Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Scorched Earth
by The Federalist
As we like to say:
We know the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) officials very, very well.
We know that their “flim-flam-not-so-strategic-plan” is bogus.
What it really represents is a “scorched earth” plan, intended to fully destroy US Government international broadcasting and render it useless, ineffective.
Think this is an exaggeration? Let’s look at the track record, just in 2012 alone:
The proposed elimination of 14 of 43 Voice of America (VOA) language services in FY 2013,
The proposed elimination of approximately 200 positions throughout VOA,
A precipitous loss of VOA’s estimated audience in less than one year, from about 141-million down to 134-million, across all its media platforms (BBG’s total audience dropped from 187-million in 2011, which was overestimated by BBG’s own admission, down to 175-million),
The decimation of the veteran Russian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and replacing it with what is derisively being referred to as “Radio Gessen,”
The miniaturization of the US Government strategic broadcasting global footprint through eliminated radio broadcasts and frequencies along with successful interdiction efforts by foreign governments intent on blocking agency programs on TV and the Internet, and
The perpetuation of an institutionalized hostile work environment for its employees as determined in the annual Federal employee workplace survey.
Impressive – in a wholly negative way.
This is what the cabal on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building is all about.
They aren’t finished.
They won’t be finished until they have successfully eliminated all effective US Government strategic broadcasting, leaving the agency nothing more than a useless waste of taxpayer money generating press releases related to its $50-million dollar contract with the Gallup organization and websites of dated news and social media chit-chat.
(Kind of like The Rolling Stones tune [I Can’t Get No] “Satisfaction.” You know that part of the verse – “…useless information supposed to drive my imagination…”)
The damage that has been done is extensive as it is intentional.
But there remains one department to be completely destroyed that will virtually assure that US Government strategic international broadcasting will no longer be mission effective:
The VOA Central Newsroom.
The VOA Central Newsroom (aka, the Newsroom) is a core strategic component to the agency’s mission. It is the primary gatekeeper of the principles of the VOA Charter, including:
“(1) VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive.”
The BBG/IBB “scorched earth” strategy lays waste to the VOA Charter and the Newsroom in particular. The BBG/IBB has gone way off the reservation, ignoring the Charter and unilaterally redefining the agency’s mission as “supporting freedom and democracy.”
“Supporting freedom and democracy” is hollow ideological pandering by the BBG/IBB. At best, it is an intended outcome. Judging by events around the world, it is a difficult and elusive outcome for the BBG/IBB. Actions by the BBG/IBB make this outcome even more unachievable, as noted above, with the cuts to its program effectiveness.
And because it is not achievable in any meaningful or sustainable way, mouthing this BBG/IBB mantra severely damages any residual credibility the agency may have left with global publics.
And it isn’t much.
In the last week of November 2012, Newsroom personnel were presented with the results of an Office of Program Review (OPR) assessment of the Newsroom. We have obtained a copy of that report.
(Note: Our principal focus in this commentary is the OPR meeting with Newsroom staff. Future commentaries will also focus on this meeting and comments coming from the meeting. At some point, we will also examine the OPR Newsroom document itself.)
The mindset of the OPR is important to note. There are people in this office who are of like mind with the apparatchiks on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building. Perhaps they see this is an opportunity to further their personal interests and curry favor with the bosses.
One story making its way around the Newsroom is of an encounter a Newsroom staff person had with an OPR employee. As our sources report, during the meeting the broadcaster raised the subject of the VOA Charter. Allegedly, the OPR staffer retorted:
“…There is no more international broadcasting…It’s all about feeding our surrogates.”
(Note: this OPR staffer appears to mean either foreign radio/TV stations which the agency has placement agreements for VOA programs or the US Government grantee broadcasting entities which have a different mission than that of the VOA.)
Ladies and gentlemen, the only place where “there is no more international broadcasting” is in the Cohen Building. One would be hard-pressed to make this argument to “The Big Three -” China, Russia and Iran – all of whom have robust international broadcasting campaigns underway. And more than likely, the British Broadcasting Corporation (even with its own difficulties) would also find this statement absurd.
But most importantly, the United States Congress believes that international broadcasting is in the national and public interest. This OPR staffer takes it upon himself to subvert the intent of the Congress. This is called contempt of Congress.
Contempt is one of the things the Third Floor of the Cohen Building excels in: contempt for the Congress, contempt for American taxpayers, contempt for its employees and its intended audiences.
(Here’s a thought: if you are an analyst for a foreign government not too friendly toward the United States, a statement like that of the OPR staffer from inside the Cohen Building has to make you feel very, very good. In essence, it is a clear indication of the rot and decay that pervade this agency: giving up on its strategic broadcasting mission. The Big Three know what strategic broadcasting is all about. They are not trying to be “CNN-lite.” They are not trying to be an insipid social media operation. The big boys are professionals. They are playing serious hardball. In this contest, the wimps of the BBG/IBB are big time in only one category: big time losers, with a loser/defeatist mindset. And most importantly, you know that the BBG/IBB is on the cusp of imploding – one more indication that the 21st Century will not be an American Century – our former greatness to be replaced by weakness and defeatism.)
The OPR staffer then loaded up with another blast concerning adherence to the principles of the VOA Charter:
“What are they going to do, come and put handcuffs on you?”
“They” in this context means the United States Congress. If this is an accurate representation of the statement made, this staff person was suggesting violating the Charter (a public law) regardless of Congressional intent and leaving it to Members of Congress to do something about it.
And worse, it can also be seen as a form of threat, intimidation and coercion: as an employee on the receiving end of the statement, the message is clear: do it the BBG/IBB way – or else.
In short, the attitude of contempt for the rule of law coming from the BBG/IBB is seeping down into the ranks of its staffers to find root with opportunists only too eager to give expression to their arrogance and defiance that has become a trade-mark of the BBG/IBB (as in Steve Korn’s act of gross insubordination in refusing a request for information from members of the BBG).
Considering the agency’s mission, the mindset of the BBG/IBB appears to be every bit as coercive and threatening as that of any foreign government which acts in a similar manner to stifle free discussion.
In other words, if you are looking for guiding principles of American democracy, do not look to the BBG/IBB. This is a rogue agency conducting a rogue operation, making a mockery of American principles and ideals.
And what is also intimated in the OPR staffer’s outbursts is the agency taking a hard turn toward propaganda, disinformation and misinformation.
Returning to the November 2012 OPR meeting with the Newsroom staff:
Front and center, we have David Ensor, the VOA director. We recall early on in Mr. Ensor’s appointment another meeting with the Newsroom staff in which he described the future as one with “blood on the floor” (staff reductions) and “no turning back” (putting something in place that would likely represent a radical departure from the norm of VOA operations).
We also recall a recent interview that Mr. Ensor gave in which he marked the agency’s audience at 140-million. It was in fact estimated at only 134-million, a drop of several million from the 2011 estimate of 141-million. As we note, this would be a significant audience drop for VOA. At this pace, VOA might lose its audience before too long.
That would make the collapse of this agency complete.
Mr. Ensor delivered closing remarks to the proceeding.
According to our sources, Mr. Ensor believes that VOA is not broken, that it is effective and reaches a lot of people and that he wants it to reach more people.
Mr. Ensor is fond of this refrain. But fondness doesn’t make the refrain a fact and clearly runs contrary to reality. We don’t know if Mr. Ensor truly believes it. Clearly, he wants the Newsroom staff to believe it.
However, VOA and US Government international broadcasting most assuredly is broken. It does not reach a lot of people and on the IBB scorched earth trajectory it faces the prospect of even smaller audiences. At 175-million for all of BBG, and 134-million for VOA, out of a world population of 7-BILLION, one can surmise that global publics see things quite differently than Mr. Ensor. A couple more hits like this and the VOA will be most assuredly –
(Yes, we repeat these numbers because it is shocking. Seventy years worth of American taxpayer investment in strategic international broadcasting is about to crash and burn at the hands of the IBB. This is simply unconscionable and atrocious. It is an abuse of a public trust.)
Mr. Ensor also offered that the agency must commit resources to doing more news content that the VOA language services need for their programs. At the same time, he also suggested that the language services start doing more themselves and not relying on Central News (aka, the Newsroom) to do everything the services want.
These resources do not exist.
Let’s repeat the fact that the agency proposed to eliminate 43 positions in the Newsroom. The cuts didn’t come because the budget legislation stalled in the Congress. However, the Third Floor most certainly hasn’t given up on this objective and may add more positions to be cut in FY 2014. (We’ll know about that in February 2013 when the White House releases its FY 2014 budget proposal.)
In addition, the VOA language services are not fat with personnel either. Not surprisingly, they must rely on the Newsroom’s agency-wide material which the language services then use for their specific broadcasts.
The bottom line: whether the Newsroom or the language services, the staff is under-resourced, scrambling to cover multiple platforms (radio, TV, the Internet) and doing all badly. On top of that, the staff is besieged by competing demands from a poorly constituted Newsroom management.
Mr. Ensor also offered that he doesn’t want to go to Congress and ask for permission to re-organize VOA and then started talking about management “teams” to achieve results. In an already hostile work environment, we can only imagine what the results of this idea might be.
It is well that Mr. Ensor doesn’t want to go to Congress and ask for permission to re-organize VOA. Certain Members of Congress are fed up with BBG/IBB failure, including the constantly revised “flim flam Soviet-style strategic plan.” Mr. Ensor and the rest of the crowd on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building would have to answer a whole lot of questions and subject themselves to further scrutiny that, at this juncture, they probably would prefer to avoid.
(Next installment: the managers speak, sort of.)