BBG Watch Commentary

Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen

“The Untouchable” – Masha Gessen

In an attempt to hold on to her job as the director of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty, Masha Gessen is trying to box the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) into a corner with comments to Russian media that changes initiated by her and her patron, the outgoing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) president Steven Korn, will continue and that she will not be removed from her current position.

In earlier comments to Russian media, Gessen had discounted the importance of a review of Radio Liberty ordered by the BBG. The review, which Gessen said is not the same as an “inspection” or “evaluation” is being conducted by the Deputy Director of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) Jeff Trimble who used to hold executive positions at RFE/RL in the past.

In her latest comments for, Gessen also refuted a statement by BBG member Victor Ashe that Steven Korn has destroyed the Russian Service of Radio Liberty by firing dozens of outstanding journalists. Protests against their harsh dismissal without any warning and calls for their immediate reinstatement have come from nearly all major Russian human rights and political opposition leaders, including Lyudmila Alexeeva and Mikhail Gorbachev, and heads of American human rights and media freedom NGOs, including Freedom House president David Kramer, who has called for radical change at the top.

Gessen’s statements to Russian media appear to be designed to make it more difficult for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to rehabilitate the fired journalists by rejecting the accusations of incompetence leveled against them by Korn and Gessen and allowing them to return to work. According to many critics in Russia and in the U.S., Gessen and her new Radio Liberty operation, mockingly referred to in Russia as “Radio Gessen,” has no credibility or support and has lost much of its former online and radio audience.

The fired journalists and their colleagues who resigned in protest have recently received several prestigious journalism awards, some specifically for the old multimedia website and online reporting, which was acknowledged even in a BBG-issued press release.

Operating with no budget, they now run their own news website,, interviewing prominent Russian opposition leaders like former reformist deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov who are boycotting and ignoring Gessen’s website.

Angel of Meat - RFERL Russian Home Page Story Illustration on Dangers of Meat Diet in UK
Image from Masha Gessen's redesigned Radio Liberty Russian website.

Gessen is trying to gain audience with feature stories and provocative images, which only seem to turn away visitors from the Radio Liberty Russian website, as reported by Russian media citing statistics available online.

BBG Watch has learned from sources within the BBG administration in Washington that some BBG members are actively discussing options for rehabilitating the fired journalists, which they see as the only way of saving Radio Liberty and averting a complete public relations and public diplomacy disaster for the U.S. in Russia and among American supporters of RFE/RL.

According to sources, some BBG members were both disturbed and impressed with an open letter to Korn from still employed Radio Liberty’s famous Chechnya war correspondent Andrei Babitsky and a letter addressed to them from a RFE/RL West European freelance reporter Sophia Kornienko. Both journalists said that Radio Liberty is dying under Korn’s new Russian Service director Masha Gessen and called for all of his top managers to resign as soon as possible. reported that Masha Gessen had told earlier other media that no matter who will hold the post of the president of RFE/RL, she will not lose her position. See: My dismissal – not possible, Izvestia quotes Radio Liberty Russian head Masha Gessen

Is she really untouchable having destroyed Radio Liberty’s and her own reputation in Russia and among many supporters of U.S. international broadcasting?

Clearly, her comments are designed to intimidate the Broadcasting Board of Governors and any future RFE/RL president into believing that she is untouchable and that removing her from her current position would neither be easy nor wise. We’ll see.

The alternative is the complete destruction of Radio Liberty in Russia and continued crisis and embarrassment for the United States and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.



Masha Gessen: “No Changes Planned in How Moscow Bureau Works in Connection with Korn’s Departure”

09.01.2013 17:26

Director of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty Masha Gessen told, that no changes in the work of the Moscow bureau are expected. In his  December 31 announcement of his resignation, President of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty Steven Korn said that the Russian Service of Radio Liberty will continue to develop according to the plan adopted last fall.

“There may be changes in the work, but they will not be connected with the Korn reforms,” Gessen explained. According to the Director of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty, the departure of Steve Korn did not come to her as a surprise. “Even before the New Year holidays, I knew that he will stop working,” said Masha Gessen. In earlier comments of some media outlets, Gessen said that she had no information on the departure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president. She also told other media that no matter who will hold the post of the president of RFE/RL, she will not lose her position.

In a comment for, Gessen also refuted a statement by Victor Ashe, the member of the Board of Directors for US international broadcasting (Broadcasting Board of Governors),  who had earlier claimed that Korn “has destroyed the Moscow Bureau” (of Radio Liberty). We note that in the framework of the reforms, Masha Gessen was appointed to the position of Director of the Russian Service of the radio station, after which most of the members of  Radio Liberty were dismissed. Gessen then declared that she had nothing to do with the dismissal of the radio station’s staff.

“Changes in any editorial office is an inevitable process,” explained the Director of the Russian Service of Radio Liberty. “We are currently working on projects launched in September and we are not going to stop here.” According to Gessen, the new website of Radio Liberty will start functioning in the spring and soon the office will move to  a new location, which will allow to create rich multimedia content. “In addition, this does not stop the work on reforming  the correspondent network of Radio Liberty,” said Masha Gessen, “we recruit new stringers, and train the old.”

Steve Korn announced his resignation as president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on December 31. He will leave the post officially at the end of January. According to Korn, he had personal reasons for leaving: he promised to be home in February for the 16th birthday of his son and he needs to be with his critically ill father. Much of the letter is devoted to the explanation of  the changes that have taken place at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, including the Moscow bureau. In his farewell letter, Korn wrote that many of the staffers of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had forgotten that they were primarily news-journalists, and as a result were losing the competitive battle in the information arena.  He also promised that when the dust settles after his departure, “all will recognize the need for reforms.” Previously, mass media reports on December 25 announced that Steven Korn was fired from RFE/RL, and, according to media reports, Korn had to step down from the presidency by February 2013.

Signature: Nina Somina

LINK to the original article Маша Гессен: “В связи с уходом Корна изменений в работе московской редакции не планируется”.

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