BBG Watch Commentary

Image: BBC Breaking News Headline on Nancy Reagan

U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) is doing marginally better under the leadership of new Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing and VOA acting director Kelu Chao than it was under former VOA director David Ensor, but BBC, Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) and Radio France Internationale (RFI) still beat VOA in posting the news of the death of former U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan.

As of 3:00 PM EST, BBC News has a reaction to Nancy Reagan’s death from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Voice of America does not. Russia’s RT has far more on Nancy Reagan than the Voice of America and covers the U.S.-Russia angle during the Reagan Administration, which VOA English News and the VOA Russian Service do not.

BBC News: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama: “Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice. Our former first lady redefined the role in her time here.”

BBC News report is also quoting former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, stepson Michael Reagan, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Voice of America is not.

BBC News: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I remember Nancy as a noble woman who supported President Reagan and stood by his side. She will be remembered as a great friend of the State of Israel,”

Under former VOA director David Ensor and his deputy Steve Redisch, delays of many hours in reporting important news on VOA websites were common. This time, VOA news on Nancy Reagan was only several minutes behind BBC, DW, RFI, but more than two hours later, VOA still does not have a Facebook post on Nancy Reagan, either in English or in Russian, while BBC and DW have posted theirs on Facebook in English long time ago. Despite all the talk and bragging from former and current VOA and BBG management about being “Digital First,” it has not yet happened at the Voice of America or the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Another interesting observation from one of our contributors is that the VOA Nancy Reagan report has a time stamp of 11:54 AM EST, however as of 12:05 PM EST, the news was still not showing up on the VOA mobile phone platform after a refresh. It showed up at about 12:10 PM. The first VOA English news report was embarrassingly short (207 words) and included a writing error. The second VOA English version of the story was not much longer.

As of 12:05 PM EST Sunday, March 6, 2016, VOA phone app  after refresh was still not showing the Nancy Reagan report. It first appeared at about 12:10 PM EST.
As of 12:05 PM EST Sunday, March 6, 2016, VOA phone app after refresh was still not showing the Nancy Reagan report. It first appeared at about 12:10 PM EST.

VOA obviously did not have Nancy Reagan’s obituary ready for posting. This is where VOA should have shined on such breaking U.S. news and attract international audiences.

VOA could have, for example, do an even better job than The New York Times by mentioning some of the foreign countries President Reagan and Nancy Reagan have visited.

Some time ago, Broadcasting Board of Governors member Matt Armstrong made a claim that VOA could be an example for domestic U.S. media on how to cover news in English. We have pointed out how preposterous that claim was, considering lack of resources at VOA and mismanagement under the BBG. The New York Times report on Nancy Reagan, which had 4,444 words, was truly comprehensive even without much of the foreign angle, which VOA could have done, but did not. VOA did not even post a decent bio of Nancy Reagan.

Another observation is that the VOA Russian Service’s embarrassingly short report (48 words – even shorter than VOA English report) had a time stamp 12:15 PM, but was still not showing on the VOA Russian mobile site at that time.

Meanwhile Russian-language independent news website Meduza, which is published in Latvia and is far more popular online in Russia than BBG’s Radio Liberty Russian site and VOA’s Russian site, had its news about Nancy Reagan posted at 11:55 AM EST. Meduza’s story was much longer than VOA’s Russian story and included text of a Tweet from Michael Reagan, the adopted child of Ronald Reagan and his first wife Jane Wyman.

VOA’s reports in English and Russian had no Tweets. DW report in English had Tweets from Michael Reagan and from Mitt Romney.

As of 3 PM EST, Voice of America’s Facebook pages in English and Russian still show nothing on Nancy Reagan. As of 3 PM EST, VOA Russian report on Nancy Reagan is still only 44 words. VOA English news report now has 240 words (compared to NYT’s over 4,400 words).

A former senior foreign and domestic Voice of America correspondent gave us this comment:


“Years of criticism by BBG Watch have gotten VOA to the point where it no longer trails the BBC and other broadcasters, at least by huge amounts of time, in getting breaking news to the front page. But just the fact that, even on major U.S. stories of global significance — the death of Nancy Reagan is one of those — VOA gets beaten at all, is embarrassing.

But then again, the BBG CEO Lansing has stated that VOA and presumably others under the board’s control, should be spending less time being concerned about breaking news. Under that approach, VOA would just as well post AP, Reuters and AFP stories about Nancy Reagan.”

As of 3:25 PM EST, the Voice of America still has no reaction from President Reagan and First Lady Michelle Obama to the death of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, or anybody else in the United States or abroad. VOA refers to Nancy Reagan as “a Hollywood B-movie actress in the 1940s.”

Russia’s RT report, which is longer than VOA News report, includes reactions from Michael Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

UPDATE: VOA News eventually added a few setences to its original measly report to reflect comments from the White House. VOA Russian followed. As of 4:45 PM EST, VOA Russian Service Facebook still has nothing on Nancy Reagan. VOA English News finally managed to do a Facebook post shortly before 4:00 PM EST.

A former VOA foreign language broadcaster observed:

FORMER VOA BROADCASTER: “The weekend plus it’s Sunday. Fuggedaboudit, as they say in NJ. This is a direct result of having vastly more supervisors/managers/ in the BBG bureaucracy including SESers who allegedly ‘think out of the box’ rather than qualified rank-and-file employees. Also, it’s a known fact that managers do not want to deal with such mundane issues as shift picks for their high salaries and annual bonuses.”

A of 4:45 PM EST, Russia’s RT has a multimedia story on Nancy Reagan which has four (4) videos, photos, Tweets and 1,739 words. It includes Tweets from Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump.

As of 4:45 PM EST, VOA English news report has only one (1) video and 398 words. VOA English News reports does not include comments from Hillary Clinton, Cruz, Rubio or Trump.

Russia’s RT is reporting extensively on Ronald Reagan’s and Nancy Reagan’s meetings with former Soviet President Gorbachev and his wife Raisa.

Voice of America English News and VOA Russian Service have absolutely nothing on this topic as of 5:00 PM EST.

RT: Breaking the ice with the USSR

In the White House, Ronald Reagan initially referred to the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” and had no interest in improving relations with the Soviets – or engaging in nuclear-arms reduction. But this was to change when Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary.

The ice first broke at the summit in Geneva in 1985. Two years later, Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to visit Washington, D.C., since Nikita Khrushchev almost three decades prior. At that point – and with the help of Nancy, quietly conspiring with the pragmatists in her husband’s administration to fix Soviet-American relations, President Reagan saw the benefits of opening a dialogue with the Soviet Union, and his wife was thrilled with an opportunity to end the standoff between the two nations.

“Nancy believed this was her husband’s destiny. A man of his age who had lived through two world wars would be the one to break the deadlock of the Cold War,” Mrs. Reagan’s longtime loyalist and White House image impresario, the late Michael Deaver said in Kati Marton’s ‘Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our Recent History’.

Video on RT site

The two leaders met several times, each meeting bringing them closer. Their meetings resulted in several historic documents, including the one on nuclear arsenals reduction (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) in 1987.

“History has charged the Governments of our countries, and the two of us, Mr. President, with a solemn duty to justify the hopes of Americans and Soviet people, and of people the world over, to undo the logic of the arms race by working together in good faith,” Mikhail Gorbachev summed the aura and significance of the summit meeting and the treaty it resulted in.

When the Reagans returned the visit, traveling to Moscow in 1988, yet another agreement was signed – on advance notification of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles launches.

The two leaders shared a warm relationship ever since. Despite much speculation in the media at the time that their respective first ladies were on cooler terms, years later Reagans would express their sincere grief on the news of Raisa Gorbachev’s death.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the death of Raisa Gorbachev,” a statement released by the former first lady on behalf of herself and her husband said. “We have always enjoyed Raisa and Mikhail’s company. We believe that Raisa was a strong partner with her husband and an important voice in the friendship that our two countries established in the 1980s”.

Nothing like this was posted by the Voice of America. VOA allowed RT to be the first to define President Reagan’s and Nancy Reagan’s legacy in terms of U.S.-Russia relations. U.S. experts would define U.S. relations with Russia under President Reagan somewhat differently, but of course the Voice of America failed to present a U.S. view.

It’s true that under the previous VOA and BBG leadership, VOA might have done even worse and be hours instead of minutes behind other major international broadcasters. But VOA’s coverage of this story was still nothing short of embarrassing.

A former BBG employee observed:

FORMER BBG EMPLOYEE: “The place is DEAD. It is only going through the motions.

Add to that – in my opinion – certain political biases that seem to have crept into the process.

The place has become a denier of American greatness and the people who got and maintained that greatness.

It is despicable, disgusting and dangerous.”

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