BBG Watch Commentary
In one of the most bizarre incidents at the already dysfunctional and “practically defunct” (Secretary Clinton in 2011) Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency, the current Republican chairman of the BBG’s bipartisan board, President and CEO of the Hudson Institute Kenneth Weinstein @KenWeinstein, has retweeted a video recorded by anti-Iran regime demonstrators which appears to show a longtime Voice of America (VOA) guest commentator and VOA guest program moderator showing the finger to Iranian refugees and Iranian Americans protesting the visit to New York of the Iranian foreign minister. The demonstrators were shouting “Shame on You” after recognizing the VOA personality. She later apologized in a tweet for some of her behavior toward the anti-Iran regime demonstrators.
— Shirin Nariman (@ShirinNariman) July 18, 2017
In yet another bizarre twist, the person seen showing the finger to anti-Iran regime demonstrators, identified by them as Barbara Slavin @barbaraslavin1, later moderated a Voice of America broadcast dealing partly with Iran. She accused anti-Iran regime demonstrators of being representatives of a terrorist organization and in one tweet called them “nuts.” Photos show that many of the demonstrators were Iranian and Iranian American women.
Barbara Slavin’s reporter’s bio on the VOA website says that she is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East, the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America. She has also been moderating other Voice of America programs.
The U.S. taxpayer-funded ($221 million in FY 2017) Voice of America is under the control of Obama administration holdover officials, VOA director Amanda Bennett and BBG CEO John F. Lansing. It is unclear what kind of influence, if any, Kenneth Weinstein as BBG chairman or the entire BBG board still have over Bennett and Lansing after President Obama had signed a bipartisan legislation in his last months in office to restructure the BBG ($748 million in FY 2017, including VOA).
BBG, VOA, and another BBG-overseen entity, Radio Farda to Iran operated by BBG through Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have been accused for years by pro-democracy Iranian opponents of the Islamist state of siding with the regime. Under pressure from congressional and other critics, BBG is reportedly investigating these charges, but Iranian dissidents continue to highlight on social media new examples of pro-Iran regime bias, charges of anti-Semitism at Radio Farda, and other unprofessional behavior at VOA.
Whether the retweet by the BBG chairman will have any impact is hard to predict. So far, the BBG and VOA bureaucracy led by Lansing and Bennett has resisted major management reforms. With employee morale at the BBG being one of the lowest in the federal government, the latest public retweet by the BBG Board chairman seems to confirm the continuing dysfunction at the agency. It is not clear what kind of signal the Ken Weinsten’s retweet was designed to send to Lansing and Bennett. Former Broadcasting Board of Governors Republican member Matt Armstrong, who resigned his position on the BBG board in January 2017, told contacts in Congress that he had 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. President Trump has not yet announced who would replace Lansing as BBG CEO, but Michael Pack, a former USIA Worldnet TV director and former executive at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS), has been identified in media reports as a leading contender.
The latest incident related to the Voice of America and what seems like a desperate retweet by BBG chairman Kenneth Weinstein suggest that whoever is nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the BBG will inherit the federal agency and VOA in a state of virtual management meltdown.
Image: Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman (now former) Jeff Shell, Governor Ken Weinstein (current BBG chair) and BBG CEO and Director John Lansing testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on November 17, 2015.