BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) did not cover Hillary Clinton during her visit to Iowa this weekend. The most likely next Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. presidency and possibly the next U.S. president if she is nominated and wins the presidential election in 2016 no doubt could have said something or could have been asked about the ISIS threat and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, but VOA executives and managers did not arrange for sending VOA English, VOA Kurdish, VOA Ukrainian or VOA Russian reporters to Iowa. They did not even make sure that a short news item about Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa and the traditional farewell barbecue for 10,000 people organized for the past 20 years by retiring Senator Tom Harkin would appear on the Voice of America news website. Hillary Clinton lost the presidential primary in Iowa in 2008. Senator Tom Harkin’s personal story is amazing in itself. It was a news story with many interesting angles.
By Mark Z. Barabak, The Los Angeles Times, Sept. 14.
— msnbc (@msnbc) September 15, 2014
Some speculate that the lack of coverage of the Iowa event by Voice of America may be VOA’s payback for Hillary Clinton calling VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) “practically defunct” in international media outreach and for describing VOA in her latest book as no longer effective, but we don’t see it that way. The Iowa event with Hillary Clinton was not covered by the Voice of America because VOA executives are indeed no longer effective, the news organization is mismanaged, and millions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars are being wasted by the bloated bureaucracy.
BBG Watch, July 31, 2014.
Voice of America executives were too preoccupied last week with giving speeches and revealing sensitive information that some fear could endanger lives of VOA and other American correspondents, as well as U.S. Marines and diplomats serving at U.S. embassies in some of the most dangerous countries. In his speech, VOA director Ensor also linked Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel and the U.S. State Department with a questionable VOA television program participation in Russia, over which VOA relinquished control to the Russian side — a fact freely admitted by Ensor — and, according to several Russia experts, allowed the Kremlin to exploit the program for domestic propaganda purposes.
Other VOA executives were partying at an ice cream social and also appeared too busy to arrange for coverage of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa and for video-taping and including in newscasts an interview with Secretary of State John Kerry. They also failed to notice the bicentennial of the U.S. national anthem “the Star-Spangled Banner” and various associated events around the country, including those attended by President Obama and Vice President Biden.
BBG Watch, September 14, 2014.
It appears that no one among dozens of SES and GM-15 executives and GM-15 or GS-15 and GS-14 VOA senior managers and senior correspondents was paying attention to national political news of international importance or news stories to seminal events in American history, such as the Bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner.
VOA executives and managers did not have to look far for news events associated with the Bicentennial of the U.S. flag — big events in which President Obama and Vice President Biden participated. They were happening in nearby Maryland: President Barack Obama visits Fort McHenry, WBAL TV, Sept. 12, 2014, Rain doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for ‘Star-Spangled’ celebration in Baltimore, By Lori Aratani, The Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2014.
The president viewed the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner. WBAL TV also reported that touring the fort with the president were Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Rep. John Sarbanes and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger. The event at Fort McHenry and the bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner were not covered by U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America, but U.S. taxpayers paid at least in part for the ice cream social arranged by the VOA upper management last week during office hours.
On the way to Fort McHenry, President Obama’s motorcade passed protesters, holding signs that read, “Stop fundraising – fight terrorism,” “Let Israel defend itself,” as well as signs protesting breaking his promise to take action on immigration before the end of the summer. In addition to noting the bicentennial of the U.S. flag, these protests could have been also reported for VOA’s international audiences to let them know what Americans think about issues of both domestic and foreign significance.
Events in Baltimore on September 13 included a concert with fireworks display over Fort McHenry and the Baltimore harbor, which was broadcast live on PBS’ Great Performances. Tall ships, Navy ships and the Blue Angels jets came to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to celebrate the Star-Spangled Banner. Voice of America could have shot some spectacular video for international TV, website and social media audiences, but VOA executives were too busy eating ice cream and promoting themselves to notice.
The Baltimore concert included performances by Melissa Etheridge, Denyce Graves-Montgomery, Little Big Town, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Kristen Chenoweth, Jordin Sparks, Pentatonix, Paulo Szot, Train, The Navy Band Sea Chanters and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Marin Alsop. John Lithgow was host.
By David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 14, 2014.
We have discovered that in 1990, VOA had 23 correspondents for VOA English news programs alone to cover domestic U.S. news stories and about three dozen VOA English writers and producers. VOA also had 24 foreign correspondents in 1990.
Today, the VOA English Newsroom is deserted, VOA language services are given no resources to cover U.S. stories or to update their social media pages. Even such critical language services, as Kurdish and Ukrainian, are unable to update news online 24/7 while members of their audiences or their relatives are getting killed in Iraq and in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Voice of America and the agency have dozens of high-level SES, GM-15 and GS-15 and GS-14 managers, program advisors and program coordinators. Some make more than $150,000 per year and all receive generous federal employment benefits.
There are only a few senior staffers left who produce a few scripts a month — hardly sufficient to cover U.S. national and political news.
VOA executives, senior managers and other senior staffers do not work on weekends or after business hours. Too bad that Hillary Clinton decided to go to Iowa this weekend, the bicentennial of the Star-Spangled Banner also fell on the weekend and President Obama and Vice President Biden attended various observances of the bicentennial also during the weekend. To make it easy for VOA, President Obama went to Baltimore on Friday, but Fridays are already the start of the weekend at VOA under its current management. The president’s visit to Fort McHenry and the bicentennial of the U.S. national anthem were not reported by America’s premier international media outlet funded by U.S. taxpayers. Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa was also not reported by VOA, but on Tuesday VOA did post online a Reuters report (not a VOA report) “Next Wave of Asian Designers Hits NY Fashion Week.”
If VOA can have a Reuters story on New York Fashion Week — the bicentennial of the the Star-Spangled Banner, President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s visits to Baltimore and other events in connection with the bicentennial certainly deserved at least a news VOA story, as did Hillary Clinton’s visit to Iowa. But VOA executives were too busy eating ice cream, most likely on government time.