Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Insubordination and Rebellion

by The Federalist

“There is something about a sense of entitlement and of having great power that skews people’s judgment.”
(Robert M. Gates, former Director of Central Intelligence and former Secretary of Defense, The Washington Post, November 18, 2012)

The United States Government’s international broadcasting has been rocked with a variety of disasters over the 21st century. One of the most egregious has been the firing of dozens of journalists in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service Moscow bureau. The consequences of that action – and what was put in place afterward – continue to send shockwaves through the international broadcasting arena. Radio Liberty supporters and its audience in Russia have rebelled against the new RFE/RL management, which responded by engaging in an act of internal censorship.

BBG Watch has published many reports, commentaries and analyses on this continuing story. One most recent piece is entitled,

RFE/RL president Korn refuses to provide information to BBG committee on Masha Gessen and his trip to Moscow.”

In the piece we learn that Steve Korn, the RFE/RL president, refused to comply with a request for information from the Broadcasting Board of Governors Strategy and Budget Committee regarding salary and benefits for Masha Gessen, the new head of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, and expenses relating to his recent trip to Moscow.

Korn also refused to explain why Dale Cohen (RFE/RL vice-president for administration and interim legal counsel) was unavailable to answer questions from BBG committee members who had asked that he be present.

Korn took the position that he was not going to answer the questions of the committee members unless ordered to do so by the entire BBG.

In total, this is as defiant a grandstand play as you will ever see in any agency of the Federal Government.

In our view, Mr. Korn has no basis for taking this position. Considering all the things swirling around him, this is more than just an act of defiance.

In our view, it is an act of gross insubordination.

And that’s where things get interesting.

We live in a world corrupted by power. Every day we read stories of people getting themselves into all kinds of trouble because they psychologically overdose on a belief that they are untouchable, beyond the law and not subject to personal or professional standards that the rest of us are expected to adhere to.

This kind of poison has been present in the Cohen Building for a long time. Over many years, the modus operandi of senior careerists in the agency and its International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) has been to survive the rotation of presidential appointees, minimize or nullify the impact of these appointees on the agency and solidify the careerist agenda: in essence, making US Government international broadcasting the personal playground of senior bureaucrats.

Normally, a game play like the one used by Mr. Korn would be career suicide. But “normal” is not the case here. We’re dealing with the BBG/IBB – particularly the IBB – where abnormal is more the case.

In our view, it is unlikely that Korn acted on his own. As we have said often, we know these IBB types very, very well. They have a history.

Our sense of things is the scenario in play in which Korn is getting advice and support. As we see it, the most likely source of that advice and support is from somewhere within the IBB.

And we can see the game plan here: afford the IBB the opportunity to spread its tentacles into the BBG and attempt to make any unanimous or majority decision to hold Mr. Korn accountable impossible. BBG Watch readers have seen the report on Governor Mulhaupt’s recent “disappearing act.” One would expect a repeat of that scenario or something else to keep the IBB firewall against accountability intact.

Over the years, the IBB has worked to undermine the authority of the BBG. They insinuate their agenda into the bi-partisan board, attempting to exploit and divide the board along partisan political lines. Far too often, members of the BBG have acquiesced and have allowed themselves to be manipulated and exploited or have used the IBB itself to pursue power plays and other agendas between board members. Not all BBG members have gone along with this IBB tactic. Those BBG members who stand up against IBB antics have been subjected to various forms of personal or political pressure, and when that doesn’t work, attempts at intimidation and retaliation.

The end result for most BBG members has been the presidential appointment from hell. Some have had the sense the bail out before their terms have expired. Others try hanging on.

However, the worst of it is that the IBB has successfully reduced BBG authority and its oversight and accountability responsibilities to practically zero.

The result is predictable: the IBB – as venal and self-aggrandizing a group of bureaucrats as you will find anywhere in the Federal Government – has pushed its agenda – the infamous Soviet-style “flim flam five-year strategic plan” – that is well along the way to destroying US Government strategic international broadcasting. The latest numbers in recent survey data shows just how far along they are in the effort: audience loss in 2012 counted in millions, depending on how you look at the different numbers the agency puts out in its press releases or other statements.

US Government international broadcasting demands a thorough investigation. We’re not talking about a tepid Office of Inspector General (OIG) report. This situation requires the kind of investigation that puts people under oath, the kind of investigation that demands accountability – something that has long been absent in the IBB.

In Russia, Radio Liberty has become an enemy of the human rights and democratic opposition movement. It is losing its audience and credibility among critics of President Putin and his increasingly authoritarian rule. A rebellion in response to abuse of power, a public diplomacy disaster, to which Mr. Korn responded by creating another one — blocking access by his employees to the Radio Liberty in Exile new news and information website
How will the BBG explain issuing yet another press release condemning censorship and blocking of its news websites in Iran and China if it tolerates such actions by its own executives?

As we’ve said before, Mr. Korn should resign or be fired. And if he is being advised to engage in gross insubordination from any quarter of the IBB, any person involved should be fired for cause.

“The worst organization in the Federal Government.”


The Federalist
November 2012