Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – More on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

by The Federalist

(Special to BBG Watch)

We may be in a new year on the calendar, but it will be more of the same if senior agency officials intend to continue the effort to take the United States Government out of the business of strategic international broadcasting.

There are a variety of issues that will not go away, much as the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) might wish otherwise.

At the top of the list is the fiasco surrounding Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and its Russian Service. The toxic environment we know to exist in the Cohen Building has now set upon the RFE/RL office in Prague and the Russian Service bureau in Moscow.

The main event remains what to do about the self-inflicted disaster regarding Radio Liberty known in Russia as Radio Svoboda, the RFE/RL Russian Service. To all appearances, the service has been neutralized – its credibility with its Russian audience wiped out when its veteran corps of journalists were fired by Steve Korn, Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen and replaced with Masha Gessen (the new service director) and her team of inexperienced magazine feature writers, most of whom — unlike the ones they replaced — never did much news reporting or multimedia work on the Internet.

The damage done is close to irreparable – and it will be permanent if nothing is done about the sequence of events converging to create the fiasco.

In that regard,

The BBG/IBB claims that it intends to conduct a “Russia Review.”

Let’s be clear: the best thing the BBG can do is make the “Russia Review” a process external to itself and the IBB.

You know our mantra: we know these IBB types very, very well. The top priority of the IBB in this matter is not transparency. The top priority is self-preservation. There should be no confidence whatsoever that the IBB will conduct a transparent, objective review.

Jeffrey Trimble who is nominally in charge of this “review” has a prior association with RFE/RL. He is also one of the agency’s “$10,000 Men,” the amount of an annual bonus they received recently, on top of a six-figure salary. In our view, the bonus represents a reward for maintaining the IBB status quo.

What does the IBB status quo represent?

Consider this: being “the worst organization in the Federal Government,” perpetuating a hostile workplace (the worst place to work in the Federal Government), the collapse of its audience base, following a “strategic plan” which believes “there is no international broadcasting,” closing language services and dismantling its core news operation.

Trimble should be relieved from being “in command” of this “review.” On its face, there is the appearance of a multitude of conflicts of interest. The “review” would be nothing more than a feckless exercise.

The situation calls for something much stronger, more potent, with a critical eye toward serious investigation – in other words, an investigation independent of that group of IBB individuals on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.

Indeed, it should be demanded by organizations like Freedom House and other human rights organizations knowledgeable of the political atmosphere inside Russia. They know the damage that has been inflicted.

It should be conducted by individuals knowledgeable of the organizational culture inside the Cohen Building and the key individuals who are molding, directing and maintaining that culture.

Any formal request for investigation should go to the BBG, not the IBB (they should be considered “persons of interest”). If no action is forthcoming, the process takes over: to the Congress, the White House and the State Department. It becomes a matter of record. For the White House in particular it would be a bad play to take a pass on dealing with this issue. The United States already looks bad in Russia. Putin is playing the Obama administration like a puppet on a string. The RFE/RL fiasco adds to it. Doing nothing or doing something anemic makes the United States appear weaker than weak.

And it gets played out in the press and on BBG Watch.

If you are a member of the BBG and you want to get to the heart of things that were done in your name, here’s some (unsolicited) advice:

We’ll give it to you straight: you’ve been played for chumps. You have been manipulated and exploited. You have placed trust (and your reputations) in the hands of the wrong people. You are victims of an agenda that has nothing to do with the national and public interest of the United States. You have been compromised. You need to be seeing things as they truly are: focused on preserving the IBB status quo. The IBB attitude is “you go, we stay.” In other words, to continue to wreak more havoc and destruction.

In terms of your personal and professional reputations, you’ve been violated.

Understand this: those characters on the IBB would think nothing of throwing you guys “under the bus” if it meant preserving their agenda and their lifetime jobs.

And you know it to be true.

If you want to restore your credibility as a legitimate authority and body in charge of US Government international broadcasting, you need to get control of the situation and do it now.

We all know how powerful a tool computers are in this digital age. You need to quarantine the PCs used by everyone connected with this matter: in Prague, Washington and Moscow. You need to have the computers examined for emails and other documents related to this matter – before they disappear (if an attempt to do so hasn’t happened already). It is inconceivable that Mr. Korn acted unilaterally.

It is possible you will uncover a whole lot of things you didn’t know and may cause you to be very angry.

Here’s another thing:

Masha Gessen hasn’t been shy with her pronouncements regarding this situation. She has been commenting to Izvestia and on her Facebook page. One of the more recent statements is that it is either “not possible” or “impossible” to be removed from her position or that the answer to the question whether it is possible for her to be dismissed in connection with Steven Korn’s resignation is “No.” As usual, she is questioning what she really told Izvestia, just as she had earlier accused some independent journalists who criticized her of slander, a criminal offense in Putin’s Russia with fines designed to silence criticism and investigative reporting.

That makes us wonder what she may have been promised, if anything, to insulate her from potential repercussions or did she just come up with this statement on her own? Why did she tell Russian media that Trimble’s review is not an inspection or an investigation? Did she really receive a $55,000 housing allowance from Korn, even though she already lived in Moscow, on top of her reported $145,000 salary? What did she told or asked Mr. Korn to do before he fired some of the best independent journalists in Russia?

We did not hear of any protests from Ms. Gessen when the journalists were being brutally fired and she talked about them later to the media as if they were professional failures. They, however, received prestigious journalism awards specifically for their website and online coverage. Ms. Gessen declared the Sakharov Awards for “Journalism as An Act of Conscience” a “low profile” event and refused to cover them. One of them went to a former Radio Liberty reporter who resigned in protest and the fired Internet team received a special mention. Even the BBG acknowledged these awards with a press release.

But one of the favorite tactics of the IBB is still to get the BBG on board with supporting or endorsing someone or something under scrutiny (for example, the “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan”). We suspect that scenario is in play here. The goal: to skew the results of a “review:” can’t have a bad review if a key figure has been endorsed by the BBG!

BBG: if you fall for this ploy, you’re bigger chumps than we think you are – especially if it has come up more than once by the IBB cabal.

In our way of looking at things, one would want to take a serious look at any and all email traffic in regard to that particular aspect of this catastrophe.

In short, you have a lot of serious work to do. It’s serious because, like a lot of stuff gone wrong inside the Cohen Building, it’s cumulative. That group up on the Third Floor is staggering under the weight of perpetually “gaming the system” to protect their self-interests.

It’s time they be held accountable and bring them down.

The Federalist
January 2013

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