BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 million) Voice of America (VOA), run by the vast dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency ($777 million, including VOA), has set a new record for one-sided, unanswered Trump-bashing commentaries. VOA posted five (5) personal columns in a one month period (January 17-February 13, 2017) written especially for VOA by Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council Barbara Slavin. They were highly critical of Trump and his policies. None of them was paired with another personal column in defense of Donald Trump.
It is not clear under what arrangements with the Voice of America Barbara Slavin can have five anti-Trump commentaries posted by VOA in one month while serving as an Iran expert at the Atlantic Council. She had written in the past dozens of personal columns for VOA praising President Obama’s Iran and Cuba policies and attacking his critics.
On February 7, BBG CEO John F. Lansing and Voice of America director Amanda Bennett were key speakers at the Atlantic Council event, discussing together with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Thomas Kent VOA-RFE/RL Russian language digital TV network, Current Time. In a column posted by VOA on February 7, Barbara Slavin said that President Trump’s new Iran policy has given her “a depressing feeling of déjà vu.”
The so-called VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page,” which prominently features a link on its homepage to Ms. Slavin’s commentaries also features James Kirchick, identified as a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative and presumably a balancing author to Ms. Slavin’s pro-Obama and now anti-Trump columns, but Kirchick’s last column on the VOA website is dated July 29, 2016, and it was also a one-sided, Trump-bashing piece. Kirchick was also bashing Sen. Bernie Sanders in a one-sided VOA commentary when the Vermont Senator was running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential candidate nomination.
It is not Ms. Slavin’s or Mr. Kirchick’s fault that personal commentaries were requested from them by VOA, when they are used, and under what terms. They are perfectly entitled to express their opinions. It is BBG’s and VOA’s senior leaders, other managers and VOA editors who must explain why the VOA Charter provisions are not respected in the way these personal commentaries are commissioned and used at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
As one of our readers commented:
“You are right to observe that VOA has an obligation to provide transparency — why were these particular people chosen to pen personal viewpoint pieces on a taxpayer-funded VOA website?
What are they paid, not only for these commentaries, but other appearances — Slavin for example as for years served as a host of one of the main VOA discussion programs?
It should also be noted that Slavin’s VOA pieces are cross-promoted on the website of her place of employment, Atlantic Council. What’s the deal with that? What are the connections between the Atlantic Council, and VOA? There is one huge one, of course — former VOA director David Ensor ended up landing at the Council, where is an Executive Vice President, following four rocky years heading VOA.”
To their credit, neither Slavin nor Kirchick has resorted to using obscenities and insults to describe Donald Trump as some Voice of America staff journalists who are federal government employees have done in recent months. This was not happening at VOA during David Ensor’s tenure before John Lansing and Amanda Bennett were hired. During Ensor’s tenure and until now, VOA staff reporters were not ridiculing President Obama, his wife or their children.
BBG CEO John Lansing recently told NPR that “It’s our job is to report all sides of a story and we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President, and their point of view is something that’s newsworthy and we report that.”
He seemed to have forgotten that VOA staff reporters have used or quoted in VOA programs, on social media and in public meetings the following epithets to describe Donald Trump, while also making fun of his wife and daughter:
“F*ckface Von Clownstick,”
VOA Director Amanda Bennett told Patt Morrison who writes for The Los Angeles Times: “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.”
And yet VOA reporters publicly calling the President of the United States insulting names for the first time in VOA’s 75-year history and posting on social media memes showing Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika and as a sex organ — all of this happened on Amanda Bennett’s watch and John F. Lansing’s watch.