BBG Watch Media

Helle Dale, the senior fellow for public diplomacy in The Heritage Foundation, noted in her Washington Times op-ed about the bipartisan legislation to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) that “Congressional discontent [with the BBG] is rooted in a history of bad management and questionable editorial judgments.”

In her op-ed, Dale applauded the proposed legislative removal of “the part-time, nine-member [BBG] board, which has mismanaged VOA and the other U.S. broadcasters since 1999.” The proposal to reduce the BBG board to an advisory role is now apparently supported by the Obama White House.

The Heritage Foundation expert further states that there is nothing in the legislation to change the mission of the Voice of America (VOA) under the VOA Charter, which remains U.S. law. Dale notes that the Voice of America is required “to broadcast factual and truthful news, to promote democracy and free speech in countries where they are repressed, and to present factually the U.S. government’s foreign policy and values to global audiences.”

Ms. Dale disagrees with critics who claim that the elimination of the nine-member broadcasting board is “a sign that a firewall between policy-promotion and news broadcasting has been fatally breached.”



Baseless angst over reforming Voice of America, Helle Dale, The Washington Times, December 19. 2016.


BBG Watch Commentary

One of the comments left under Ms. Dale’s article suggests that extreme polarization of the Voice of America has already happened under the watch of the current “practically defunct” (to use Hillary Clinton’s words) Broadcasting Board of Governors.

As a result of the managerial meltdown, for which the BBG board, its outgoing chairman Jeff Shell, BBG CEO John F. Lansing, and VOA director Amanda Bennett must accept full responsibility, a male Voice of America reporter told a truly crude sexual joke about Mrs. Trump while Mr. Trump himself was described repeatedly as “a joke” and was the main target of much more derision at a recent VOA newsroom holiday party.

The event, billed as the “VOA Follies,” was organized by a few VOA civil service newsroom managers and employees. It was held in a federal building in Washington, DC on government time.

Neither Mr. Lansing nor Ms. Bennett participated in the event. Ms. Bennett later sent an email to staff warning against posting of inappropriate content on the web. We do not know what prompted her note to staff, but to our knowledge, Ms. Bennett has not publicly condemned the one-sided and extremely crude attacks on Donald Trump, his wife, and their daughter at the Voice of America newsroom holiday event.

The few Voice of America employees and managers who organized and led the performance have been strongly condemned, however, by some of their rank-and-file colleagues for telling tasteless, sexist jokes about women and the harm they have caused to VOA’s reputation for maintaining credibility and objectivity. The anti-Trump VOA skit with offensive comments about Mrs. Trump was reportedly uploaded to the Internet by at least one, if not more VOA government employees. We could not confirm whether the uploaded content is still available online, but we were told that recordings of most offensive jokes about the Trump family were being shared privately among some VOA employees.

SEE: Voice of America Civil Service Employees Satire Trump, Future First Lady, BBG Watch, December 17, 2016.

As one former senior VOA journalist observed about “the horrendous ‘VOA Follies’ issue”:

As I sat … watching the Oprah interview with Michelle Obama, I was immediately struck with one of the biggest reasons that those who said what they did, and laughed at it in the Cohen Building, were and still are so tone deaf.
Mrs. Obama gave voice to that, as the President has on numerous occasions since the election, when she spoke about how important it is for them to facilitate a smooth and orderly transition, and her memories of how GRACIOUS the Bushes were in 2008.
In a very obvious way, those who planned and wrote and ‘performed’ what they did, about Trump and his wife, have shown lack of respect not only to the Trumps, but to the Obamas themselves.

These incidents happen because the Voice of America and the entire agency appear to be in a leadership vacuum.

BBG’s federal employees gave Mr. Lansing, Ms. Bennett and other senior executives yet another extremely low rating for leadership in the 2016 Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) conducted anonymously by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Mr. Lansing became BBG CEO in September 2015 and Ms. Bennett took over as VOA director several months later. During that period, the BBG consolidated its status as the Worst Place to Work in the Federal Government among mid-size agencies, according to the Partnership for Public Service 2016 Rankings. BBG’s ranking dropped 0.6%.

Unfortunately, poor leadership at the most senior level at the BBG has resulted also in highly partisan reporting by some Voice of America broadcasters during the 2016 election campaign and beyond.

Here is a comment which was posted under Ms. Hale Dale’s Washington Times op-ed:

openletter2004: This is the drive they are broadcasting:
“A few recent examples: On Nov. 10, ran a story with this headline: “Terror Groups Giddy Over Trump Victory.” VOA’s Ukrainian service ran a translation of actor Robert De Niro’s offensive screed in which he called the president-elect [before he was elected] “insane” among other unpleasant things, and ran it without any opposing views.”
Sounds to me like they are in violation of the Law that gives them their microphones at tax payer expense.
And it would really be interesting to find out who they planned to “investigate”..??? [a reference to Ms. Bennett’s plan for VOA to do more investigative reporting]  

1 comment
  1. The investigative team is the best evidence yet that the management of VOA is completely oblivious to the problems. What VOA needs are basic editors and reporters. These could be easily paid for by clearing house of the massive bureaucracy that sucks up more and more resources and produces nothing.

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