by The Federalist
Russian president Vladimir Putin has been scoring some heavy public relations points.
First, Putin made a classic Russian strategic chess move by announcing a plan to turn over Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles to the United Nations.
Next, Mr. Putin had an op-ed piece placed in The New York Times on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks through its registered agent, the public relations firm Ketchum, taking the case for his plan directly to the American people.
Now, the United States has signed onto the Russian plan. Of course, administration officials try to tag the plan as a US-Russian plan. Who are they kidding?
Regardless of whose plan it is, the devil is in the details. And there are a lot of questions about how effective the plan will be as are questions about how effective a US military strike would be now that the Syrian shell game of moving chemical weapons stockpiles has begun – especially at night when aerial surveillance is not as effective.
Last but not least, the bottom line is that Syria is in anarchy with all sides fighting each other with equal vigor. Trying to find a demarcation point between good guys and bad guys is impossible and cuts across the grain of our way to gauge who gets US support. As we noted in a previous commentary, the situation is worse than you think.
Near Nuclear Disaster in the U.S. in 1961 – BBC 16,390 Facebook Likes – Russia Today 6,900 – No news report on Voice of America English Website
Russia Today plays an important role in the Putin public relations, public diplomacy offensive. In so many words, Mr. Putin and the Russians stole a march on the US Government. One consequence is that Russia Today is scoring an even higher volume of hits to its website along with viewers to its television broadcasts. You may not agree with their editorial position, but you do need to watch and listen to what they are saying, being not too far removed from the thinking inside the Kremlin.
In the meantime, one of our sources sent us a quote attributed to a media consumer abroad and reposted by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) “employee-blogger” Kim Andrew Elliott on his “private” website:
“RT (Russia Today) is a never-ending, forever repeating documentation of the American tragedy.”
For the purposes of discussion, here is our point of view:
If this is coming from inside the Cohen Building, message to the IBB:
Instead of complaining about RT, do something effective to counter the RT message!
You are getting bowled over by RT for a reason. And part of the reason may just be that there is no effective counter-argument coming from the Cohen Building to offset what the Russians are saying and doing…on any level, on any subject.
No one likes a whiner. The Russians are professionals and they play hardball. And when they know they are up against what appears to be a weak opponent…
They will pile it on. They will beat you and make sure you know they beat you.
This may come as a surprise to the hucksters of the IBB, but not anyone who knows the basics of Russian tactics.
We thought that this BBC report aptly explains management culture at VOA and IBB
“In short, we know the recipe for harmful behaviour – stress, poor or absent guidelines, a strict hierarchy with dissociation from others and from the consequences of our actions, established group culture and lack of oversight. These factors create sick workplaces, rogue military units, feral banks, abusive care homes, abusive marriages, countries apparently consumed by madness.”
When A “Strategic Plan” Is Not
One of the consequences of the horrid, IBB-concocted “strategic plan” is that global publics appear to have reached the conclusion that the United States does not have a monopoly on the position of a leader in global public opinion.
As we see it, the IBB strategic plan is nothing more than a cover. It is a cover for the agency being way behind the curve against other globalized media.
In order to cover just how far behind the curve they are, the IBB creates mumbo-jumbo talking about the future…way out into the future, a future with unpredictable and unknown consequences – not the best situation to be in if you are already trailing far behind other international broadcasters and with a growing reputation for trafficking in gibberish.
The IBB “strategic plan” is a form of denying and delaying the obvious and the inevitable.
The VOA English Website
This is another weakness that the agency has created for itself.
The VOA English website is apparently part of Worldwide English and not the VOA Central Newsroom.
The Newsroom should be in overall charge of the website, with additional input and product from Worldwide English.
Both have been mangled by the IBB and senior VOA officialdom and left under-resourced and under-staffed.
And both are paying the price.
What is absolutely inexcusable is the growing amount of third party product from Reuters, the Associated Press and the like.
These are all fine and longstanding news services. But they should be secondary to VOA original content. THAT is what people are looking for, if they are going to the VOA English website. They are not nearly as interested in the VOA English website as a recycling center for third party content which they can obtain directly from the websites of these other newsgathering organizations.
From comments by our editors, VOA correspondents and reporters have become increasingly frustrated by having their output go into the VOA website “Bermuda Triangle,” not being seen or heard from for hours or longer.
They also have artificial limits placed on the length of their pieces, often shorter than that of the wire services stories. It makes it look like VOA is a secondary source of news and information to the wire services.
Last but not least, a senior VOA official is alleged to have remarked that visitors to the VOA English website cannot distinguish between a wire service report and a VOA correspondent report.
That is just plain s-t-u-p-i-d.
The only way the pieces could be indistinguishable is if the agency is leaving off the traditional source attribution or byline to a story.
And Where Is Gallup?
We have an answer, sort of.
The agency has put out an announcement inviting the public to a “research briefing” in October on media use in Mali and Somalia at the Gallup offices in DC…not likely to be a most sought-after event in this town.
We respect the Gallup organization. It is doing what the agency wants it to do.
That puts the focus squarely on the IBB, again.
We intend no disrespect to the people of Mali or Somalia. They are contending with Islamic insurgents, though this was hardly even mentioned in the BBG press release.
However, it is a pretty safe observation that most American taxpayers are not greatly concerned about media use in Mali or Somalia.
They are concerned about how their tax dollars are spent and whether or not those tax dollars are being spent effectively.
This includes a contract with the Gallup organization that runs $10million dollars a year (not the whole amount is used, we have learned) for a grand total of $50million dollars over five years.
And media usage in Mali and Somalia is what the IBB is spending American taxpayer money on?
So, let’s put this to the newly reconstituted Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG):
What the agency should be spending $10million dollars per year on with the Gallup organization is why the agency has tanked when it comes to its global audience reach, especially among strategic audiences.
Why is the agency getting slammed by Russia Today? Why is the agency getting pummeled like a global media tetherball in Russia, Iran, China and the Middle East?
Gallup has first class researchers and polling methods. They are up to the task of asking these kinds of probative, penetrating questions and getting answers.
But this is clearly not what the IBB wants and appears quite determined to avoid these issues and the answers to these kinds of questions, spending millions of US taxpayer dollars in the process.
To outward appearances, the IBB and other senior agency officials have conceded strategic global audiences to others. The ineptitude of the IBB now has them chasing after secondary, tertiary or lesser target audiences when everyone else in the world is hanging on every new development in the conflagration that is the Middle East, or pressing impact issues involving China, Iran and others.
That’s it. The IBB has put US Government international broadcasting off the radar and seems to be intent on keeping it that way.
And thus, they are engaging a reputable polling organization in an exercise of idiocy.
As we see it, these “briefings” are another diversionary exercise that doesn’t even register as a blip on the global audience radar.
Look at it this way:
While the IBB is engaged in a consummate exercise in irrelevance, the United States Government has likely spent BILLIONS of dollars deploying the Sixth Fleet and other military assets for a possible strike against the Assad government in Syria.
Worse, the United States is confronting an increasingly anarchic situation on the ground in Syria where there are no good guys and a plentiful cornucopia of bad guys.
Adding to the nightmare scenario, the American public wants no part of Syria in any way, shape or form regardless of the heinous acts against defenseless civilian populations in the war zone.
And to complete the downward spiral toward a Middle East apocalypse, some news reports – including national security correspondent Bill Gertz’s column in The Washington Times on Thursday, September 19, 2013 – now suggest that part of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal may have already been dispersed to Iraq and Lebanon.
This agency, at the hands of the IBB, is as labeled: dysfunctional and defunct.
It is a theater of the absurd. Its current value is rapidly dropping to less than zero with its lack of resonance and/or relevance with global publics.
It is doing a great deal of harm to US global strategic interests, which is never a good thing.
The IBB status quo is unacceptable.
If there is a “fix” being contemplated in other quarters of US Government it is not going to result in an overnight miracle. It will take a long, long time and will cost millions if not billions of American taxpayer dollars.
And at the end of the day, current events around the globe, whether in Syria, Iran or North Korea, may indicate that time is a commodity not on our side to repair the damage done by the IBB.