obscene and otherwise offensive Facebook posts by VOA reporters remained online for many months. Many can still be seen on Facebook as of today, November 19, 2017. A few of them show “Likes” from other VOA reporters, almost all of them working in the VOA Newsroom.
BBG Watch has learned that Bennett said in June 2016 that the Voice of America management had ordered a search for one offensive anti-Trump Facebook post but could not find it, even though it was discovered today, November 19, 2017, without much effort and in a very short time by those on the outside of the organization who looked for it and who are not at all IT experts.
Later in the summer of 2016, in the official VOA-produced video which was posted for several days on the Facebook page for one of VOA’s foreign language services, Donald Trump was called by a Hollywood actor “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid”. No rebuttal, response or context of any kind were added by VOA to the video, for which VOA provided foreign language subtitles for the name-calling. The video, which was originally created by an outside party as a political ad, showed a Voice of America logo in the right top corner. (The entire video was eventually removed from a VOA Facebook page after much criticism for its one-sided, unanswered attack.)
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, revealed a complete meltdown of good management and a sense of purpose at the U.S. international media outreach agency. 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.”
The VOA political video most likely had an impact on Ukrainian American voters who follow the VOA Ukrainian Facebook page. The video was in clear violation of the VOA Charter, a U.S. law which prohibits such biased content. Other U.S. laws forbid VOA and its government employees from trying to influence U.S. public opinion.
In public Facebook post on a personal page shortly before the 2016 presidential election, and therefore likely to have an impact on American voters, a VOA reporter called Donald Trump:
“F*ckface Von Clownstick.”
The introduction to the post on the VOA reporter’s public Facebook page read in part:
“if F*ckface Von Clownstick gets elected on Nov 8, I will not be able to say anything on Facebook against him anymore, as dictatorship will have descended on this land.”
This is believed to be the first ever public use of an F-word by a Voice of America employee to describe a future or current U.S. President. This Facebook post by a Voice of America reporter is still visible online as of November 19, 2017, 10:03 PM ET, as is another post of #WomenCanStopTrump video and the video of Robert DeNiro calling Trump “pig” and “dog,” also reposted by a VOA reporter shortly before the 2016 November election.
A VOA reporter also posted this on Facebook before the election: “There are many countries that are far worse off than America. But I do not know of any presidential hopeful that would be worse than this one, save Kim Jong Il…”
All of these Facebook posts are still visible online as of November 19, 2017, 10:03 PM ET.
Bennett told VOA reporters at one point, “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.” She issued several similarly general instructions to VOA staff and ordered anti-bias training, but her signals and those of her deputies were mixed. At one time, Bennett highlighted to staff a report in which Trump was accused of promoting “hate a prejudice” without checking whether the report had balance. It did not. She also initiated outside panels which turned out to be highly one-sided. Throughout all of this, Amanda Bennett and her deputies were so confident that Hillary Clinton would win that on the election night VOA broadcasters had two already pre-written “Hillary Wins” reports, and none for Trump.
Many of the Trump-bashing Voice of America programs had zero balance and no response both before and after the 2016 election. During the 2016 Democratic primaries campaign, VOA also posted a one-sided commentary bashing Bernie Sanders.
After the election, in a 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.
An inside source told BBG Watch last July that there has been no let-up in frequent and widespread use of obscenities by Voice of America Newsroom managers, editors, news writers and reporters to describe President Trump in their daily personal conversations and discussions about news coverage despite a recent memo form a lower-ranking VOA manager urging staff to refrain from using obscene language at work. A reporter told us that in the last few days since the warning memo was issued, the reporter “heard the president called a pr**k, and as**ole and a f**king retard.”
“I guess [the] memo didn’t do much,” the VOA reporter said.
Only a strong action in early 2016 by Amanda Bennett, John Lansing,and their deputies could have prevented such behavior from continuing, but they all failed to take effective measures. Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, and Lansing had no prior experience in managing a federal workforce. She and other senior Voice of America and Broadcasting Board of Governors managers would have absolutely no problem discovering which Voice of America Newsroom managers, editors and employees participated on government time in a holiday satirical show held in a government building in December 2016 which illustrated how demoralized and aimless VOA had become. During that show, federal employees lampooned Trump and told crude and sexist jokes about Mrs. Melania Trump and Kellyanne Conway. They streamed some of them live on Facebook. Again, some of these videos and photos remained online for many months. Audio recordings of the most offensive parts of the VOA show were also available online.
VOA EMPLOYEE: “And the No. 1 top reason to love America: It’s where a woman who posed naked for a men’s magazine can be First Lady!”
In one of the skits, VOA Newsroom reporters lampooned BBG Watch, an independent American blog run by volunteer journalists who are trying to increase transparency in the U.S. government.
A lie was told that BBG Watch threatened to sue former VOA director for slander. BBG Watch contributors, all of them American journalists, were described by a U.S. federal government VOA employee as “knuckleheads.”
Fun was made of anti-sexual harassment classes for VOA workforce and of Hispanics.
A humiliating bingo game on the VOA website on the day of President Trump’s inauguration was eventually removed, but some VOA reporters continued to mock the president and those who voted for him.
Continuing in the same manner of behavior at the time of the presidential inauguration in January 2017, one VOA English writer posted on Facebook: “New favorite game: spot the Trump supporter on Metro.”
A frequent outside commentator who participated in VOA opinion programs during the 2016 presidential election campaign, tweeted: “Starts to rain as #trump speaks #inauguration God is crying.”
Earlier this year, making an obscene gesture to anti-Iran regime demonstrators in New York did not disqualify an outside contract commentator from continuing to moderate Voice of America programs about Iran.
How can VOA director Amanda Bennett, BBG CEO John Lansing expect VOA reporters not to use obscenities on social media if they had not taken seriously such behavior before? Despite being warned about it, they allowed it to continue and to expand, while in another documented case, they took no action. Lansing either does not know what is going on at his agency, or he pretends not to know. He told NPR in February 2017, “we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President.” One wonders which of the obscene memes by VOA reporters he has seen.
An individual who recently made an obscene gesture in public continued working for VOA as if nothing had happened. The senior management was informed about it as well. The Voice of America under the Lansing-Bennett regime has reached an unprecedented level of dysfunction and partisanship, of which the allegations in the Washington Post Sunday article are just the tip of the iceberg.
ALSO SEE: CUSIB: Voice of America and Broadcasting Board of Governors Senior Management Ignored Repeated Warnings About Hateful Social Media Posts by A Handful of VOA Journalists But Wants to Fire Mandarin Service Broadcasters Who Stood Up for Freedom of Information in China, BBG Watch, November 16, 2017.