BBG Watch Commentary

No, the United States did not veto a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Palestinian statehood that demanded Israel withdraw from the occupied territories. The United States voted against it. U.S. would have vetoed it, but it did not have to.

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) erroneously reported to the world that the U.S. had vetoed the Palestinian statehood resolution. A protest from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America had some impact on the mismanaged, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) because it prompted VOA to change its wrong and misleading headline on the U.S. “no” vote on the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN Security Council, which VOA erroneously referred to as a veto. BBG Watch reported on it. VOA later changed its headline and issued a confusing clarification for one of its reports, but many other VOA reports dealing with the Palestinian statehood resolution were never fully corrected, changed or removed. They still, many days later, offer erroneous information to VOA international audiences in English and in other languages.

The New York Times explained why not exercising its veto power was important for the United States in this case; VOA, which is 100% funded by U.S. taxpayers, did not.

The New York Times headline said: “Resolution for Palestinian State Fails in United Nations Security Council.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES: “So Mr. Kerry worked to line up enough abstentions from American allies like South Korea and Rwanda so that the United States would not have to wield its veto.

By avoiding a veto, the United States also avoided a fresh irritant in its relations with Arab nations, some of which have joined the United States in the campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants from the Islamic State.” Emphasis added.

Nearly ten days later, some Voice of America reports, including those on VOA English and foreign language news websites, still have not been fully corrected.

One original VOA Central English News report with wrong information was posted on December 30, 2014. As of 9:45 PM ET, January 8, 2015, this VOA report still includes misleading information.

Voice of America Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 9.38PM ET
Voice of America Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 9.38PM ET

VOA NEWS REPORT DATED DEC. 30, 2014 AS SEEN ONLINE AT 9:45PM ET, JAN. 08, 2015: The United States has vetoed [Emphasis added.] a United Nations Security Council draft resolution on Palestinian statehood that demanded Israel withdraw from the occupied territories.
Even without the U.S. veto [Emphasis added.], the measure would have fallen one vote short of the nine it needed among the council’s 15 members in order to pass.
The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power explained the veto [Emphasis added], saying Israeli-Palestinian peace can only come from ‘hard choices and compromises’ and that the resolution would not move the sides closer to a two-state solution.
‘We voted against this resolution not because we are indifferent to the daily hardships or the security threats endured by Palestinians and Israelis. But because we know that those hardships will not cease and those threats will not subside until the parties reach a comprehensive settlement achieved through negotiations,’ said Power.”

The VOA Charter, which is U.S. public law, requires the Voice of America to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” which The New York Times did, but VOA did not on this and many other occasions.

VOA Director David Ensor, who together with VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch, is blamed by inside and outside critics for mismanagement of VOA news reporting, once said in an interview that “Voice of America is not a propaganda organization and it is not a mouthpiece of the White House or of anybody else. It is a proud journalistic organization more than seventy years old.”

Mr. Ensor, however, had to apologize for VOA posting a fake interview with a top Russian opposition leader and more recently had to apologize to the government of Azerbaijan for another erroneous VOA news report. But, presumably, the Obama Administration will not ask him to apologize to American taxpayers for the Voice of America describing a U.S. “no” vote as a veto. Bear in mind that compared to other VOA news mistakes, this was not by far the worst.

We believe that VOA does not have to be a mouthpiece of the White House or the U.S. State Department to get the story right and to fulfill the third principle of its VOA Charter. It just has to be managed better from the top. It needs fewer bureaucrats and more well-trained and experienced journalists.

This is not on the horizon under the current VOA leadership. After the passage of ten days, we have little hope that the Voice of America will ever fully correct its misleading news report.

There is yet another, both amusing and at the same time a highly disturbing, aspect to this story, which describes the current leadership culture at the Voice of America.

We were told that VOA Central News senior managers were “very, very angry” — not because they made an embarrassing mistake — but because BBG Watch reported that while VOA Central News had made a mistake that was then picked up by several VOA services, at least one VOA service, VOA English Learning, got the story right by writing its own news report.

While we saw VOA English Learning report online, another VOA service went out of its way to let us know that they also got the story right by adopting a practice of simply ignoring VOA Central English News reports.

“The Voice of America Central English Newsroom is so unreliable that I’m posting … stories from [others] on our web page rather than trying to waste time checking the veracity of what the [VOA Central English] Newsroom is putting out. That’s how I got the Palestinian story right….”

We’re not going to disclose which VOA service it is because we do not want VOA Central News to get again “very, very angry.” Hint: the VOA service in question provides news in one of the world’s major languages. It is not, however, the VOA Russian Service, which had used the erroneous VOA Central News report and did not correct it.

Among major international media outlets, only the Voice of America and Russia’s RT referred to the U.S. “no” vote as a veto on December 30, 2014. VOA Central English News was not exactly in good company, if you know what we mean. But then, they have been decimated by the VOA senior bureaucracy which is the only VOA element that has grown in recent years by leaps and bounds.

As of January 8, 2015, one VOA English News report posted online on December 30, 2014 still describes the U.S. “no” vote as a veto. Don’t hold your breath that this VOA news report will be corrected. We would like to be proven wrong, however, even though after nearly ten days, many international audiences have already received a healthy dose of wrong information on this story from VOA.