BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary

American radio host and former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member Blanquita Cullum has criticized the Voice of America (VOA) for highlighting in news headlines and reports false propaganda generated by the Maduro regime in Venezuela and its Russian and Cuban backers. The Voice of America operates under the management of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which prior to 2018 was known as the BBG.

Blanquita Walsh Cullum, who was named to the BBG board in 2002 by President George W. Bush and served until 2010, wrote in her May 4, 2019 Facebook post:

BLANQUITA CULLUM: SHAME ON VOA!! As many of you know I was a Governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors overseeing VOA. This is disgraceful. YOU the American taxpayers have a “VOICE” as your taxpayer $ funds this. Please let your Senators and Members of Congress know.

Cullum was responding to media reports and independent studies showing that under its current leadership put in place during the Obama administration, USAGM media entities have been repeating and in some cases promoting propaganda from Russia, Iran, China, and authoritarian governments in Central Asia.

The American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) found in an independent study conducted in 2017 that the Voice of America Persian Service and Radio Farda managed by another BBG/USAGM media entity, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), “on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.”

A follow-up AFPC study in 2019 concluded that “Even with the reforms carried out to date, the USAGM’s Persian-language outreach remains far too opaque and unaccountable.”

Former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce revealed in December 2018 that both the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty targeted Americans with illegal Facebook ads.

The Wall Street Journal reported that RFE/RL has been accused by the U.S. State Department of disseminating autocratic propaganda in broadcasts to Central Asia.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, the VOA Ukrainian Service translated and posted a campaign video with slurs against Donald Trump.

USAGM CEO John F. Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett had been warned about some these problems but ignored most of the outside critics until mainstream U.S. media started to report on the scandals. John Lansing reportedly told one critic offering private warnings a year ago about mismanagement within the agency to stop contacting him.

Following the public disclosure of some of the scandals, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for a leadership change at the USAGM. He made his remarks about U.S. international media outreach in his congressional testimony on March 27, 2019

“And I would urge to get a CEO of that organization in place so that the BBG will have the right leadership so they can do the traditional mission – perhaps in a different information environment than we did back in the Cold War, but can perform its function in a way that is important and noble, and reflects the enormous resources that are – that American taxpayers have put towards that,” Secretary Pompeo told members of Congress.

“I’m very concerned about it,” Secretary Pompeo added. Film documentarian and former U.S. Information Agency (USIA) official Michael Pack who is President Trump’s nominee to be the next USAGM CEO is still awaiting his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

In recent reporting from Venezuela, the Voice of America highlighted the propaganda language of the Maduro regime and Russia’s state media that tried to present a popular uprising and a limited defection of troops from the Maduro regime as a coup against a legitimate government. VOA headlines of text and video reports, “Venezuela: ‘Attempted Coup’ Underway,” repeated a propaganda message from Maduro and Russia designed to discredit the democratic opposition to the Venezuelan regime. While VOA put “Attempted Coup” in quotation marks, it did not try to counter or even explain the misleading narrative from the Venezuelan dictator. The word “coup” was used on purpose by Maduro and the Russian propaganda RT channel because of its negative connotations in Latin America even though the popular uprising against the Russia and Cuba-backed regime has no characteristics of a military coup. By inaccurately attributing the quote to “Venezuela,” VOA also implied that the Maduro regime is the legitimate government even though the United States and many other countries do not recognize Maduro as a legitimate leader of his country.

Blanquita Cullum is the current host of the radio show The Hard Question. She recently interviewed Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who told her that “toppling Maduro would make an enormous difference for Venezuela and America.” Senator Cruz also pointed out in his interview with Blanquita Cullum that both Russia and China are behind the Maduro regime. He said that the United States policy should be to use a carrots and sticks approach to the generals of the Venezuelan military.  He explained that the Venezuelan generals must be told they have a choice of facing sanctions against them and their families if they support the Maduro regime or having a future if they declare themselves to be on the side of free elections and the Venezuelan people. Cruz, whose father was from Cuba, also said that thousands of Cuban soldiers are used to oppress the Venezuelan people and that operatives of terrorist organizations, the Hezbollah and the Hamas, were also seen in Venezuela.

According to an announcement on the USAGM website, Senator Cruz is listed to appear as a keynote speaker at the USAGM Media for Democracy Forum at the U.S. Institute of Peace on May 7.





Interview with Senator Ted Cruz


BLANQUITA CULLUM: Senator Ted Cruz, I haven’t seen you since I ran into you at the Washington Correspondents Dinner and from there actually flew to San Antonio to meet with your wife Heidi. How are you all doing?

SENATOR CRUZ: I’m doing fabulous and it’s great to see you again Blanquita.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: You know what, Senator, can we just get to it. There is a man that both you and I, well, we don’t know him personally but we know he has tunnel vision and we’re talking about [Mexican drug lord and former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel] “El Chapo.”

SENATOR CRUZ: [Laughter]

BLANQUITA CULLUM: So, I heard a rumor that you were thinking about trying to get “El Chapo” to pay for the wall.


BLANQUITA CULLUM: Give is your thoughts on that.

SENATOR CRUZ: That is exactly right. I’ve introduced legislation It’s called the El Chapo Act. It provides that all of the money criminally forfeited from El Chapo and from other drug dealers will go to building the wall and securing the border. And it’s basic common sense legislation. The billions of dollars that they have made trafficking narcotics across our border, it’s only just that that money go to prevent future marc-traffickers from continuing to take so many American lives.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Senator, you know, a lot of us that know the border well—places like Matamoros and Brownsville, Raynosa, Laredo, and all those areas—you know Nancy Pelosi went to the border and she came back and did there is no crisis at the border. Did she not talk to those folks? Did she not meet with the Border Patrol and the people who were there?

SENATOR CRUZ: You know, I assume she didn’t. That was a political statement. You and I both know the border well. Of America’s 2,000 miles southern border 1,200 of those miles are in the great state of Texas and I’ve spent a great deal of time with border patrol agents. You know, I’ve gone out on midnight patrol with the Border Patrol agents as they were apprehending human traffickers, drug traffickers. And the men and women of border patrol risk their lives everyday keeping us safe and yet the traffickers that are coming across and and the problem is getting worse. We’re seeing incredible suffering and human misery. Both the human traffickers, particularly the children they’re bringing in, boys and little girls who are assaulted, who are physically and sexually assaulted. It’s inhuman and inhumane what is happening to children in the hands of human traffickers. And the drug traffickers that are bringing violence and murder and kidnapping and killing Americans. Enough is enough is enough. We need to solve the problem. And I agree with the overwhelming majority of Texans and Americans that there is the right way to come to this country. You stand in line. You follow the rules. You respect the rule of law. And we can welcome and celebrate legal immigrants.


SENATOR CRUZ: At the same time that you stop illegal immigrants.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Well, your father was from Cuba.


BLANQUITA CULLUM: Well, my mother was from Mexico. My mother was from Sonora and your father was from Cuba. And so a lot of people will say, well, you don’t know. You came in here, all the Cubans got an easy ride in here. And they had a deal that you can come here. And they tell me, well, it was a different Mexico at that time. And you get all these people at the border. Let me ask you this, Senator. I want to know why, may be the President or someone advising him like you, doesn’t try to sit down with the new President of Mexico, the presidents of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, all of them, and say: which one of these people is collateral that they let go of their country. Why can’t we work out a deal to help them, if we’re going to do such great negotiations, to make their country better so that they’re stronger and we’re stronger.

SENATOR CRUZ: Well, I think that’s something that the President and the Administration are trying to do. We’ve got the new President, obviously, of Mexico. I know they have been leaning in hard with the new President. We’ll see what happens. This new President was elected on a Leftist, anti-America agenda. I would say the opening couple of months have been better than most people expected.

BLAQUITA CULLUM: Well, yeah, Peña Nieto must have taken a bribe from “El Chapo.”

SENATOR CRUZ: That’s exactly right. That’s what the testimony at the trial said. So, I do think there had been some promising signs, you’re right, that much of this illegal immigration could be stemmed if Mexico were a more active partner in stopping it. Among other things, most of the people crossing illegally into this country are now what the Border Patrol calls OTMs.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Other than Mexicans.

SENATOR CRUZ: Yes, it’s predominantly people coming from Central America.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: But you had some guys coming from Bangladesh.


BLANQUITA CULLUM: People coming in from the Middle East that we’re going to to the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio and changing their name from a Middle Eastern name to to a name like Cruz or Garcia.

SENATOR CRUZ: I met yesterday with the Ambassador from Guatemala and one of the cabinet members from Guatemala who described how they have apprehended 44 people in Guatemala with ties to ISIS trying to come illegally through our southern border into the United States. We need to continue expanding our cooperation with Mexico, with Guatemala, with countries throughout Central America and I think that’s one of the tools to stopping and solving the problem.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Let me ask you, Senator Cruz, because I know you understand everything about national security. The rumors used to be in places like between Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, where they used to have the guy who was Subcomandante Marcos, the guy who was the ski mask bandit. They said that there was a training camp for terrorism. Now that you have Venezuela that’s got Russia, China, and everything is collapsing, do we worry about that kind of terrorism coming over in places like Guatemala?

SENATOR CRUZ: Absolutely yes, and I’m glad that you went to Venezuela in that discussion because the Venezuelan money, the oil money, is funding much of this in Venezuela. Maduro, and Chavez before him, have been in bed with Castro, with Cuba, and with the Russians and the Chinese. And not only that. You’ve got Hezbollah and the Hamas that we’re seeing in Venezuela and these terrorists who are trying to murder in the Middle East, trying to murder Americans nd Israelis. And it is a serious national security threat and I’m for one I’m glad that the President and the Administration take the national security threat seriously.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: I have to give you credit, and I’ll tell you why. Because when I was on the BBG, when I was one of the Governors in the Broadcasting Board of Governors, your office was one of the only offices that would listen to us, because I was in Venezuela four times. And I called you guys. I think it was John Zadrozny who was there at the time.

SENATOR CRUZ: Who’s terrific and who is in the White House now.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: And I said, will you help us? Because no one would listen to us about the situation in Venezuela. And I think that right now, I mean we worry about problems with national security. Heck, if the Russians and the Chinese are dealing. And you’ve got Evo Morales. From what I understand, narco trafficking is now bypassing Columbia, going to Venezuela and coming here.

SENATOR CRUZ: It is a dangerous world, but that being said, on any measure the foreign policy and national security picture has improved dramatically the last two years. Under Barack Obama, we refused to stand with our friend and allies and we showed weakness and appeasement to our enemies. With the new Administration, that has thankfully been reversed and we’re standing alongside our friends nd allies, we’re standing up to our enemies. And if you look at Venezuela right now. It is the most promising it has looked for over. decade. The Administration has rightly recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimately elected leader of Venezuela and Maduro as an illegitimate dictator simply using military force to stay in power. And I think there is a potential. The real question in Venezuela is about three thousand generals in the Venezuelan military and those generals are deciding in real time.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Oh, yeah, whether they’re going to leave, or what is the resolve. It’s like Nazi Germany.

SENATOR CRUZ: Who they side with. I think our foreign policy needs to be creating both sticks and carrots for those generals to say, look, if you stand with the democratically-elected leadership and support free elections, and support the people of Venezuela, you have a future. But if don’t, if you instead stand with the dictator, oppressing the Venezuelan people, then you and your family will face sanctions targeted at you. So you have both stick and carrot. Ultimately, you know, Venezuela should be a natural friend of America.


SENATOR CRUZ: And toppling Maduro would make an enormous difference for Venezuela and America.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: And the dream used to be. You remember those T-shirts that used to say that when you go and have a drink at a bar, and they say give me a Cuba Libre and they say Cuba nues libre, it’s a lie. And their dream of a Cuba Libre. And now people are going to start to think the same way of Venezuela Libre.

SENATOR CRUZ: And you know, one thing that you appreciate also is that it is the Cubans that are playing a big part. There are thousands upon thousands of Cuban forces that are part of oppressing the Venezuelan people. There has long been a trade between Chavez and Castro of oil millions in exchange for the thugs and mercenaries from Cuba and that’s part of the suffering that we have in Venezuela.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: You’re wonderful to stop by and I know you come by because you saw a little friend you knew from San Antonio.

SENATOR CRUZ: Absolutely.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: Senator Cruz, thank you so much for joining us here on The Hard Question. And we will talk soon, and give my love to your wife and your great family.

SENATOR CRUZ: Always a pleasure, and God bless you.

BLANQUITA CULLUM: God bless you too.