BBG Watch Commentary

Calling the now disgraced and suspended ABC reporter Brian Ross arguably the most connected broadcast reporter for some decades when it comes to learning about details of federal criminal investigations,” Steve Herman, Voice of America (VOA) White House bureau chief as he is described on the Twitter account bearing the “VOA” letters, @W7VOA, gave last Friday a high professional recommendation to the erroneous Flynn report by Brian Ross that caused the stock market to drop significantly before recovering after the news was declared to be completely false. The next day, the ABC network issued an apology: “We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday.” The ABC network also announced in a statement Saturday: “Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay.”

VOA’s Steve Herman was not exactly right in his high praise for ABC’s Brian Ross as an investigative reporter. In 2012, ABC had to apologize when Ross reported that the suspect in the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, might be connected to the conservative Tea Party in the United States. Ross erroneously based his report on a name listed on a web page. It turned out to be a different person. Ross was criticized then for politicizing the story with unchecked and erroneous information.

No Apology from VOA

The Voice of America did not apologize for its tweet which highly recommended what turned out to be another false news report.

Hopefully, no investors, foreign or domestic, or any foreign leaders acted on the basis of the tweet by the Voice of America reporter. Senior VOA correspondents are federal U.S. government employees earning six-figure salaries to report news which in theory must be always “accurate, balanced, and comprehensive,” according to the VOA Charter. It is the 1976 U.S. law that regulates how the U.S. taxpayer-funded agency operates, but it has been largely ignored in recent years under the current VOA management team.

We hope that during any future major international conflict–such as, for example, any kind of serious nuclear confrontation between the United States and North Korea–no foreign leader, no foreign military commander or anybody else in a decision-making capacity will choose to rely on tweets or even reporting by VOA correspondents. It could just be too dangerous for the United States and the rest of the world in such situations if the current ineffective VOA leadership within the dysfunctional Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency remains in place. Obama-era holdovers, VOA director Amanda Bennett and BBG CEO John Lansing, are still in charge of U.S. taxpayer-funded reporting by the Voice of America. The BBG also poorly manages some of the other publicly funded media entities serving foreign audiences.

Since the Voice of America has often been far behind BBC and Russia’s RT in reporting breaking news on its websites–as it was once again in the case of reporting on Flynn’s guilty plea–early tweets by some of VOA’s correspondents are the first sign of what the government-funded news organization of the United States wants foreign (and domestic audiences) to know. Unfortunately, some of the tweets by VOA correspondents in recent years turned out to be spectacularly wrong and/or have been extremely biased. By U.S. law, the Voice of America is not allowed to influence public opinion in the United States, but close of half of web traffic for VOA English-language news is believed to be U.S. domestic, according to VOA’s internal estimates.

ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross, erroneously reported Friday, citing an unnamed source, that Donald Trump had directed General Flynn to make contact with the Russians during the presidential campaign. Flynn had contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. but only after the November 2016 presidential election.

Violation of VOA’s Best Practices

The Voice of America has clear rules for its reporters about proper sourcing as a “fundamental element of good journalism.” The VOA 2017 BEST PRACTICES GUIDE states quite clearly that reporting on such explosive news developments as in the case of unattributed (to a named source) information in the ABC report requires double sourcing.

VOA generally requires double sources of unattributed information. Look carefully at your sources, and make sure that two separate originating news organizations are reporting the information. For instance, if Reuters and AP are reporting from the scene of a story, these are two valid double sources. However, it is NOT valid double sourcing if a newspaper and a TV news network are carrying a story that they’re both attributing to the AP.

No amount of high praise for the ABC reporter from VOA senior White House correspondent Steve Herman changes the fact that the report by Brian Ross was based on an unnamed single source. VOA had an obligation to check out carefully such a report before tweeting about it or reporting on it. At the very least, the VOA reporter should have alerted the readers that this is an unconfirmed report based on an unnamed single source.

The senior VOA reporter later tweeted that it was all a mistake, but the damage was already done. Steve Herman’s full tweet also now says with regard to the ABC report he was retweeting: “This Tweet is unavailable.”

Earlier Incident of Inaccurate Early Tweets by VOA


Voice of America White House correspondent initially tweeted NYC terror attack was due to apparent road rage


BBG Watch Commentary

November 2, 2017

U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 million in FY 2017) Voice of America was late in reporting on its main English-language website on the New York City terror attack on October 31, 2017, while at the same time VOA White House correspondent Steve Herman was providing VOA English-speaking audience with early tweets suggesting that it was an apparent road rage incident. He cited a local news outlet, CBS New York, as a source of his information on apparent road rage .

VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman @W7VOA appears to have had his first tweet about the NYT incident at 3:30 PM ET, earlier than the AP report for which VOA put a headline on its homepage about an hour later, at about 4:30 PM ET. The timestamp on the Herman tweet, as observed, said: “12:30 PM – Oct 31, 2017.” It also shows “19:30 UTC” or 3:30 PM EDT. The truck drove onto the West Side Highway bike path at “around 3:05 PM” EDT, according to CNN and others. It appears, therefore, that the timestamp on all of the @W7VOA tweets must be advanced by three hours to get the actual time they were posted from Washington, D.C.

VOA’s Steve Herman’s tweet carrying a timestamp of “1:08 PM – Oct 31, 2017 · Washington, DC,” which is believed to be indicating 4:08 PM ET, said: “An ‘apparent road rage incident that may have ended in a shooting,’ reports @CBSNewYork.”

Steven L. Herman is VOA’s White House Bureau Chief. The veteran journalist spent 26 years in Asia, including reporting from Tokyo and subsequently as a VOA correspondent and bureau chief in India, Korea and Thailand. He also served as VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based out of the State Department.

The VOA correspondent had another tweet suggesting a road rage incident. It carried a timestamp of “1:11 PM – Oct 31, 2017 · Washington, DC,” which is believed to be indicating 4:11 PM ET. The tweet said: “Preliminary reports from NYC officials say they believe this started as a dispute between two drivers with shots fired, reports @ABC7NY.” He appeared to have been citing a local New York ABC television station.

Finally, Voice of America’s chief White House correspondent posted a tweet with a timestamp of “1:35 PM – Oct 31, 2017 · Washington, DC,” which is believed to be indicating 4:35 PM ET, acknowledging that the incident was a suspected terror attack. “A suspected act of terror,” according to a @nbcnewyork reporting quoting official sources,” Steve Herman’s @W7VOA tweet said.

While tweets from VOA correspondent were still suggesting road rage, Britain’s BBC was up on its homepage with full story on the New York City terror incident, with Twitter posts from NYPD before 4:18 PM ET. The Voice of America still had no news report at that time on its homepage.

2017-10-31 BBC NYC Shooting Screenshot 4:15 PM ET

Shortly after breaking news bulletins about the incident started to flood the media, VOA’s main English front page was observed to have no mention whatsoever of the event.

2017-10-31 VOA Homepage Screenshot at 4:15 PM

Later, VOA did post a Twitter item linked to a brief five paragraph AP story. It was not expanded with any additional material, such as Twitter posts by the NYPD or the New York City mayor’s office, which appeared in BBC reports.

As of 4:35 PM VOA still had no story on its main English global web page, or on the U.S. section of that page. VOA did have a live video report from new York on Facebook but not until 4:58 PM ET.

In contrast, the BBC had extensive updates of the story, complete with Twitter posts from NYPD, and photographs, with contact links and requests for contributions from readers via Twitter and SMS.

VOA finally posted a small item on the incident on its front page, observed at about 4:38 PM ET, linking to an expanded AP story with a 4:30 PM ET time mark.

To top everything off, BBC was up with the latest death figure, VOA still had a 30 minute old AP story up, without the fatality figure. At 5:34 PM ET, VOA still had the story buried on its homepage under a Syria story. BBC had the New York story No. 1 on Home, World, and U.S. pages, and BBC had a “Live” page up with numerous photos and Twitter feeds.

2017-10-31, BBC with Death Toll at 5 PM

The Voice of America management sometimes defends late posting of VOA news reports on major U.S. stories by claiming the need for getting all the details right. Such excuses are usually false because VOA has been frequently late even in reporting on official U.S. government statements that do not require a confirmation. BBC and Russia’s RT are frequently well ahead of VOA on reporting news from the White House on their news websites.

In the case of the New York City terror attack, the Voice of America was both late on its official website and appeared confused. VOA was confusing for its audience.

One attachment as of 4:58 PM ET showed the NYC terror attack story buried under “More Headlines” on the VOA front page.

2017-10-31 VOA-NYC Shotting Screenshot st 4:58 PM