BBG Watch Commentary EXCLUSIVE
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Republican member Matt Armstrong, who has resigned his position on the BBG board, told contacts in Congress that he has lost faith and confidence in the ability of the BBG Chief Executive Officer John F. Lansing to lead the agency effectively in support of U.S. foreign policy.
According to congressional sources, Matt Armstrong told his contacts on the Hill that when the BBG Board still had full governing authority, Lansing disregarded the recommendations, concerns, and requests of Members of the Board, and has willfully withheld information from the Board.
BBG Watch has learned that these statements from Matt Armstrong were shared with the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) who was one of the key sponsors of the bipartisan legislation to reform the BBG. The BBG reform amendment was signed into law by President Obama before he left office.
In his letter of resignation sent this week to President Trump, Armstrong wrote that “the agency’s purpose is laudable and it does have an impact, but greater focus is required to effectively support our foreign policy, and properly represent our nation.”
BBG CEO John Lansing, a former cable entertainment TV manager had been recommended for the position by the now former BBG Democratic chairman, Hollywood executive Jeff Shell, after Shell’s first choice, Andy Lack, had left the BBG CEO position within a few weeks after his arrival. Lansing did not have any previous U.S. government service experience or any background in foreign policy or U.S. public diplomacy. On Lansing’s watch, Amanda Bennett was hired as Voice of America (VOA) director and Sandy Sugawara as VOA deputy director.
Lansing and Shell did not respond to a request for comment on the resignation of Matt Armstrong and his statements to congressional contacts.
Several BBG employees and VOA journalists told BBG Watch over a period of several months that they have not been impressed with leadership, management and people skills of the new BBG and VOA executives.
One VOA journalist who is afraid to use his name for fear of retaliation described all three as “cold fish.”
The Washington Post, with which both Bennett and Sugawara had previous professional links, reported in a column by Joe Davidson that BBG’s senior leaders scored lower in the 2016 OPM Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey than in the previous year. In 2015, the BBG was already in the last place among federal agencies of similar size in employee engagement and confidence in senior leaders, as measured by the OPM. The BBG’s leadership and employee engagement rating has gotten worse under John Lansing.
Under the Lansing-Bennett-Sugawara team, the Voice of America also saw an unprecedented rise in biased and partisan reporting, as well as many partisan and often insulting comments by VOA journalists on social media. One-sided VOA reports, which violated the VOA Charter, included attacks on Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and even former Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV).
During the election campaign last summer, Bennett highly praised a one-sided VOA Spanish Service report in which an illegal immigrant accused Donald Trump of “hate and prejudice.” Also during the 2016 campaign, a VOA foreign language service posted online a video in which Donald Trump was called by a Hollywood actor ““punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.” VOA did not attach to the video a rebuttal or a response of any kind. The video was eventually removed.
Also for the first time in VOA’s history, a VOA reporter used an F-word in a public forum to condemn a presidential candidate and now U.S. president Donald Trump. The VOA reporter called Trump “F*ckface Von Clownstick.” The same VOA reporter also posted on a personal but publicly accessible Facebook page a meme showing Donald Trump’s face with a Nazi swastika and another meme depicting Mr. Trump as a sexual organ.
Bennett’s belated email to staff warning about inappropriate social media comments has been widely ignored by some of these VOA reporters and managers.
Several VOA newsroom reporters also ridiculed the then President-elect Trump and made fun of his wife and daughter at a holiday party skit, which they performed at the VOA building. At least one VOA staffer live- streamed the anti-Trump jokes, including a sex joke about the future First Lady Melania Trump and comments demeaning Ivanka Trump.
In the last few days, VOA has removed from the web its special project “Trump Inauguration Bingo” after BBG Watch exposed it as a further evidence of some VOA reporters, editors and managers continuing to mock President Trump, his wife, his children and his supporters. The link to the “Trump Bingo” was prominently featured on VOA English News homepage on the presidential inauguration day.
Also around the time of the presidential inauguration, a VOA foreign language reporter reposted on Facebook a French Charlie Hebdo cartoon showing President Trump contemplating choices on a drink dispensing machine: “Expresso,” “Chocolat Chaud,” “Cafe Sans Sucre,” and in biggest letters next to a button, “BOMBE H,” a reference to a nuclear bomb.
It appears that the BBG-VOA management team resisted attempts by Armstrong and other BBG members to correct such abuses of good journalistic practices and ethics.
But in an email message to staff sent on Monday, Bennett wrote: “I am proud to be here. Proud of our mission to provide the highest standard of objective, reliable, independent news and information. I am proud of the work you all do every day.”
Several of the more experienced Voice of America journalists told BBG Watch that they are ashamed of the Lansing-Bennett-Sugawara leadership for allowing VOA to sink further into chaos and mismanagement. They also said that they are ashamed of some of their colleagues who engage in one-sided partisan attacks in VOA reports and on social media.
In his letter of resignation sent to President Trump, Armstrong acknowledged the importance of the mission of BBG media entities and the work of their journalists.
January 24, 2017
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
I am writing to resign my appointment as a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and from the directorship positions of the related grantee organizations, effective immediately.
The BBG is a unique organization that supports and could have significant positive support of U.S. foreign policy and national security through the use of journalism to empower select audiences abroad to counter ignorance, censorship, and the propaganda of America’s adversaries. The BBG has come a long way since I was confirmed to the Board in August 2013, for a term that expired in August 2015, and has enjoyed successes such as the Current Time program.
I have weighed this decision since before the election as my concerns extend back more than a year, but I have reached a point where I can no longer in good conscience remain on the Board and be held accountable for the actions of a Chief Executive Officer over which the Board has no effective authority. Further, in December, the Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the previous Administration, that included an amendment to abolish the Board. The yet unresolved Constitutional crisis stemming from the method of removing Members of Board, but not the intent, has diluted the already negligible authority of the Board. Between my personal concerns and the expressed intent of the Congress, now is the time for me to leave.
Lastly, it is important to acknowledge the important efforts of the men and women working at the BBG and its networks. This is a labor that is too often life threatening and underappreciated. By design, the BBG’s reporters in the field work in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. The agency’s purpose is laudable and it does have an impact, but greater focus is required to effectively support our foreign policy, and properly represent our nation.
Matthew C. Armstrong