Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Russia Reviewed
by The Federalist
(Special to BBG Watch to mark over 900,000 hits on bbgwatch.com since its launch in Sept. 2011)
Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) press releases: always a bountiful source of information, albeit often in the form of disinformation, misinformation, and disingenuousness.
When reading these things you think you’re reading a statement from the Kremlin.
How apropos then for the press release of December 16, 2012 titled: “BBG Launches Russia Review, Recognizes Journalists And Departing Senior Managers, Adopts New Travel Guidelines.”
Sounds like the BBG is going to get into the magazine business.
It is not.
These are not happy times inside the Cohen Building. And the BBG meetings reflect it. There is no room for perfunctory “happy news.”
According to this press release, in BBG/IBB-speak:
“It (the BBG) commissioned a six-month review of the situation in Russia to be led by IBB Deputy Director Jeffrey Trimble. Board members also made plans to travel to Russia in early 2013 to meet with officials and civil society and to explore distribution options for programming by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.”
What “situation in Russia?”
What the press release is really talking about is the demolitions job done to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and its Russian Service by Steve Korn, the RFE/RL president.
What Mr. Korn did was set off spontaneous combustion across a broad spectrum of the international human rights community when he fired 40 RFE/RL Russian Service employees.
On top of that, along with the new Russian Service director, Masha Gessen, they have succeeded in practically vaporizing most of the audience for RFE/RL Russian.
Thus, our gang on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building is having a delayed reaction “damage control moment.”
It’s too late.
The next phase in the RFE/RL apocalypse is the following, as reported in a recent BBG Watch post:
“BBG Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton…announced ‘a review of the recent developments in Moscow regarding RFE/RL to be led by Jeff Trimble.’ (Jeff Trimble is the Deputy Director of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau, IBB). Prior to his work at the BBG in Washington, Trimble had a 10-year career at RFE/RL, where his positions included Acting President, Counselor to the President for Programs and Policy, Director of Policy and Strategic Planning, and Director of Broadcasting.”
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s be clear:
What is needed in the case of the RFE/RL disaster – as well as the overall state of US Government international broadcasting – is not a “review,” particularly an internal BBG/IBB review.
What is required is a full-blown, independent investigation.
As the previous BBG Watch post points out, Jeffrey Trimble has a resume with RFE/RL service included. Perhaps someone inside the Cohen Building thinks this builds up credibility. To the contrary, it invites questions about conflict of interest.
In addition to what is noted above, Mr. Trimble was one of the “three amigos” (along with Bruce Sherman and Steve Redisch) who put on a public spectacle at the Heritage Foundation not long ago, publicly demeaning Tim Shamble, an agency employee and president of the AFGE Local 1812 union at the Voice of America (VOA), during one of that organization’s panel discussions (the agency’s hostile work environment philosophy in action in a public forum).
Mr. Trimble is also one of the principle architects and defenders of what we like to call the agency’s “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan.”
Last and definitely not least, Mr. Trimble is also the recipient of at least one bonus award in the amount of $10,000 on top of his six figure annual salary.
These are the kinds of things that (a) we take notice of and (b) do not inspire confidence. Under the circumstances, we feel that putting anyone from the IBB in charge of a “review” insinuates the BBG/IBB agenda into the process. Do not expect objectivity to be high on the list of the review process nor among intended outcomes.
As we noted, more than likely the name of the game on the part of the BBG/IBB is serious damage control. Don’t expect a probative, detailed and thorough sifting through the debris caused by the Korn fiasco. Do not expect the hard questions to be asked.
Here are some of the hard questions:
Did Korn act unilaterally?
If Korn did not act unilaterally, who advised him in the actions related to the firing of the RFE/RL Russian Service employees?
In turn, who approved the firings? Was it Korn acting alone or did he do some “CYA” and have the action approved by the BBG and/or the IBB?
How was Masha Gessen selected for chief of the RFE/RL Russian Service? Was there a vacancy announcement and a selection process from among qualified applicants?
What was the role of Julia Ragona and Dale Cohen, Korn’s deputies, in this matter? What are Ragona’s previous business dealings with the Russian government, if any? Do any of her previous business associations in Russia represent a conflict of interest?
And while all of this is going on, Korn, Ragona and Cohen should be placed on administrative leave.
Absent detailed answers to these questions, what we expect is a flimsy act of bureaucratic obfuscation as the so-called “Russian review.”
Indeed, the so-called “review” may be nothing more than a delaying tactic, perhaps resulting in a conclusion to keep Korn in his job despite unconfirmed reports that BBG members want him gone in 45 days. No scenario should be dismissed out of hand. The people on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building have demonstrated that they can be as devious and duplicitous as the day is long.
Senior officials of this agency cannot be trusted. They have and are likely to continue to misinform and misrepresent and generally try to cloak as much of the damage they have done to US Government international broadcasting as possible.
If the American taxpayer really wants to know what’s going on inside the BBG/IBB, an independent probe/investigation is the only way to go.
We need to hear in greater detail from the fired RFE/RL employees, human rights organizations, Russian and external experts familiar with the immediate situation and the human rights environment in Russia, for context and in order to have a complete understanding of Korn’s actions.
But beyond this is coupled the actions of the Russian government to seriously curtail independent media and the movement of the government toward a regulated Internet, much like the Chinese and the Iranians. And don’t forget, they are also leading the effort to have the United Nations adopt international regulatory restrictions on the Internet.
These guys are good. They cover all the bases.
Those “distribution options” in Russia referenced in the BBG/IBB press release: slim to none.
(Note: The Federalist’s series on the VOA Central Newsroom continues in January 2013)