BBG Watch Commentary

Amanda Bennett

Amanda Bennett

Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who as director of U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224M FY2017) Voice of America (VOA) has presided over the most glaring emergence of partisanship, bias, and violations of the VOA Charter despite her assurances of support for the Charter and objective reporting, issued this morning a message to VOA staff after Donald Trump’s victory, in which she failed to mention him or acknowledge that America will have a new President. Before joining the Voice of America, Bennett has been a contributing columnist for The Washington Post and is married to the former owner of the newspaper.

SEE: Anti Donald Trump electioneering by tax-funded Voice of America violated VOA Charter, BBG Watch, November 9, 2016.

 
Veteran VOA journalists described Bennett’s post-election message as the strangest one they ever seen from any past VOA director. Not mentioning who won the U.S. presidential election was, in their view, astounding.

donald-trump-official-photoIt was obvious that the Voice of America’s management did not expect Donald Trump to win. Under the leadership of Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, who is a former Washington Post reporter and editor, and John F. Lansing, CEO and Director of VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the Voice of America had two television scripts already pre-written presenting Hillary Clinton as the winner and the first U.S. female president. VOA journalists working last night were surprised and angered to discover that the management of the VOA newsroom had no pre-written materials on Donald Trump.

Contrary to some of Ms. Bennett’s claims, the Voice of America “Live Blog: Trump Elected US President” was not updated since 3:01 AM even though a link to the blog was still prominently featured on the VOA English News mobile website at least until 12:40 PM today.

SEE: Voice of America had two pre-written ‘Clinton will win programs’; none for Trump, VOA staffers say, BBG Watch, November 9, 2016.

 
Contrary to Ms. Bennett’s claims of great success, Russia’s propaganda channel RT had twice as many “live” Facebook viewers for Donald Trump’s victory speech as the Voice of America. For some of its Facebook coverage of the election results, VOA English News had as few as 20-40 “live” Facebook viewers, while RT had thousands and BBC News had 23,900 at one point.

SEE: Russia’s RT gets twice as many LIVE Facebook views for Trump victory speech than Voice of America, BBG Watch, November 9, 2016.

 

 
From: Amanda Bennett
Sent: Wednesday, November 9, 2016 8:12 AM
To: BBG Networks; VOA Notices
Subject: LAST NIGHT
 
I was enormously proud of every single person at VOA yesterday.
 
All through the night last night I felt at every second your energy and devotion to your – our – work. More than once someone said to me, and I said back, that this is what we’re in this business for.
 
From the rooftop with its tearjerking view of the US Capitol where service after service sent people last night to do standups, to the cleverly improvised glass-walled conference room /Facebook live studio that the Africa division wore out last night. From the Latin American service, which did a record 100+ live hits for their affiliates, to the Deewa radio on TV operation where the anchors kept talking for four hours straight.
 
The palpable energy in the Persian control room and the intense calm of the Russian set. The radio and television technicians who dealt with hiccup after hiccup after hiccup and kept making everything right again. The reporters who stood on the street in New York and Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and who sat in watch parties for both sides all over the country. Everyone who nailed down an expert, drove a truck in circles looking for parking spaces, built a graphic, updated a map, answered a million phone calls, typed in a Chyron…. You all knew exactly what it was you were doing and why you were doing it. You all kept doing it at your highest professional level all through the night no matter how exhausted you got.
 
Sitting with you all last night I truly felt the world watching us. Watching the country, of course, but also literally watching US. Looking to us to explain to them not only what was happening, but why it was happening and what it was going to mean for America and the rest of the world.
 
What we do and why we do it is more important than ever. We all see that. We all know that. Truthful, objective, insightful news and information is in very high demand all over this country and all over the world. That’s what we do. And this is why we do it.
 
Thank you all for last night. And thank you all for today, for tomorrow, and for the day after tomorrow and the day after that. I really do feel that the world is watching us.
 
Amanda
 

 

A few months ago, Ms. Bennett had posted a comment on our BBG Watch website, saying that “Like all American media, VOA is trying hard to cover the candidates and issues appropriately — neither pulling punches, nor exhibiting bias.” She said she would order anti-bias training for VOA journalists. She also said that “constructive criticism is always welcomed, as it helps us get better”, adding that she welcomes any input that helps VOA “do a much better job in following our Charter’s mandate to be impartial and fair.”

Assuming she meant what she said, Ms. Bennett has no experience in leading large organizations or in working for the U.S. government in an executive position. In a later press release, Bennett praised a VOA program–the VOA-hosted panel on young American Muslims–that was by design remarkably one-sided. The one-group panel was an open invitation to further unchallenged violations of the VOA Charter.

Contradicting her own earlier advice to VOA journalists when she urged them to avoid political bias in their reporting on the U.S. election campaign, Bennett, in an e-mail she sent to staff a few days later (July 8), hailed a Spanish Service video report, which in a clear violation of the VOA Charter, presented only one side of the highly controversial illegal immigration issue in the United States. According to VOA’s description of the interview sent by Ms. Bennett, an illegal immigrant reportedly called Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s immigration plan one of “hate and prejudice.” It was obvious that no one from the Trump camp was asked by VOA to respond to the charge or to help explain his position on illegal immigration for the VOA report, as required by the VOA Charter. A few days later Bennett marked the 40th anniversary of the VOA Charter with the statement that “The VOA Charter has never been more important than it is today.”

BBG CEO John F. Lansing

BBG CEO John F. Lansing

The Voice of America has descended into chaos and confusion under BBG CEO John Lansing who has had no prior foreign affairs, foreign media, U.S. government, U.S. foreign policy or U.S. public diplomacy experience.

In the past, when the Voice of America operated under the former United States Information Agency (USIA), and even under some of the previous VOA directors in the BBG era, VOA journalists carefully avoided making their partisan political views public and tried much harder to remain objective in their news reporting for VOA. This changed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, but never to the extent observed under the leadership of John Lansing, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara. Some VOA journalists started posting on their private but publicly accessible Facebook pages anti-Donald Trump memes, some of them quite obscene. One meme showed him with a Nazi swastika, while another showed him as a penis.

A Voice of America journalist recently posted–also on a private but publicly accessible Facebook page, on which the journalist’s VOA job is mentioned–that “if F*ckface Von Clownstick gets elected on Nov 8 I, will not be able to say anything on Facebook against him anymore, as dictatorship will have descended on this land.” Most news organization have rules on what their journalists can say in public about political candidates in order to preserve an appearance of journalistic objectivity. This rule has been ignored by some, although not all, VOA employees during the 2016 election campaign, and even before.

Donald Trump was not the only U.S. presidential candidate exposed to one-sided attacks in Voice of America programs. Bernie Sanders was also attacked in VOA programs without any balance.

A Shadowproof columnist defending Bernie Sanders observed that “VOA does not have the right to advocate for a particular candidate or even to attack one. That is not within its Charter, nor should any US citizen have to subsidize their own defamation.”

It’s a correct observation. U.S. taxpayers pay for the Voice of America to exist and to do its work abroad, not in the United States, although VOA programs are available in the U.S. on the internet and can be reused by U.S. commercial media. By paying for a one-sided report with their taxes, Donald Trump and his supporters are in effect subsidizing unanswered attacks on themselves which reach the American electorate, i.e. American voters, who can see these reports on YouTube and other social media platforms.

The Voice of America now has the ability to affect the outcome of U.S. voting, especially among some ethnic communities in the United States. VOA is not a private media organization like The Washington Post. It is not a commercial media organization. It is unique. VOA has its Charter, which VOA journalists are required to observe, because it is U.S. law.

One of the most glaring violations of the VOA Charter was was a video of Hollywood actor Robert De Niro calling Trump “dog” and other names, which the Voice of America translated into Ukrainian and posted on Facebook without any counter-response. Balance and comprehensiveness are mandated by the VOA Charter and VOA Journalistic Code when such charges or accusations are made.

VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, requires VOA programs to be fair and balanced. VOA did not ask Donald Trump or his supporters for a response and did not include one. We are not saying that VOA should not have reported on Robert De Niro’s comments, but any such VOA report would have to been balanced.

bernie-sanders-portrait-02After criticism from the watch dog group BBG Watch, their own journalists, and other critics, the management of the Voice of America removed the Robert De Niro video with VOA subtitles from its Facebook page but did not issue an apology for violating the VOA Charter.

VOA has produced several other anti-Donald Trump hit pieces during the 2016 election campaign.

The Voice of America was also accused by Senator Bernie Sanders’s supporters of “state-media bias.”

SEE: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump camps accuse Voice of America of state-media bias, BBG Watch, June 17, 2016.

 
harry_reidThe Voice of America (VOA) also produced and posted online an original VOA video report which prominently features an unsuccessful Muslim American candidate who ran in the Democratic Party primary election in Nevada earlier this year, making a serious allegation of religious bias against U.S. Senate Democratic Leader, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). The candidate alleges that Senator Reid had told him that he cannot win because he is Muslim. A spokeswoman in Reid’s Senate office said that “Senator Reid did not say that” and called it a lie. The short VOA video did not include a response to the allegation from Senator Reid’s office and did not mention that the candidate who made the unproven accusation had lost badly in Democratic primary.
 

 

SEE: Voice of America airs allegation dismissed as a lie by Senator Reid’s office, BBG Watch, October 19, 2016.

 
VOA budget in FY2017 is $224 million. VOA is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in 2013 as “practically defunct” in its ability to carry out its job of U.S. international media outreach. BBG’s entire budget, including VOA’s, is $777 million in FY2017.

###

BBG Watch Commentary

Some U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) journalists working on the U.S. election night were upset that their management, which is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has arranged for a couple “Clinton will win” programs to be pre-written and made available for translation, but apparently failed to arrange for similar “Trump will win” programs to be pre-written so that VOA broadcasters could use them if Trump were to be the winner.

VOA journalists shared with us the texts of the Voice of America “Clinton will win” programs and complained that they have nothing similar on Donald Trump.

“I am here at 1 AM Wednesday; we still have no pre-written ‘Trump wins piece’,” a Voice of America reporter emailed BBG Watch.

Voice of America journalists asked us to post the VOA scripts, even though neither Clinton nor Trump is now a declared winner, as an example of what they say is a partisan bias among some VOA and BBG managers, whom they accuse of disregarding the VOA Charter.

Voice of America’s director is Amanda Bennett. John F. Lansing is BBG CEO and Director. Jeff Shell is the outgoing BBG Chairman.

###

((TITLE: Clinton-First Female President (TV)
HEAD: Clinton Election Ultimate Glass Ceiling for US Women
TEASER: Victory seen as transforming the nature of the presidency
TWEET:
DATE: 00/00/2016
PUBLISHED AT: Tuesday, November 08, 2016 3:52:55 PM
DATELINE: Washington, DC
CAMERA: VOA
VIDEO EDITOR: Rob Raffaele
VIDEO FROM: VOA, AFP, AP
NUMBER: 16400923
TYPE: VPKGN
TRT: 2:43
UPDATE: A Web version is also being released.

EDITORS: **EMBARGOED UNTIL A WINNER IS ANNOUNCED**
((SCRIPT IS BEING RELEASED EARLY FOR TRANSLATION. VIDEO IS COMPLETE. PLEASE CALL 4298 IF YOU NEED IT BEFORE THE WINNER IS OFFICIAL))

((INTRO))
[[America has elected its first female president, 240 years after its birth. What does this historic moment potentially signal for the office of the presidency and the future? White House Correspondent Mary Alice Salinas has this report.]]

((NATS, Clinton at rally ))
SONG LYRICS: “I want to see you be brave.”

((NARRATOR))
Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the White House changes America’s most powerful office.

((LARA BROWN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, GRADUATE SCHOOL OF POLITICAL MANAGEMENT))
“Now we are in a position we have a woman stepping into the White House and serving as a democratic leader in a position that is going to transform the way we understand the presidency.”

((NARRATOR))
In spite of the breakthrough for women, Clinton will find her presidency defined by the demands of the job.

((JOHN HUDAK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION SENIOR FELLOW))
“Hillary Clinton is going to be president first and a female second”

((NARRATOR))
Her rise took decades.

((LARA BROWN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ))
“Part of what happened is that she was no longer thought of as a woman, but as a politician.”

((NARRATOR))
Voters could look beyond her gender to the policies shaped over decades.

Controversy frequently swirled around the former first lady…

…Senator from New York.

…and Secretary of State under her onetime rival for the White House, President Barack Obama.

((LARA BROWN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, GRADUATE SCHOOL OF POLITICAL MANAGEMENT))
“The criticisms that were leveled against her was that she was too much of an insider, that she was too knowledgeable about the politician game.”

((NARRATOR))
These and other complaints throughout the campaign were mostly based not on her gender but on decisions she made while in office.

((NAT SOUND UP))
Hillary Clinton: “Thank you all very much”
Reporters: “Do you regret deleting 32,000 other emails Mrs. Clinton?”

((NARRATOR))
Past controversies will likely impact her job as president, more than her gender, analysts say.

((LARA BROWN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY ))
“Many people view her as an untrustworthy individual and this is where she is going to be high hurdles to get over.”

((NARRATOR))
Clinton will likely continue to address women’s issues around the world…as she has throughout her political career.

Her election marks a historic shift in a country that had only male leaders for 240 years.

((PRESIDENT-ELECT HILLARY CLINTON))
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. I’m happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.”

((NARRATOR))
Clinton is expected to press ahead with many of Obama’s policies.

With the first female leader taking the reins from America’s first African-American president,

experts say the office of the presidency and who can rise to it has forever changed.

(Mary Alice Salinas, VOA News, the White House)

(( TITLE: Clinton – Foreign Policy Lookahead
HEAD: Clinton to Bring More Hawkish Approach to US Foreign Policy
TEASER: Counter terrorism, Russian aggression and an assertive China are among the new president’s pressing issues
TWEET:
DATE: 11/08/2016
PUBLISHED AT:
BYLINE: Nike Ching
DATELINE: The State Department
CAMERA: John Quinn, Oscar Haynes
ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: Elizabeth Cherneff
VIDEO EDITOR:
VIDEO FROM: VOA, News agencies
NUMBER: 16480996
TYPE: VPKGN
TRT: 2:40
UPDATE:
))
**EMBARGOED UNTIL A WINNER IS ANNOUNCED**
((A companion OCN has also been published))

((INTRODUCTION))
[[With Hillary Clinton now considered the U.S. president-elect, foreign policy experts expect her to change the White House approach some of the world’s most pressing issues. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the report.]]

((Reuters- video of terror attacks, ISIL, Russian aggression in Crimea, Chinese military marching))

((NARRATOR))
From the threat of terrorism and conflict in the Middle East, to aggression by Russia and a more assertive China, President-elect Clinton faces increasing global challenges that affect America’s national interests.

Analysts expect a more hawkish foreign policy in the next four years. One of her top priorities, they say, will be to win the war against violent extremism, but not always on the battlefield:
((Export to Portable Media, Bailey, titled asCHING WEST CLINTON CVE MORE HAWKISH))

((DARRELL WEST, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION))
“She understands that you cannot have a military solution, so I’ll expect her to engage in a lot of foreign aid programs, to use entrepreneurship development as a way to create job opportunities for people in some of the countries that are plagued by this type of things.”

((B-roll on Putin, Crimea, Syria))

((NARRATOR))
Clinton has taken a tough stance against Russia’s aggression in Crimea and intervention in Syria during the campaign. Experts foresee a tougher approach than her predecessor in confronting Moscow.

((Export to portable media, Bailey, titled as CHING HERBST RUSSIA CLINTON))

((AMBASSADOR JOHN HERBST, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL))

“So I believe she will speak more strongly about the things Putin are doing that are dangerous to us. I think she will be a stronger advocate of sanctions. I think she will, even more than [President] Obama, be looking to strengthen NATO to deter Russian aggression against NATO members, and I think she will certainly consider, there is a good chance she’ll provide defensive military equipment to Ukraine.”

((Video of Clinton visit in China, South China Sea))

((NARRATOR))
Many American allies in Asia are watching how Clinton follows through on her engagement in the region, the so-called Asia Pivot policy. She is expected to take a more forceful stance regarding tensions in the South China Sea, a busy waterway that impacts trillions of dollars in trade.

((Export to portable media, Bailey, titled asCHING GREEN SOUTH CHINA SEA))

((MICHAEL GREEN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES))
“There has to be a more robust presence. A lot of people talk about ships going in to do freedom of navigation operations, that’s just one piece. It’s about engagement, it’s about exercises, it’s about trade and defense. I think there is a consensus that we need to do more.”

((Videos of Asia Trade))

((NARRATOR))
Clinton has deviated from her earlier support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade pact with the vast growing Asia-Pacific region, that requires approval by Congress. Green and other regional scholars say she will now need to show allies she has the tools to rebuild America’s credibility in that region.

((Nike Ching, VOA News, the State Department))

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1 comment
  1. Pulitzer Prize winning prose: “More than once someone said to me, and I said back, that this is what we’re in this business for.” Does one sense regret for doing one’s job? This was an American election. The American people have spoken. Let us show the world how democracy works. The generous American taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars fuel US international broadcasts, and these taxpayers have diverse political preferences, but they are all Americans nevertheless. America has spoken. VOA should speak for America.

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