BBG Watch Commentary

The Voice of America (VOA) newsroom is now slightly faster, if not vastly better, in posting breaking news stories, but in overall leadership and management performance its parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is anything but improved. There are a few excellent writers and reporters still left at the Voice of America and the BBG, one of them being our occasional anonymous contributor Jane Doe.

If she were not busy still working for the dysfunctional agency, she could have written that what we, the U.S. taxpayers, now have for our $777 million investment to be spent on the Broadcasting Board of Governors next year, is BBG Chairman Jeff Shell reportedly wanting to go to Putin’s Russia on private company business (at his own expense) to rub shoulders with Putin’s officials at a reception in Moscow arranged by eager BBG executives (at U.S. taxpayers’ expense). Jeff Shell is also Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group overseeing all divisions of the global film operations including Universal Pictures, Fandango, Universal Pictures International, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and NBCUniversal Brand Development, a division managing consumer products.

Poor Mr. Shell did not make it to the party in Moscow, and the Russian officials did not show up either, because:

1. Against all advice, he listened to what longtime BBG executives have been telling him about Russia and the agency’s operations (as did BBG CEO and Director John F. Lansing and new Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Thomas Kent).

2. The same Russian officials the U.S. agency managers wanted him to meet would not let him into the country.

They let the rest of the BBG party in, though, but did not grace the RFE/RL reception in Moscow with their presence.


No wonder President Obama again did not mention the BBG when he spoke at his news conference a few days ago about countering ISIL and other extremist propaganda and disinformation.

Technically, under the current law (which must be changed), it is permissible for Hollywood executives to try to sell their movies in Russia or China and serve on the BBG board at the same time. All that gratuitous Hollywood violence and sex are bound to improve America’s image abroad.


Hollywood media, advertising, and TV entertainment private sector industry executives–who now oversee and run U.S. international media outreach without an ounce of professional experience in foreign affairs, foreign news reporting, foreign policy, public diplomacy, prior government service–should know what is good for America’s image abroad or how to behave when dealing with odious regimes.


Did Chairman Shell consult Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel about his planned private business trip, or may be it was a dual private/U.S.government business trip to Russia?

We seem to remember Hillary Clinton saying something to the effect that the BBG should have been countering the negative image of America presented in Hollywood movies. May be so, if the agency were not as dysfunctional as it is.

But perhaps Chairman Shell had been sent on a special secret mission to Moscow by President Obama’s aide Ben Rhodes, whom he apparently considers to be his boss at the White House. His private business trip to Moscow may have been just a cover for negotiations leading to another “Reset” with Russia.

In that case, all is forgiven. (Not.)

If not, sorry that the private company business trip did not turn out well, but many have told Chairman Shell not to listen to career BBG bureaucrats who have had the agency in their grip for many years and are responsible for dismal employee morale. Perhaps they have told Chairman Shell that Russia is just a slightly lapsed democracy.

Not quite.

It was not a democracy four or five years ago, or ten years ago. It certainly has not been a democracy since the time Vladimir Putin got his first job at the KGB.

In his infamous New York Times interview, Ben Rhodes, whose full title is Assistant to President President Obama and his Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, said:

“The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

If you double the age, you will get some of the BBG members and executives. They know plenty about some things but very little about foreign cultures, public diplomacy, and government operations.

We have a statement from BBG CEO John Lansing on the incident in Moscow, that not only failed to mention the private business nature of Chairman Shell’s trip to Russia but also omitted other key material facts, some of which were included in comments from the embarrassed State Department spokesperson Mark C. Toner.

The Voice of America also had failed to report these facts. Note that the VOA report does not mention by name BBG CEO John Lansing and BBG’s IBB Deputy Director Jeffrey N. Trimble as BBG officials who have met in Moscow with U.S. Ambassador John Tefft. It does not mention the purpose of Chairman Shell’s trip to Moscow. Perhaps BBG can use its press release and the VOA news report in its next training seminar for foreign journalists, teaching them how to do cover-up reporting on friendly government officials exercising bad judgement.

We also have the Voice of America posting a one-sided Donald Trump from childhood-to-adulthood puff video that is bound to help gain him votes among at least some Russian American voters and make him more popular among Putin supporters in Russia. Contrary to the VOA Charter, controversial aspects of Donald Trump’s biography were omitted from this VOA political commercial video.

But don’t worry, for balance VOA did hit pieces on Bernie Sanders.

VOA director Amanda Bennett had promised anti-bias training for VOA reporters. It either came too late or did not help. One-sided reporting on terrorism, immigration, and other sensitive topics continues, some of it praised by Director Bennett, which is not to say that some VOA reporters don’t produce outstanding, objective, comprehensive and interesting news reports which deserve praise. They do, working under poor leadership and very difficult conditions. Their bosses, who are so highly praised in numerous BBG press releases, can’t even provide them with reliable digital storage and processing equipment.

Two years ago, August 15, 2014, we had posted a commentary by Jane Doe. We repost it today because nothing has changed at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. If anything, things have gotten worse, with new high-paying bureaucratic jobs being created under CEO John Lansing, and a PR contractor being hired by Director Bennett from among retired former BBG executives. All this bureaucratic activity taking place while programs and program support continue to suffer from systemic neglect.

As Hillary Clinton had said, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world.”

It still is.

But if you crave good news and a healthy dose of alternative reality, here is a link to the latest BBG statements for the media.

Happy reading!

P.S. By the way, where have you been Jane? We missed you.


Were we channelling à la the Twilight Zone? – JANE DOE Op-Ed


Guest Commentary by Jane Doe

August 15, 2014
One of BBG Watch contributors, Jane Doe, who because of her sensitive position within the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) – the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) bureaucracy prefers to remain anonymous, has sent us a commentary on the BBG Board meeting on August 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Views expressed are only those of the author and not of BBG Watch, its volunteers, or sponsors.

We invite those with opposing views and others who want to comment on this or other issues followed by BBG Watch to submit their op-eds for consideration.


Was it just me or was the entire BBG Show this week surreal?


Were we channelling à la the Twilight Zone?


Kudos and love between the Chairman, Rick Stengel, Ben Rhodes, and the omnipresent specter of Rob Bole that we are hoping and praying will deign to accept our cushy permanent SES offer to return….oh boy, the suspense is killing me…
I am just thankful these shows are DVRed on the BBG website through YouTube for our continuing viewing pleasure.
Just a few highlights/head scratchers:
A member of the Voice of America English news team making a well-written and elegant statement against H.R. 4490 that included misrepresentations of the bipartisan Royce – Engel Bill. Seriously? If you’re going to defend your journalistic record, the least you can do is accurately present the facts. Where is the CIA and the Pentagon empowered in H.R. 4490 to give content direction?
Ann Noonan from CUSIB [the independent NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting] following the Champion of VOA gave a stunning and painful list of stories that were solidly within the VOA mandate and which VOA failed to report on. And of course, the one that made everyone squirm…VOA’s report propping up rather than countering Russian propaganda:
“VOA: “More than 1,100 civilians have died since the Ukrainian army began its ‘anti-terrorist’ operation in the east, say U.N. officials.”
[What UN officials really said was:
REUTERS: “According to U.N. agencies, more than 1,100 people have been killed including government forces, rebels and civilians in the four months since the separatists seized territory in the east and Kiev launched its crackdown.”
DEUTSCHE WELLE (DW): “UN agencies say in total more than 1,100 people have been killed, including government forces, rebels and civilians, in Ukraine over the past four months.”
RFE/RL: “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the downing of a Malaysian airliner on July 17 ‘may amount to a war crime’.”]  
“Inaccurate reporting from Voice of America offers support for Kremlin propaganda.”
My favorite was the close of the day starring National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications beamed in live from wherever. Correct me if I misheard–but it sounded like–between chummy praisefests–he said that:
– the President is increasingly focused on the issue of international broadcasting
– he thinks–thinks–the President “identified that we are at a critical moment where we need to up our own game here”. (Wow)
– the White House agrees with “reform” so long as it keeps everything under one roof and one board, with the important caveat that the State department should have a larger role in guiding the private side (why didn’t we think of that? D’oh!)
– BBG should be doing “local news” only where absolutely necessary but cautioned that “… we don’t want the local mission to come at the expense of also having the ability to broadcast globally (what??)
– we need to step back and think through how the independent agencies under BBG are operating (What independent agencies? Isn’t this an oxymoron?)
– having two independent boards would be a”duplication of effort” (ummm …I’m guessing the White House missed the fundamental reform which is to address the debilitating conflict of interest at the board level… Conflict schlomflict..)
Chairman Shell posed some thoughtful questions during a brief window for the BBG to ask questions – which Mr. Rhodes responded to in prose that is indecipherable to this humble public servant. Did I miss the part where Mr. Rhodes articulated US foreign policy and the BBG’s role within that policy?
There was a very compelling RFE/RL “deep-dive” during which three or more BBG Governors were on their mobile devices and/or out of the room. The presentation gave a great snapshot into the agility and dynamic nature of the surrogate grantee – and presented compelling evidence of real impact.
Is impact changing the landscape in a conflict zone or a closed society by creating an informed citizenry? Or is impact increasing Facebook “Likes” by 30%? [How do you increase Facebook “Likes” in nations where regimes block Facebook?]  
And let’s not forget the self-proclaimed most comprehensive study by the BBG Committee of shortwave broadcasting that has ever been done…(except in the two countries that we now know we got it wrong…so far).
My head is still spinning.
But then again, what can you expect from “staff”? We’re just lucky to have a job.
Jane Doe