BBG Watch Commentary

With RT going after Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) director Andy Lack with a vengeance, posting critical remarks from various quarters, including the WikiLeak spokesperson, a former BBG member, and a Georgetown University professor, for the sake of balance BBG Watch offers the video of RT anchor Liz Wahl quitting on the air in March 2014. Liz Wahl said she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin.” We also repost Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement from April 2014, calling RT a “propaganda bullhorn.” We also recommend reading “RT disguises Kremlin propaganda as alternative to mainstream media,” an analysis Daniil Gorbatenko, a Ph.D. graduate student in economics at Aix Marseille Université in France and a blogger for the Libertarian Party of Russia, who explains that “When politicians and popular commentators with nonconventional views frequently appear on RT, people who espouse similar views may increasingly view RT as a credible source and, consequently, lend greater credence to its propagandistic allegations.”

We could not find any mention of the latest controversy over Andy Lack’s New York Times interview on the Voice of America (VOA) English and Russian news websites or on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) English and Russian news websites. As the new BBG director and CEO, Lack is now in charge of the agency, which includes both VOA and RFE/RL in addition to Radio and TV Marti, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa. Both VOA and RFE/RL should have reported on the story, but with the State Department spokesperson making a comment, the Voice of America had an additional obligation to report on it under its VOA Charter, which requires VOA to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and … also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.” (Public Law 94-350)

Meanwhile, RT report with a somewhat assuming headline, “Head of US state media put RT on same challenge list as ISIS, Boko Haram, RT, January 23, 2015, is showing 9,900 Facebook “Likes,” 1,300 Tweets and 4,550 comments as of midnight, January 26, 2015. VOA news reports rarely show more than a few dozen Facebook “Likes,” Tweets and very few comments.

We believe that this video of Liz Wahl quitting on the air offers some perspective on RT’s righteous indignation over Andy Lack’s remark.

Link to YouTube video

Was there a comparison between RT and terror groups?

This is what Andy Lack said, as reported by The New York Times:

“We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram, “ he said. “But I firmly believe that this agency has a role to play in facing those challenges.”

State Department Spokesperson

An RT report also mischaracterized to some degree responses by State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki in answering questions posed by RT’s Gayane Chichakyan. Psaki said that the State Department agrees with “challenges and certainly concerns that I think the new head of BBG was expressing.” She also said: “I think the broad point is the U.S. Government – would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t.”

SEE: State Dept disagrees with head of US state media over equation of RT with ISIS, RT, January 23, 2015.

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 23, 2015


QUESTION: The newly appointed chief executive of the BBG said his agency faces a number of, quote-un-quote, challenges – Russia Today, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram – all in one sentence. Would you call those remarks appropriate or inappropriate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, let me note that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency supervising all U.S. Government-supported civilian international media. I’d certainly point you to them for specifics. I think the broad point is the U.S. Government – would the U.S. Government put those three in the same category? No, we wouldn’t. However, there are concerns, I think, that our – we agree with in terms of the fact that the – Russia’s own independent media space is shrinking and the Kremlin continues to apply pressure on the few remaining outlets. And while RT is available to many viewers in the United States – you’re here in the briefing room today – many Russian authorities have curtailed the ability of BBG broadcasters to broadcast there. So those are challenges and certainly concerns that I think the new head of BBG was expressing.
QUESTION: Do you have – just to clarify, do you have any problem with the way he put it?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’d point you to them, and I just stated that wouldn’t be the way that we would state it from here.
QUESTION: How would you state it?
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t state it in those terms.
QUESTION: Well, the Secretary of State is a member of the BBG.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I just stated the concerns we have, which we agree with.
MS. PSAKI: I would state it in that way.
QUESTION: Okay. So you would not, then, put RT in the same category as Boko Haram and —
MS. PSAKI: That’s what I just said two minutes ago.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you would agree that it is a challenge and —
MS. PSAKI: Correct, I said both of those things.

In our view, even though Andy Lack apparently — as reported by The New York Times — mentioned them in one sentence, he did not in fact compare RT to terrorist groups, but his critics believe otherwise.

What do critics say?

RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan called the association of an international news network with terrorist groups an “outrage.”

“We are extremely outraged that the new head of the BBG mentions RT in the same breath as world’s number one terrorist army,” said Simonyan. “We see this as an international scandal and demand an explanation.”

Georgetown University journalism professor Chris Chambers added that Lack’s words were “supremely silly and careless,” especially considering his media background. Lack previously worked for NBC, Bloomberg, and Sony Music, RT reported.

“This is a guy who has some media savvy, supposedly, even though he’s moved around a lot – maybe this is one reason he’s moved around,” Chambers told RT. “But this was a very careless and silly thing to say considering the prevalence of corporate media here in the United States, and the purpose of BBG’s constitutes like Voice of America, who are supposed to put out all kinds of views.”, RT reported.

“Comparing news outlets to terror organizations is jeopardizing the very foundations of freedom of speech in the US,” Blanquita Cullum, ex-Broadcasting Board of Governors member, said. “The First Amendment has always meant freedom of speech and a variety of voices. A news outlet isn’t a terrorist,” Cullum told RT’s show, The Big Picture.

The conservative journalist, who was with the BBG for eight years, said that she’s “very adamant that a news outlet should never be compared with a terrorist organization,” RT reported.

Comparing RT to a terrorist organization is “absurd” and “shameful” for a person in a position like BBG’s Andrew Lack, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson told RT, adding that its “understandable” given how WikiLeaks was treated.

Stengel and Kerry on RT as a propaganda machine

Richard Stengel, the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former managing editor of TIME magazine, wrote last April that RT is a distortion machine, not a news organization.”

RICHARD STENGEL: “…when propaganda poses as news it creates real dangers and gives a green light to violence.
Sometimes it’s even too much for the people paid to make these claims. The network’s clear bias led to an unprecedented on-air rebellion. First, the host of RT America, Abby Martin, condemned Russia’s invasion of Crimea on a broadcast. Then one of the network’s anchors, Liz Wahl, resigned on air, saying, ‘I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.’
Yet, even so, I would defend the right of RT to broadcast.”

While saying that RT represented a challenge for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Andy Lack did not question RT’s right to broadcast.

Last April, Secretary of State John Kerry called RT a “propaganda bullhorn.”

Link to YouTube Video

JOHN KERRY: “In fact, the propaganda bullhorn that is the state sponsored Russia Today program has been deployed to promote — actually, Russia Today network, has deployed to promote President Putin’s fantasy about what is playing out on the ground,” he said.
“They almost spend full time devoted to this effort, to propagandize and distort what is happening or not happening in Ukraine.”

As with Andy Lack, RT also demanded an apology from John Kerry, but apparently did not get it.

SEE: ‘Propaganda bullhorn’: John Kerry attacks RT during Ukraine address, RT, April 25, 2014.

RT REPORT: “RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan responded to Kerry, saying the channel was preparing a letter seeking an apology from the State Department and asking for evidence to back up their assertions.
‘We are planning to write an official request to the State Department for concrete examples of when RT has distorted facts,’ said Simonyan. ‘It’s unfortunate that the head of the State Department knows so little about what’s going on in Ukraine at the moment.’
‘It surprises me that at this difficult and embarrassing time for the US, Secretary of State John Kerry has nothing else to worry about apart from our television channel,’ Simonyan tweeted.”

Some of RT’s relentless coverage of the latest controversy


BBG’s Andrew Lack ‘should be fired from his job’ – WikiLeaks spokesperson, RT, January 24, 2015
Ex-BBG member: News outlets should never be compared to terrorists, RT, January 24, 2015
RT equated to ISIS for ‘daring to advocate a point of view’, RT, January 24, 2015

RT is also heavily promoting #NEWSISNOTTERROR hashtag.