BBG Watch Media

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) is showing a remarkable lack of journalistic curiosity in its own affairs, and the affairs of its own parent agency — the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — even if it is widely reported news in the United States and abroad, with a direct impact upon VOA. VOA English news website ignored today’s news about former BBG CEO Andy Lack rejoining NBC, as it has ignored earlier statements by top Obama Administration officials, a top Republican and a top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, all speaking about President Putin’s propaganda offensive.

Russian state media outlets, RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik International, have reported on the departure from the BBG of its short-term CEO Andrew Lack, sometimes referred to as Andy Lack, who during his six week stay at the BBG was in charge of the Voice of America and other BBG media outlets, such as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Both RT and Sputnik reported on Andy Lack’s move to lead NBC News. The Voice of America did not report this news on its English language website and websites of many of its foreign language services.

RT also reported on Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony last week on Capitol Hill during which Kerry expressed “100 percent” agreement with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce’s efforts to pass legislation this year to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency in charge of U.S. media outreach abroad. Kerry noted only some reservations as to whether the agency should have one or two CEOs. Kerry also asked for more money for the BBG “to confront Russian propaganda” and “to get reform that this troubled agency needs.” Russia’s RT reported on Kerry’s testimony. The Voice of America English news website did not.

Sputnik International reported on this week’s statements from Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), on Andy Lack’s departure as the BBG CEO and a management crisis at the agency. On Wednesday, Rep. Royce called the BBG “defunct,” as he did many times earlier, citing a similar description of the agency as being “practically defunct” made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a meeting with BBG employees earlier this week, BBG Chairman Jeff Shell disagreed with this description, but at the same time he expressed support for congressional attempts to reform the BBG. Both Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Secretary of State John Kerry said that they support Chairman Royce’s call for reforming the BBG with only “slight” reservations about some of the wording of the proposed reform bill. None of this was reported by the Voice of America on the VOA main English news website.

Testifying before Chairman Royce’s committee on Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland praised new Russian-language programs of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the Voice of America. She agreed with Chairman Royce that the agency needs reforms and confirmed the Obama Administration’s increased spending on such broadcasts.

Sputnik International covered Ambassador Nuland’s testimony in a lengthy report.

Sputnik-Nuland-Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 7.56 PM ET

Voice of America English News ignored Andy Lack, Chairman Royce, Secretary Kerry and Assistant Secretary Nuland on its worldwide news website in connection with these recent news developments and statements.

VOA also ignored the House Foreign Affairs Committee top Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) who said during the testimony of Assistant Secretary Nuland that during the recent security conference in Munich Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was telling lies. As would be expected, RT and Sputnik also did not report this comment from Rep. Engel while reporting on the other aspects of the story and spinning it to accuse the Obama Administration and the Congress of promoting anti-Russia propaganda.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY, RANKING MEMBER): You know, I was laughing when at that conference in Munich, Madam Secretary, you and I both attended, to hear the Russian Foreign Minister denying that Russian troops were in Ukraine. Lies, lies and more lies.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty posted two news reports about Ambassador Nuland’s testimony. They focused on her comments about Ukraine and Russia, but not specifically on the BBG and U.S. international media outreach in response to disinformation from the Kremlin.

VOA English News had one very short report on Nuland’s testimony about Washington considering imposing new sanctions against Russia if a Ukraine cease-fire deal reached last month in Minsk continues to be violated, but the VOA report had no references to the BBG, VOA, RFE/RL and Russia’s disinformation campaign.

BBG Watch has learned that some VOA English Central News reporters were transcribing comments by BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, Rep. Royce and Ambassador Nuland from audio files posted online by BBG Watch. These VOA English Central News managers and reporters were emailing these texts among themselves, but not sharing them with VOA international audiences.

BBG Watch could not confirm whether:

1. VOA Central News managers and reporters themselves did not want to post online a news report about Andy Lack, Rep. Royce, Rep. Engel, Ambassador Nuland, Secretary Kerry, the BBG, Chairman Shell, BBG Governor Weinstein and Russia’s disinformation campaign;
 
2. decided among themselves that these developments and statements were not newsworthy;
 
3. did not want to take risks to write a story that conceivably could offend top VOA or BBG executives or members of Congress and Obama Administration officials;
 
4. did not want to present the Voice of America in a bad light by reporting on problems at the VOA and the BBG;
 
5. had to cope with usual staff shortages and reporters going home on Friday at the end of the business day or not coming to work because of snow for the last three days.
 
The usual explanation one hears from some VOA English Central News reporters and some VOA and BBG officials is that international audiences are simply not interested in such U.S. news stories, as Brian Williams, Andy Lack, the controversy over the future of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, the Broadcasting Board of Governors in general, and U.S. public diplomacy and other efforts to counter anti-American and anti-Western propaganda. Russia’s RT and Sputnik definitely do not share the view that these stories are unimportant to international audiences.

RT-Andy-Lack-Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 7.58 PM ET

RT reported on March 5 (Thursday), BBG’s Andy Lack leaves after 6 weeks of leading US state media | RT. The RT report includes several vile anti-Semitic comments from the website’s readers.

VOA English Central Newsroom also did not report several weeks ago about the controversy over Andy Lack’s New York Times interview in which he listed RT as one of the challenges facing the BBG along with ISIS and Boko Haram. Even though Andy Lack was not comparing RT to terror groups, RT strongly objected to his comments.

Sputnik-Royce-BBG-Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 7.56 PM ET

Sputnik International reported today (Friday), Russian ‘Propaganda’ Beats US, Washington Needs Media Reform – Congressman | Sputnik

“The lawmaker noted that former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called the agency ‘defunct,’ and that current Secretary of State John Kerry said he was committed to reforming the agency, Sputnik reported.

Sputnik, Russian state news agency and radio, noted Rep. Royce’s statement that “For too long, the BBG has lurched from crisis to crisis, destroying the reputation of brands like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe in the process.”

Sputnik further quoted Rep. Royce as saying that “Over the years, defenders of the status quo have argued that the BBG is generally on the right track and that only minor reforms or hiring the right CEO would do the trick.”

Sputnik added that Royce’s statement comes after the resignation of BBG Chief Executive Officer Andrew Lack, who left the post after 42 days in office.

The Voice of America English news website had none of this information.

Sputnik International also posted a report Thursday, US Expands Russian-Aimed Propaganda Budget by More Than 100% | Sputnik.

The Sputnik article discussed at length this part of testimony of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, which was also ignored by the VOA English news website. The VOA Russian Service reported it only in one sentence «Мы также просим 20 миллионов долларов для борьбы с российской пропагандой», – подчеркнула Нуланд.(“We have asked for $20 million to counter Russian propaganda,” Nuland said.) VOA Rusian Service did not provide online anything approaching the detailed treatment of this topic by Sputnik International. We could not find any recent Voice of America Russian Service news reporting online about Rep. Ed Royce.

BBG Watch has learned that Voice of America managers and some VOA English Central Newsroom reporters were paying close attention to statements by Rep. Royce, Ambassador Nuland and BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, but it appears that this was done to satisfy their own curiosity and to inform their colleagues — not to let VOA worldwide audiences know anything about these developments.

VOA English news website also failed to report Friday for worldwide English speaking audiences that Andy Lack was given the job at NBC News and to explain the Brian Williams controversy. Earlier VOA had failed to report for several days about the controversy over NBC News TV anchor Brian Williams, even though U.S. media and media worldwide were reporting on the story. Former VOA director David Jackson observed that by waiting several days in reporting on the Brian Williams controversy, the Voice of America missed a teaching moment. Andy Lack was reportedly recruited by NBC News to solve the Brian Williams problem, as well as other shortcomings at the U.S. television network.

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VIDEO PRODUCED BY BBG WATCH FROM COMMITTEE VIDEO STREAMING

Statements and comments on the need for reform of the Broadcasting Board of Governors made at a hearing Tuesday, March 04, 2015, of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

LINK TO VIDEO

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AUDIO IN A BBG WATCH REPORT

During a meeting with BBG employees, Jeff Shell and BBG Governor Kenneth Weinstein answered questions focusing on the circumstances of Andy Lack’s departure only after a few weeks on the job, legislative proposals to restructure the federal agency and non-federal grantee media organizations, the agency’s image in the United States and abroad, employee morale, and challenges in news reporting in response to disinformation from nations such as Russia.

LISTEN TO PART I

LISTEN TO PART II

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INTERNAL VOA EMAILS

The second email failed to mention that BBG Governor Kenneth Weinstein’s call for more analysis was in the context of his criticism of VOA occasionally reporting known lies by Russian officials without a specific analysis to expose deception or dishonesty. BBG Chairman agreed with Governor Weinstein, saying that the job of “honest journalism” is to expose deception no matter who engages in it. “We should expose it [dishonesty] even if it’s Kerry,” Jeff Shell said.

But any usefulness of internal emails for Voice of America’s worldwide audiences has been zero as VOA English news website failed to report on any of these statements and controversies.

A few VOA English Central Newsroom reporters were said to be “offended” by Governor Weinstein’s comments about the need for deeper analysis in VOA reporting and at least one reportedly “ridiculed” privately Weinstein’s observation that “when Lavrov [Russian Foreign Minister] is clearly lying, which 90 percent of the time he is, we ought to try in a story, it would be a good to have a little more detail on this.” Governor Weinstein said that in his view, such more comprehensive reporting does not at all violate the VOA Charter. He also said that “journalism [VOA] is generally excellent.”

Chairman Shell responded, “We have an obligation to do honest journalism and that means exposing dishonesty. We should expose it, even if it’s Kerry.”

BBG Watch fully agrees with both Governor Weinstein and Chairman Shell on this issue. The VOA Charter also requires the Voice of America to report U.S. news, including controversial ones involving the VOA and the BBG, as well as news about statements on foreign policy issues and other matters from U.S. government officials and members of the U.S. Congress. Foreign audiences should get such news in English and in foreign languages primarily from the Voice of America, rather than from RT or Sputnik International.

Sent: Wednesday, March 04, 2015 12:53 PM
 
To: VOA Newsroom
 
Subject: Andy Lack and more
 
For the benefit of those who were not able to attend the all-hands meeting in the auditorium today [WEDNESDAY — BBG Watch], here are a few highlights (I did not take notes so from memory)
 
-Chairman Shell announced that Andy Lack is leaving BBG and that, effective immediately, Andre Mendes will serve as acting CEO. The other two members of the former “troika” will continue to serve in their current functions, but the board feels that this time there needs to be a single person in charge.
 
-Shell could not confirm the published reports that Lack will become chief of NBC News, but said that is “probably” true. Apparently those negotiations are not yet complete.
 
-He acknowledged that he considers Lack’s departure a huge blow to the organization, but stressed the value of our work and the importance of our mission and basically said we must carry on, as we have through other setbacks in the past.
 
-The board will at once begin searching for a new CEO to replace Andy Lack. Shell said he believes the recruitment of Lack – and his departure to such a high-profile position – will make it easier the next time around. He said he has already been approached by a couple of big-time names. He said Mendes will also be a candidate if he wants to be, and that other current employees will be considered if they put themselves forward.
 
-Shell said that in his conversations with Lack over the past few weeks, Lack repeatedly stressed his surprise at seeing how good the work of the VOA journalists is, especially compared to the very public criticism of our work that he had seen previously.
 
-Shell also took questions about House Bill 4490. He said the board remains reluctant to weigh in publicly on the bill but that he has privately objected to members of Congress over the language [Jeff Shell only referred to the bill’s language about the VOA Charter, not the entire bill — BBG Watch] that, many VOA journalists [BBG employee union, AFGE Local 1812, supported the bill despite some reservations about the language — BBG Watch] believe, would require them to promote State Department policies.[The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) denied that the bill would turn VOA into a propaganda tool — BBG Watch] Board member Kenneth Weinstein, who was also present, said he too has spoken privately about his concerns to Congress members.
 
-Shell said there are also things in the bill that he likes very much, including the language that gives the CEO position wider authority than is possible under existing law.”

Sent: Thursday, March 05, 2015 2:14 PM
 
To: VOA Newsroom; English Division
 
Subject: RE: Andy Lack and more
 
David—thanks for the update.
 
I think the remarks by Chairman Shell and Board member Weinstein are worth highlighting in detail since they go to the heart of concerns expressed by many VOA journalists about language in last year’s House bill that we believe would turn journalists into policy promoters and would undermine VOA’s journalistic credibility around the world.
 
In the exchange on Wednesday, one of our colleagues from the English Division, Pete Heinlein, asked them about language in the House bill that many VOA staffers fear would, in Pete’s words, “change us from journalists to propagandists.”
 
Here are the answers from the two governors:
 
Jeffrey Shell: “Personally, the language in H.R. 4490 on the reforms they want to make to the VOA Charter is incomprehensible to me. I’ve read it a hundred times. It doesn’t make it any clearer to me. To me it makes it even more unclear and I have been privately outspoken to people on the Hill and in the White House that I think that needs to be fixed, and I hope they do fix it, right? (audience applause).”
 
Ken Weinstein: “I am in agreement with Jeff and I have also shared my concerns privately, as long as you are mentioning, on some of the language in the reform bill with people I know on the Hill.” As part of his answer, Weinstein added that he would like to see more analysis from Central News on certain stories.
 
We welcome the support from the BBG board members to ensure that VOA journalism remains credible. We expect to count on their support as members of Congress prepare to reintroduce reform legislation this year.”

 
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As of 7:30 PM ET Friday, March 6, Voice of America English Central News website is also not reporting the latest news about former BBG CEO and VOA top boss Andy Lack accepting his new position at NBC News. Here is a partial list from Google Search of media outlets which are reporting this news:

 

NBC Brings Back Andrew Lack to Lead Its News Division

New York Times – ‎3 hours ago‎
NBC Universal reached into its past to chart a new path forward on Friday, hiring Andrew Lack to lead its news division after a series of missteps that culminated with the suspension of Brian Williams last month. The arrival of Mr. Lack, who was president of …

Andrew Lack is back at NBC News

CNNMoney – ‎8 hours ago‎
Lack similarly took over NBC News in 1993 after a crisis involving the misleading recreation of a GM truck crash on “Dateline NBC.” What Burke sees in Lack now, according to sources who know both men, are leadership attributes that the news division …

NBC names new chief for embattled news division

USA TODAY – ‎4 hours ago‎
NBCUniversal on Friday named former NBC News chief Andy Lack to run the network’s embattled news division, a move aimed at recalibrating the operation at a time of shrinking audiences for TV news and internal turmoil stemming from the Brian Williams …

Andrew Lack Returns to NBC As News Chief, Will Face Challenges Restoring 

Variety – ‎10 hours ago‎
NBCUniversal is banking that the homecoming of one of its best-known former executives will help reverse its fortunes in the tricky area of TV news. The Comcast-owned media conglomerate confirmed Friday that Andrew Lack, a one time president and chief …

Andy Lack Replaces Pat Fili-Krushel As Chief Of NBC News & MSNBC: His 

Deadline.com – ‎6 hours ago‎
NBC News this morning made it official: Andrew Lack, who ran the division from 1993-2001, is returning to the scene of his greatest professional achievement, to try to put the place back together again. “Andy Lack is returning to the company as Chairman, …

Andrew Lack takes command of NBC’s troubled news operation

Los Angeles Times – ‎10 hours ago‎
Andrew Lack is officially back at NBC News. NBCUniversal formally announced Friday that Lack is returning to the company in the role he had from 1993 to 2001, albeit with a new title — chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. When he gets back to his old office …

Former NBC News President Andrew Lack Returns To Network As Chairman

Huffington Post – ‎7 hours ago‎
Andrew Lack will replace Pat Fili-Krushel as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke announced in a memo to staff Friday, obtained by The Huffington Post. A former executive at the network, Lack rejoins NBC News during a …

Lack Is Back at NBC

BU Today – ‎2 hours ago‎
BU trustee Andrew Lack will retake the helm of NBC News in April, returning to an operation he led from 1993 to 2001. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke announced in a memo to staff on Friday that Lack (CFA’68) will be chairman of NBC News and MSNBC.

NBC Makes It Official, Hiring Andy Lack As News Chief

Wall Street Journal (blog) – ‎6 hours ago‎
Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News who was hired by Ms. Fili-Krushel in 2013, will now report to Mr. Lack, as will MSNBC chief Phil Griffin. CNBC, however, will report directly to Mr. Burke. NBCUniversal is a unit of Comcast Corp.CMCSA -0.17%.

Ex-NBC News chief Lack to return to a network juggling controversy, bad ratings

Fortune – ‎5 hours ago‎
NBC News President Deborah Turness, who joined the network from London-based ITV News two years ago and has overseen an unending series of setbacks, is expected to stay in her role and report to Lack. MSNBC President Phil Griffin will also report to …

NBC hires Andy Lack as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC

Washington Post (blog) – ‎4 hours ago‎
And moments ago, NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke announced that Lack would be returning to the network as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. Lack previously served as president ofNBC News from 1993 through 2001. “While at NBC, he …

NBC News’ former president Andy Lack returns to struggling division as chair

The Guardian – ‎4 hours ago‎
NBC Universal chief executive Steve Burke announced on Friday that he was tapping some old talent to help run the troubled network, appointing a former NBC News president, AndyLack, as chairman of the news division. Lack’s predecessor, Pat …

Andrew Lack returns to NBC to help battered news division

New York Post – ‎9 hours ago‎
NBC News on Friday morning took the wraps off of a much-anticipated move — it is bringing Andrew Lack back into the fold. Lack, who ran the Peacock network’s news division from 1993-2001, has been named chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, Steve …

Rieder: Big challenges for new NBC News chief

USA TODAY – ‎4 hours ago‎
It was a shakeup that had to happen. NBC News has been on a serious losing streak, and new leadership was essential. So Andrew Lack, who ran NBC News from 1993 to 2001, is returning to the fray as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. The decision …

NBC’s outlook still calls for Lack of Brian Williams

New York Daily News – ‎17 hours ago‎
Friendship may have its privileges, but defying the CEO of NBC to bring Brian Williams back from a humiliating suspension is not among them. As NBC News staffers brace for the return of Andrew Lack, the adrenaline-infused news executive who will be …

5 Ways NBC News’ Incoming Chief Andrew Lack Can Fix The Fading Peacock

TheWrap – ‎3 hours ago‎
Lack, who was NBC News President from 1993-2001, returns as Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC with a field of challenges. The biggest is its flagship “Nightly News” broadcast, fighting to retain the top spot after its lead anchor, Brian Williams, was …

Lack named NBC News Group chairman

Politico (blog) – ‎8 hours ago‎
NBCUniversal announced Friday that it has hired Andrew Lack to serve as chairman of the NBC News Group, confirming earlier reports that the former NBC News president was set to return to the network. “Andy’s experience and familiarity with our company …

Andrew Lack named chairman of NBC News, MSNBC

Capital New York – ‎7 hours ago‎
Former NBC News president Andrew Lack is officially returning to the company, as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, C.E.O. Steve Burke announced in a memo to staff this morning. In his new role,Lack will have oversight of NBC News and MSNBC; …

Former NBC News Chief Lack Returns to Network in Leading Role

AdAge.com – ‎8 hours ago‎
Andrew Lack is returning to NBC Universal to be chairman of NBC News and MSNBC as the company tries to move on from the controversy over Brian Williams’s embellished account of a helicopter ride during the Iraq war.

NBC News Quest For Outsider Finally Leads Back to Lack

Variety – ‎9 hours ago‎
In hindsight, the circuitous and bumpy path that brought NBC News back to old pro Andrew Lack can be traced to an especially jaundiced view of broadcast news – namely, that the traditional model is so broken only an outsider can be trusted with the process …

Andrew Lack Returns to NBC News

Hollywood Reporter – ‎10 hours ago‎
Andrew Lack has been named chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. The announcement came via a staff memo sent out on Friday morning from NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. Lackwill replace Pat Fili-Krushel, who will move into a corporate role on Burke’s …

NBC brings Andy Lack back to run news division in wake of Brian Williams 

Minneapolis Star Tribune – ‎9 hours ago‎
NEW YORK — NBC has changed the leadership of its troubled news division by bringing back the executive who led the network out of a dark period two decades ago. The hiring of Andy Lack as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC was announced Friday in …

Andy Lack named chairman of NBC News and MSNBC

Poynter.org – ‎10 hours ago‎
Andy Lack, the former NBC executive who was rumored to be considering a return to the network, has been named chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke announced in a memo to staff Friday. Lack, who was until this week …

Can Andy Lack save NBC News and MSNBC and Brian Williams and ‘Today 

Baltimore Sun (blog) – ‎6 hours ago‎
Comcast made it official today that veteran network news executive Andy Lack is being brought in at age 67 to try and save a news division at NBC that is in as much trouble as any news operation I’ve ever seen. I think it’s a good move by Comcast, which has …

Andy Lack named head of NBC news division – memo

Reuters – ‎9 hours ago‎
Lack, who recently served as CEO and chairman of Bloomberg LP’s Media Group and head of the independent U.S. agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, will oversee NBC News and cable news network MSNBC. The heads of NBC News and …

NBC brings back veteran to stabilize news division

Boston Globe (subscription) – ‎4 hours ago‎
NBC took a step toward stabilizing its troubled news operations Friday by rehiring Andrew Lack to oversee NBC News and MSNBC, placing the two operations in the hands of a seasoned executive.Lack, 67, oversaw NBC News in its heyday in the 1990s, …

Former NBC Executive Returns To Oversee Troubled News Division

NPR (blog) – ‎6 hours ago‎
The parent company of NBC, Comcast, has turned to a familiar figure to lead the network’s troubled news division, naming Andrew Lack as chairman to shore up its credibility, its finances and its stability. The appointment follows the scandal that led to the …

Official: Andy Lack Named NBC News Chairman

Broadcasting & Cable – ‎9 hours ago‎
B&C reported earlier in the week that Lack, a former NBC News president, had been in talks to replace Patricia Fili-Krushel, who had served as chairman of NBCUniversal news group since 2011. She will move to a new role within the company, while NBC …

NBC News Officially Names Andy Lack Chairman

Television Week – ‎8 hours ago‎
“Much has been made of the close connection between Lack and Williams — who worked closely together during Lack’s first run at NBC — fueling speculation that the new chairman will simply re-install the credibility-challenged anchor to his beloved chair,” …

Andy Lack Returns To NBC News

Multichannel News – ‎9 hours ago‎
Andy Lack has returned to NBC as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, making official a move that had been rumored. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in an NBC internal memo that Lack will replace current NBC News Group chairman Pat Fili-Krushel.

 
 
 

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