More of the Big Lie and Other Items of Note

US Government International Media Information War Lost

By The Federalist

The Trump administration’s FY2018 budget proposal is before Congress for legislative debate and the appropriation and authorization processes.

Within that budget are cuts to US Government international media including the Voice of America (VOA) and other government broadcasting entities.

Not surprisingly, headlines have appeared claiming that the Trump administration wants to cut millions of dollars from certain specific broadcasts.

It is important to separate the budget proposal from the internal machinations by the bureaucrats inside the Cohen Building who preside over US Government international media.

Fact: The Trump administration did not on its own detail every specific cut to VOA language services or among the other broadcasting entities. It set the broad budgeting objectives.

Fact: Most of the specific cuts to programs most likely originated as proposals from within the agency and the machinations of its bureaucrats. We’ve seen it all before year after year with every budget cycle: cuts to programs like VOA Mandarin, Indonesian, Pashto and Dari language broadcasts to Afghanistan.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the contempt these bureaucrats have for the agency’s line employees and the work they do to carry out the agency’s mission: work which most of the people in Third Floor offices cannot do and being grossly overpaid in the process.

These bureaucrats haven’t had an original idea in years. It is important to know this as it makes their strategy and tactics more apparent.

What these individuals are doing is playing a game of “dare” with the Congress. By throwing in key strategic language service broadcasts into the mix of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as potential program cuts and hoping that some of the most misguided and outrageous ones will receive media attention, these bureacrats are daring the Congress to either authorize those cuts or reject them. If the Congress accepts them, they will succeed in making the Trump administration and Congress out to be the villains, not the BBG bureaucrats. That is part of the messaging inside the Cohen Building. The White House (especially this White House) and the Congress are the bad guys.

Predictably, the next part of the drama is to watch the agency’s union representatives and others troop up to Capitol Hill offices to argue against the cuts and make the case for restoring the funding.

In the meantime, agency bureaucrats sit smug in their offices, sometimes getting commercial media to buy into this charade by protesting things like “$4.5 Million dollars to be cut…” from one program or another and laying the rap on the administration or the Congress.

We know these people very, very well. We know the games they play. Likewise do Members of Congress and their staffs.

Now, you know that game: which now amounts to a well-known ploy to misplace the attention on the real culprits: the bureaucracy, at this point led by John Lansing, the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the now nearly defunct BBG Board whose members still act like they are running the agency – until such a time as the White House sends Lansing packing and puts the Board in its place as a purely advisory body or until such a time that it disappears. And with good riddance to both, singularly and collectively.

While attempting its tactic of holding the Congress and the White House hostage in the budget process, these bureaucrats seemingly go out of their way to minimize the impact of the administration’s budget reductions on its own ranks, something increasingly attracting the attention of congressional lawmakers who want to see much more in the way of letting the air out of the agency’s bureaucratic bloat.

It has long been apparent that this bureaucracy is not an asset to the agency, its line employees and the agency’s mission. It is a liability. It contributes mightily to the agency being ranked as one of the worst if not the worst agency in the entire Federal Government, as measured by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys (FEVS). The behavior of these bureaucrats makes it appear that they are proud of this distinction since they do nothing substantive to change what it is. Every day they do something to harden their reputation, most recently in the form of the treatment of members of the VOA Mandarin Service in response to an interview with a controversial Chinese businessman which was shortened on the orders of senior VOA managers. Add to that its regular, oversized claims of weekly audiences in the neighborhood of 270-million which is ridiculous when comparing the agency’s extremely low numbers in social media “likes,” “comments,” “shares” and “views” to those of BBC, other international broadcasters, and domestic US media outlets.

Credibility has never been a concern for these bureaucrats. In the private sector these people would not be allowed to hang around year after year let alone receiving bonuses and awards for being grossly inept. Out the door they would go and in a heartbeat.

What To Do?

When engaged in discussions with subject matter experts, the conversation more often turns to alternatives to the current agency structure. It is clear that effective remedial action is not going to come from within the agency. Necessary changes must come from external sources.

This is commonly referred to “adult supervision:” an appropriate way of looking at the chaos and disarray of a group of people playing “pretend management.”

Some suggest cutting to the chase and legislate VOA under the State Department or another existing government agency.

Another suggestion with some currency is to privatize certain aspects of the bureaucracy if not eliminating it altogether through legislation.

Some observers believe it can’t be any worse than what we see year after year from the entrenched corruption and incompetence that typifies this agency.

It may also improve accountability and responsibility which is largely absent from this agency from the BBG on down: which is altogether more interested in mindless happy talk in its meetings about imagined successes.

There is one way to find out and that is to make things happen and put this worthless bureaucracy a thing of the past.

Departures and Arrivals

In the most recent meeting of the defunct BBG, it was announced that Brian Conniff, head of Radio Sawa and Alhurra television will be leaving.

To be sure, there was much happy talk at the board meeting about Mr. Conniff’s tenure.

We tend to have a more critical appraisal.

At the top of our assessment comes the question:

Is the image and relationship of the United States with the Arab and Muslim world better today than when these services replaced the VOA Arabic Service in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001?

Do we even need to ask that question?

We don’t have to detail the rather lengthy list of negatives.

Thus, in typical fashion the BBG heaps praise where really none is deserved and only serves as a diversion for its failure to be impactful with Arab publics and an effective counter to the spreading Islamic terrorist jihad to Western Europe and elsewhere.

Failures compound themselves in the world of the BBG. Sixteen years out from the formation of Radio Sawa and Alhurra television the task of reversing ineffectiveness increases daily and failures become compounded and exponential.

Perhaps to find a way out of this mess comes Mr. Conniff’s replacement, former ambassador Alberto M Fernandez. Ambassador Fernandez’s resume is a lengthy one with many and varied postings in his government service and further accentuated by his private sector experience: an abundance in aggregate knowledge and expertise.

Perhaps in this latest assignment most important will be that Ambassador Fernandez is fluent in Arabic. This may be an important asset over his predecessor, not an Arab language speaker as far as we know.

In our view, Ambassador Fernandez will need every bit of his broad experience to deal with Sawa and Alhurra which, contrary to oversized agency claims, have been less than stellar. Indeed, if these services have had an “impact” at all it may very well be in the negative, increasing and not ameliorating anti-American sentiment throughout a violence-embedded part of the world.

With no sign of the violence and carnage coming to an end, now across Europe, Africa, the rest of the Middle East and Afghanistan, time is not on Ambassador Fernandez’s side. To the point, the experiments of Sawa and Alhurra have been a failed undertaking and what would be needed to change the negatives remain elusive at best.

One thing is certain: Radio Sawa and Alhurra television have been grossly ineffective in countering violent Islamic extremism and the successful recruitment propaganda inspiring individuals to act out their hatred toward Westerners and Western civilization.

Western government officials too often repeat a mantra that the Islamic terrorists won’t win. The truth of the matter is at present they are. These committed fanatics have done the math. They are not stupid. They know the costs associated with this war of attrition against Western civilization. They know the human cost and they know the economic costs represented in the billions of dollars spent on enhancing security and intelligence services as well as the cost when elements of the military and police must be deployed. These politicians do a disservice to the people they are supposed to protect in the effort to avoid speaking to the grim reality that confronts Western societies and institutions.

You have to know your enemy. If not, you can’t defeat him and do so decisively. Knowing the enemy is not limited to the fighters but extends to the suppliers and financiers, the networks that allow the terrorists to move within populations. Last but not least, to find an effective counter to their radical propaganda that finds believers to carry out terrorist acts against civilian populations.

When this isn’t done, the cancer of radical Islamic extremism spreads.

The Federalist
June 2017

Image: Chinese Americans stage a protest in May 2017 against censorship at the Voice of America by placing two large funeral wreaths and carrying a mock coffin in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC.

1 comment
  1. As this commentary points out so well, nothing ever changes in this agency. The same games play out year after year. Language services are threatened with cuts, and run screaming to Capitol Hill, where congressmen/women ring alarm bills and warn that the United States will be the weaker, audiences will be left in information vacuums, if this or that service is eliminated. And as is also pointed out, the BBG/IBB/VOA entrenched bureaucracies know how to play these games so well.

    Members of Congress shouldn’t be fooled: this agency has LOST its audiences, and no level of phony statistics coming out of the Cohen Building should be able to cover up that essential fact.

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