BBG Watch Commentary
In a move that it likely to seriously damage the reputation of new Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara, and the credibility of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) new CEO John Lansing, BBG chairman Jeff Shell and BBG members, the Voice of America newsroom (VOA News – voanews.com) has for days failed to report online on the New York Times interview with Ben Rhodes, Assistant to President President Obama and his Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, who had made highly controversial comments admitting to misleading reporters on the Iran deal and calling them ignorant.
Amanda Bennett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Most recently, she has been a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
Sandy Sugawara has spent more than three decades in journalism, starting as a UPI reporter and rising to senior management positions at The Washington Post.
The Voice of America is funded by U.S. taxpayers ($224 million in FY 2017 Budget Request). The BBG’s entire budget is estimated at $778 million in FY 2017 Budget Request.
Some current and former Voice of America journalists told us that they view this latest news reporting failure under VOA’s new director and deputy director as a major violation of the VOA Charter (Public Law 94-350), causing damage to VOA’s reputation.
In a separate development, the text of the VOA Charter has disappeared under its previously longtime Google search link on the VOA public relations website. The link to the VOA Charter now directs readers to the home page of the VOA public relations website. There is no visible link to the VOA Charter on the VOA public relations home page. The text of the VOA Charter can still be found on the “About VOA” page, but there is no longer a specific link on the home page to the VOA Charter and the old link to the VOA Charter, which has been cited by others for years, has been changed and is no longer working. We could not determine when exactly the recent change to the VOA Charter link took place. Someone within VOA management should have thought about the consequences of removing the longtime VOA Charter link and making the text of the VOA Charter harder to find for online visitors.
The main VOA English-language news website, voanews.com, also failed to report for days on the growing controversy in the United States over the Ben Rhodes’ comments. The only place where VOA took note of the Ben Rhodes scandal was on its separate “Opinion and Commentary” blog, which gets almost no views and is not searched by the voanews.com website search engine. In other words, the vast majority of online readers abroad would have never learned from the Voice of America about the Ben Rhodes scandal.
During President Nixon’s administration, the Voice of America under a conservative Republican director Kenneth R. Giddens, reported extensively in its radio newscasts on the Watergate scandal.
As recalled by former Voice of America deputy director Alan L. Heil, Jr. in his 2003 book, “Voice of America: A History” (pp.162-163), the VOA director during the Watergate crisis Kenneth R. Giddens, “in supporting expanded reportage, [said]: ‘We’re trying diligently to convey the idea that what the world is seeing is the genius of our checks and balances at work’.”
Alan Heil observed in his book: “For Giddens, a conservative Republican and Nixon appointee, it was a painful time.”
Amanda Bennett, Sandy Sugawara, and John Lansing should have learned from that experience and responded the same way to the Ben Rhodes scandal as former VOA director Giddens had responded to the Watergate crisis.
Fearing reprisals, the Voice of America journalist who sent this commentary does not want to be identified by name.
Photo: VOA 2016 State of the Union Twitter promo showing empty desks.
Startled, angry, disappointed, embarrassed and sad
By A Voice of America Journalist
“I am startled, angry, disappointed and embarrassed but, ultimately, not surprised by VOA’s failure to report on this important issue of how the administration “sold” its policies, as reported by someone who has intimate contact with the president of the United States.
The interview was a look behind the curtain of how the media was co-opted and how the political process is used to influence policies; in some respects it can be considered one of the more important stories in a long time.
Was VOA cowed by its perception of Rhodes’ influence over the agency?
[Some have said that] the lack of reporting on the interview “would be an astounding omission.” No, […] it would be an unforgivable breach of journalistic responsibility and a display of cowardice. If the agency was worried about the story, the least we could have done would be to run a wire service story.”
Ben Rhodes and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG Watch, May 11, 2016
Why is Voice of America News ignoring Ben Rhodes story as news, BBG Watch, May 18, 2016