BBG Watch Commentary
U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 M, FY2017) Voice of America (VOA) failed to mention Huma Abedin’s Muslim heritage in its online report, “Who is Huma Abedin?,” even though earlier VOA had quite appropriately mentioned Madeline Albright’s Jewish refugee background in a similar profile piece in 2009.
Many VOA journalists and outside observers saw this as extremely strange because, except for the Huma Abedin profile, Voice of America under its current leadership has been more than eager to showcase to the world other Muslim Americans. Critics say, however, that many of these VOA reports focus largely on mostly unsubstantiated or one-sided charges of fear, discrimination and hatred in the United States against Islam and its followers.
In the case of Huma Abedin, VOA had an opportunity to present to the rest of the world a highly successful Muslim American woman, but for some unknown reasons VOA did not use it. One theory is that this oversight, if it was an oversight, could have been a result of the perennial good-enough-for-government-work attitude within the Voice of America’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin’s patron and boss, described in 2013 as “practically defunct.” (Clinton was at the time Secretary of State and an ex officio member of the BBG Board.) Others suspect it was not an oversight at all.
In a new development in the Huma Abedin story, FBI director James B. Comey said Sunday that the newly discovered emails on her estranged husband’s computer do not warrant any new legal action against Hillary Clinton. As far as Voice of America’s future is concerned, Clinton’s victory on November 8 may be bad news for VOA’s and BBG’s dysfunctional management headed by new and inexperienced BBG CEO John Lansing, and VOA Director Amanda Bennett. She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but like John Lansing, she lacks prior experience in U.S. government operations or U.S. public diplomacy.
All the VOA Huma Abedin’s profile needed was a few lines about her background, the Saudi connection, and conflicting American views on the controversy over these links that Americans and many foreign audiences have read in so many other media outlets. In the view of many critics, as it is, this was a typical good-enough-for-government job.
It is also doubtful that either Huma Abedin or Hillary Clinton would have been happy with such sloppy journalism by VOA. Rather than protecting their reputations, it simply encourages suspicions and speculations without providing any balance and various U.S. perspectives on the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s key aide. Even some key Republicans have come to Huma Abedin’s defense when questions about her Saudi and alleged Muslim Brotherhood connections were raised. By avoiding this topic in the Huma Abedin profile, the Voice of America is also damaging its own credibility.
If Hillary Clinton loses and Donald Trump wins on November 8, such an outcome may be equally bad, if not worse, for the current BBG/VOA management team and the organization itself. VOA has been accused of running one-sided hit pieces against Donald Trump, as well as Bernie Sanders. A VOA video, which was subsequently removed, called Donald Trump a “pig” and other insulting names, as it showed an attack on the Republican candidate for president by a Hollywood actor, with Ukrainian subtitles added by VOA without any counter-response.
In the past, when the Voice of America operated under the former United States Information Agency (USIA), VOA journalists carefully avoided making their partisan political views public and tried much harder to remain objective in their news reporting for VOA. This has changed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. A Voice of America journalist recently posted on a private but publicly accessible Facebook page, on which the journalist’s VOA job is mentioned, that “if F*ckface Von Clownstick gets elected on Nov 8 I will not be able to say anything on Facebook against him anymore, as dictatorship will have descended on this land.”
Such comments would have never been made by Voice of America journalists in public before VOA had transferred from USIA to the BBG. While VOA journalists are certainly free to have and to express in private strong political opinions, respectable news organizations generally do not allow their employees to make such partisan statements in public because they can be seen as undermining their objectivity and credibility with the audience. VOA journalists are either U.S. federal government employees or government contractors.
All the Voice of America needed to do for its Huma Abedin profile is to get a source like Tom Fitton from Judicial Watch—-or they could have attempted to get an interview with FBI director Comey, or Congressman Gowdy, or Senator McCain, or a leading Congressional Democrat. (The watchdog group Judicial Watch has forced the release of thousands of Clinton emails through Freedom of Information Act requests.)
This is what The Hill, a top US political website read by many lawmakers, reported in a commentary published last August before the latest Huma Abedin emails controversy:
KENNETH R. TIMMERMAN, THE HILL: “This is not some accidental association. Ms. Abedin was, for many years, listed as an associate editor of the London-based publication and wrote for the journal while working as an intern in the Clinton White House in the mid-1990s.Her mother, Saleha Abedin, sits on the Presidency Staff Council of the International Islamic Council for Da’wa and Relief, a group that is chaired by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Perhaps recognizing how offensive such ties will be to voters concerned over future terrorist attacks on this country by radical Muslims professing allegiance to Sharia law, the Clinton campaign on Monday tried to downplay Ms. Abedin’s involvement in the Journal and the Muslim Brotherhood. Clinton surrogate group Media Matters claimed predictably there was “no evidence” that Ms. Abedin or her family had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that Trump campaign staffers who spoke of these ties were conspiracy theorists.” READ MORE
The above commentary in The Hill was written by Kenneth R. Timmerman, a Donald Trump supporter, but The Hill also published a largely factual article by Mark Mensch, which included both criticism and a strong defense of Huma Abedin. The Voice of America profile simply ignored all these facts and missed an opportunity to show that not all Americans, and not all Republicans, are comfortable with accusations linked to someone’s religion or national origin if these accusations cannot be substantiated.
MARK HENSCH, THE HILL: Then-Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other GOP House lawmakers accused her [Huma Abedin] of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012.
The incident prompted a rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who defended Abedin that July on the Senate floor.
“When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer for it,” he said. [Emphasis added.]
“These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit,” the 2008 GOP presidential nominee added. “And they need to stop now.” READ MORE
Was the Voice of America sloppy (good-enough-for-government work), or just disgraceful and shameful in ignoring this controversy in its Huma Abedin profile piece?
There is no evidence that BBG or VOA executives have ordered VOA journalists to present Huma Abedin’s profile in any particular fashion. But the bottom line is this. BBG and VOA executives are there to provide leadership and to maintain high standards of journalism. VOA could have certainly gone to popular sites like The Hill, Roll Call, The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Washington Times (if they did not understand the gravity of this story) and develop sources, contacts and content that would have at least saved their journalistic credibility.
This was major breaking news. The obvious question is this: who is allowing this lack of basic journalistic curiosity in the VOA Newsroom?
Are the reporters being directed or feel that they should tone it down–not hurt the Clinton candidacy?
Are they part of the perceived “Fix” in attempting to avert real journalism?
Is there a strong level of political influence toward one party or another in the writing of the article?
If it can be determined that this has been mandated from the VOA News Director or VOA Director/BBG leadership (for which there is no evidence)—-we would have a serious issue/scandal that should be the stuff of a Congressional investigation.
But the VOA piece alone is flawed and suggests poor leadership and oversight from senior executives. Inside and outside critics say that the place is in ruins and that VOA has a significant role and responsibility in the collapse of the 4th estate. They charge that VOA’s message is often shallow, biased, not factual, and extremely flawed, or considered insignificant. Critics say that BBG and VOA executives are betraying the VOA Charter.
VOA director Amanda Bennett has promised to carry out anti-bias training for VOA journalists in the wake of criticism from Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s supporters that some of the VOA reporting and commentary amounted to “state media” bias against their favored candidates.
A later one-sided Voice of America Spanish Service video report on illegal immigrants in the United States violated the VOA Charter. But VOA director unfortunately praised it in one of her notes to staff. Amanda Bennett also said that “Like all American media, VOA is trying hard to cover the candidates and issues appropriately — neither pulling punches, nor exhibiting bias.” She has perhaps not followed much of U.S. media or for that matter Voice of America reporting during the 2016 election campaign.
Amanda Bennett has defended the VOA Charter as a significant law governing Voice of America journalism, but it seems that the VOA Charter and VOA Journalistic Code are being ignored now more than ever before.
While the Voice of America failed to mention Huma Abedin’s Muslim American heritage in its profile piece, last month VOA presented as a model Arab-American figure an obscure politician who had accused Senate majority leader Harry Reid of ethnic bigotry and was himself accused by Reid’s office of lying. [In a short video promo, which included a dubious blanket assertion that “a Muslim cannot win” in a U.S. election in Nevada, VOA had failed to report Reid’s denial and counter-accusation. The unchallenged slur against the U.S. Senator was also promoted in a video attached to a press release from the Broadcasting Board of Governors — VOA’s parent agency.]
Was VOA suddenly ashamed of Huma Abedin’s heritage after devoting recently several lengthy programs to Muslim Americans, or was it simply being sloppy?
How could an international news organization ignore Abedin’s heritage as completely irrelevant within the context of this news story which includes links to various Arab countries? All major U.S. media outlets, including The Washington Post, have at least mentioned Ms. Abedin’s ethnic background and connections to the Middle East.
While Ms. Abedin was born in the United States, she grew up in Saudi Arabia. That in itself may not be highly relevant or significant, but it could have been a teaching moment for the Voice of America to point out to foreign audiences that Americans and American media are free to discuss such questions. They are discussing them in connection with some of the controversies surrounding Hillary Clinton and rich Arab donors to the Clinton Foundation. VOA has reported at length in other reports on accusations of potential ties between Donald Trump and the Russian oligarchs linked with Vladimir Putin.
It could have been also a teaching moment for the Voice of America audience if VOA had pointed out that a religious Muslim American woman living in the United States since her college years has risen to the very top of U.S. power structures and was free to fall in love with and marry a Jewish American politician. Even though her husband turned out to be not the best choice, what is so shameful about being a Muslim American woman who can make her own choices and has been a model of success? She is now separated from her poorly behaving husband.
Would BBC and The Washington Post ignore Ms. Abedin’s ethnic background in their profile pieces?
They most certainly did not.
BBC: Clinton emails: Who is top Hillary aide Huma Abedin?
BBC: Clinton’s ‘body woman’
Born in Michigan to academic parents from India and Pakistan, Ms Abedin grew up in Saudi Arabia, went to international school in the UK and interned with Mrs Clinton at the White House aged 19.
She has said that she never really left. READ MORE
WP: Meet Huma Abedin
New York Post had an even more detailed profile of Huma Abedin’s family roots, “Despite countless scandals, Huma Abedin remains a mystery.” Some of the conclusions in the New York Post article may be questionable, but much of the information is not secret and has been widely shared on the web worldwide.
Does the Voice of America think that international audiences are ignorant and can be easily manipulated?
All web users abroad have to do is to check BBC, The Washington Post, their own media, or a Wikipedia article on Huma Abedin to learn about these facts.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Abedin was born on July 28, 1976, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Syed Zainul Abedin (1928–93) and Saleha Mahmoud Abedin. Abedin is of Indian and Pakistani descent, and has a sister, Heba, and a brother.
At the age of two, Abedin moved with her family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where she was raised and lived until returning to the United States for college. Abedin traveled frequently during her childhood and teenage years, and attended a British girls’ school.
Both of her parents were educators. Her father, born in New Delhi, British India on April 2, 1928, was an Islamic and Middle Eastern scholar of Indian descent, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and then in 1978 founded the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, an organization devoted to the study of Muslim communities in non-Muslim societies around the world. In 1979 he founded the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, which his wife took over after his death; his daughter Huma was listed as an associate editor from 1996–2008. Her mother, born in British India (now Pakistan after the 1947 British Partition), also received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently an associate professor of sociology and dean at Dar Al-Hekma College in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
At age 18 Abedin entered George Washington University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree as a journalism major with a minor in political science. As a teenager, she aspired to be a journalist like her role model Christiane Amanpour and wanted to work in the White House press office. READ MORE
Voice of America
Who is Huma Abedin?
2016 USA VOTES
November 01, 2016 1:06 PM [Last accessed on VOA News website November 6, 2016, 6:30 PM ET]
[AP Photo Used by VOA Not Reposted]
FILE – Huma Abedin, center, an aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, gets off a campaign bus for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., July 29, 2016.
As election season in the U.S. reaches its final week and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faces yet another resurgence of her email investigation, her aide, Huma Abedin, has also been receiving more attention.
Abedin, described by Clinton as her “second daughter”, separated from her husband, Anthony Weiner, earlier this year.
Weiner is the subject of an investigation into allegations that he sent lewd pictures and sexual messages to a 15-year-old girl. The former congressman has a colorful history of sexting scandals, throughout most of which Abedin had stood by him.
But most recently, another batch of Clinton emails sent from a private server were found on a computer shared by Weiner and Abedin. The emails brought Clinton back under the eye of the FBI just a week before the election, but also tied her and Abedin back to Weiner, her estranged husband.
[AP Photo Used by VOA Not Reposted ]
FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, right, chats with her aide, Huma Abedin during a campaign stop at Market Basket Supermarket, Feb. 2, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.
Trusted Clinton aide
Abedin has been by Hillary Clinton’s side since she was a 19-year-old intern to the then-first lady in the early 1990s, while she finished her undergraduate degree at George Washington University.
Since then, she has been Hillary Clinton’s aide, traveling chief of staff for her 2008 presidential campaign, deputy chief of staff to Clinton as secretary of state, and vice chairwoman of the current presidential campaign.
During the past two decades, Abedin has been seen by Clinton’s side, maintaining the job of “aide” or “bodywoman” normally held by younger staffers. She briefly took a break from Clinton in 2013 to stand beside her husband as he bid for mayor of New York, but as that campaign was shattered by yet another scandal involving Weiner sending inappropriate messages to women, Abedin seamlessly resumed working for Clinton.
Some of the recently leaked emails would indicate that Abedin is moving toward being a “surrogate” for Clinton, pre-screening all staff on the current campaign as well as holding meetings such as a 45-minute one-on-one with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when Clinton was running late to meet him.
[AP Photo Used by VOA Not Reposted]
Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaks to the media after testifying at a closed-door hearing of the House Benghazi Committee, on Capitol Hill, Oct. 16, 2015 in Washington.
But Clinton and Abedin have been so close, particularly during their time at the State Department, that Abedin’s role has come under scrutiny. Congress is looking into whether she received special treatment while she was deputy chief of staff to the secretary of state, particularly because of reports suggesting that she was being paid from Clinton’s personal payroll as well as by private consulting firm Teneo.
After this weekend’s revelation about Clinton’s emails found on a computer shared by Abedin and Weiner, some have called for her to step away from the campaign.
“We of course stand by her,” Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta told the New York Times on Saturday, when asked whether Abedin would step down.