OPINION

Bureaucracy Warning Sign

US Media Agency Accelerating Toward Oblivion

US Government International Media Information War Lost

 
By The Federalist
 
 
Individuals inside the Cohen Building – the headquarters of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and in the Voice of America (VOA) newsroom – have been knocking themselves out in a campaign of hysteria regarding the US communications agency and what its future may be with the Trump administration.

Plainly speaking, what has showed up in the latest outbursts as presented in Politico and on MSNBC with Rachel Maddow’s program doesn’t bode well for the future.

These pieces have been either presumptive and/or loose on the facts of the agency, its history and what guides the agency’s mission at least for its main component: the Voice of America. This happens to be the VOA Charter.

We won’t go into the details regarding these particular pieces. Other BBG Watch commentaries cover the specifics. However, we will supply the links:

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/donald-trump-voice-america-234078

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show (Retooled VOA set to be Trump-run state media network)

What we will focus on are the consequences of these pieces in the context of what we expect from the White House and Congress.

As we see it, the strategy of going to the commercial media with tales of woe didn’t do the agency any favors:

On the one hand, people on the US political Left will go into hysterics and see the agency already poised as a propaganda tool.

On the other hand, the US political Right will see the agency as populated by defiant obstructionists intent upon undermining policy guidance and direction from the White House and legislation from the Congress.

As to the transition team examining the agency, it is not likely that an assessment they bring back to the White House would include a ringing endorsement of the agency’s preferred “business as usual” status. Doing so would be incredibly unguarded.  Equally so would be to suggest that there are only minor problems. That would also be inconsistent with reality. This agency has imploded. The implosion is top to bottom throughout the agency. Recovering from that implosion would require a major effort – which to all appearances would be opposed and obstructed at every turn with the current cast of characters inside the agency.

Inside The Cohen Building:

It would likely be an understatement to suggest that the bureaucrats who run the agency are between a rock and a hard place: namely, somewhere between crisis mode and outright panic.

In our view, Voice of America director Amanda Bennett lacks the requisite skill sets to rein in the rogue aspects of this agency within VOA. She claims to have a “fantastic leadership team.” The claim is ludicrous, an outright denial of reality. The so-called “leadership team” (both at VOA and at BBG) is largely responsible for the agency’s known description as being:

The combined lack of competence and credibility makes this “fantastic leadership team” the agency’s primary liability.

When this isn’t bad enough, there is the resignation of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Matt Armstrong who has railed about the manner in which John Lansing, the agency’s chief executive officer (CEO) has conducted himself and his relationship with members of the BBG which has now been reduced to an advisory capacity: advice that Mr. Lansing seems to care little about in the view of Mr. Armstrong.

Another important element in the agency’s situation is a group of malcontents inside the VOA newsroom.

These individuals, some now retired, have been actively engaged in challenging congressional legislation (remember the “Back Off Congress” op-ed in The Los Angeles Times a couple years ago) and continuing what appears to be a feeder stream to external news organizations.

In terms of strategy and tactics, goals and objectives, the question is: what do these individuals think they are going to accomplish?

The White House

First: do they think their efforts are going to change the mindset of the new administration? More than likely, the answer is no. But worse, what their activities have done is put the agency way, way up on the radar, adding to the typical online shouting and screaming over the agency itself and what the new administration may do with it.

If the administration does some close inspection of some of the antics of the agency as well as its content, they would discover the dark underside of what this agency has become with biased and unbalanced reporting, with crude representations of the president and the vulgar humor of the VOA newsroom’s “VOA Follies” and its characterizations of the president and members of his family.

We already know that the Trump administration has a difficult relationship with the media. This kind of “in-house” behavior is likely to be viewed unfavorably, to put it mildly.

Second: Seemingly, it has escaped the attention of the newsroom insurgents that the administration is poised to give the heave-ho to public support to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and National Public Radio (NPR) along with other federally-funded agencies. What this ongoing insurgency does is put a spotlight on the agency, serves up daily examples of its deficiencies, reduce it to a liability and not an asset and increase the chances of putting it on the same endangered list as CPB and NPR.

No doubt, CPB and NPR will attempt to muster public support to be maintained. Indeed, it is already underway via social media posts and the like.

Less likely is opposition to hammering the VOA and others aspects of US Government international media. Outside the Beltway, one would reasonably expect that VOA is not a major concern for the American people. It is one of those “inside-the-Beltway” specialty items that lose a lot of horsepower outside the circumference of I-495. In short, it wouldn’t be missed by the general public. Giving the heave-ho to an agency that most Americans don’t know or even less care about would score points with the constituent base that propelled the new administration into the White House.

But there’s more:

The Congress:

On Thursday, January 26 agency officials conducted one of their “dog and pony” circuses otherwise known as a “Global Townhall Meeting.”

It was filled with the usual happy talk about what a great job the agency is doing, etc, blah-blah-blah: the kinds of things very few of the line employees attach any credibility to.

In the course of the question-and-answer portion of the presentation came one of the senior employees in the newsroom who has made similar appearances before the BBG.

He opined that with the VOA’s 75th anniversary on the horizon, it would be an opportunity to have Members of Congress come to the agency. It also appears that the speaker suggested that this would be an opportunity to get specific assurances from the White House in some kind of statement confirming the agency’s mission and the importance of the VOA Charter.

Specific assurances? That would appear to be the “ambush” tactic of the VOA newsroom: remembering the demand made by the newsroom that senior agency officials repudiate or denounce administration policy directives and guidance.

Third: At the juncture, the 75th anniversary observance appears to be “on hold” because the site of the observance – the Cohen Building auditorium – is “out of commission.” The symbolism of this unexpected debacle is not lost on anyone, including people on the Hill.

Here’s the reality to what a senior VOA newsroom staffer opines:

If there is one issue that has united members of both political parties in Congress is their disgust with the agency, its attempts to oppose and undermine necessary reforms and the public display of hysteria, disinformation and misinformation emanating from inside the Cohen Building and making its way into US commercial “news” media.

To say that the Congress has a dim view of the VOA newsroom and the management structure of the agency would be an understatement.

Whether anyone inside the Cohen Building chooses to believe it or not, the agency appears to be on a cusp of its final chapter in its current form. The opening will be what the administration intends to do in terms of who it appoints to lead the agency. And that raises another point:

Don’t believe that John Lansing or Amanda Bennett are going to be around longer than the moment the administrative gets its own people in place.

They will be gone.

The following segment will be what the new appointees have in the way of directives from the White House. One can suspect that perpetuation of the current status quo is not on the agenda.

Patience will be limited. And that opens the prospect for the last installment:

Privatization or Defunding Means Oblivion

You will recall that the 2017 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) legislation has been characterized as not an end in itself but part of a “process.”

One should not doubt the commitment of Members of Congress – and now likely the administration – to be committed to that process, especially if there are no apparent indicators that the agency is making progress on its mission effectiveness and if VOA employees continue to fan hysteria in the commercial media and on social media platforms and keep mocking Donald Trump.

Don’t think it could happen?

We refer you to what the administration has made as stated objectives with regard to CPB and NPR.

We know how people in the newsroom like to question (“ambush”) agency officials by questioning their “journalistic” credentials. We also know how people in the newsroom have bought into the false narrative of the agency as “an independent news company” and their self-serving sanctimonious sense of themselves as paragons of “journalistic virtue” (something of an oxymoron in today’s world) even as they post offensive Donald Trump memes and openly attack his decisions using social media in a one-sided and partisan manner — a new development that has emerged during the Lansing-Bennett watch. Nothing like this has ever been seen before in VOA’s history.

All we can say is that if that tactic is played again in the current climate, the countdown to the “nuclear option” for the agency, starting with the Voice of America, will be underway.

We do not believe that there will be an open-ended time frame for the agency to get its act together. The last thing this administration will want to hear is another demand from the VOA newsroom that senior officials renounce or repudiate policy direction and guidance from the State Department or the White House.

That would most certainly be the proverbial “last act of defiance.”

Doing so would move the administration or the Congress to defund or privatize the Voice of America (a move that would kill VOA since there has never been any private sector support or funding for VOA), preserve the branding of agency entities, staff any remaining agency with people who understand what their role is, and dispense with the notion that they are unaccountable to any authority for what they do.

The Federalist

January 2017

 
 
 

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