BBG Watch Commentary EXCLUSIVE
BBG Watch has obtained screenshots showing that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a U.S. taxpayer-funded institution managed by the ailing Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) agency, not only targeted Americans with Facebook ads in violation of U.S. law, as reported today by The New York Times, but also that at least one of its paid Facebook ads favored the Kremlin’s propaganda narrative by implying without any countering context that NATO may be a much bigger threat to Russia than the Russian military is to NATO.
The RFE/RL post, promoted on Facebook with ads to target Americans, was highly deceptive because it failed to point out that NATO has never threatened Russia with an invasion or annexation of parts of its territory while Russia under President Vladimir Putin has invaded and occupied neighboring countries, annexed Crimea and conducts subversive military activities in eastern Ukraine. By not including such information, or even pointing to it, the RFE/RL Facebook ad targeting Americans and paid for by American taxpayers can be seen as a classic example of the old Soviet “peace program” propaganda designed to confuse and deceive its intended audience and get it to support Russia’s claims.
BBG Watch has also learned that about ten days ago a U.S. expert on Soviet and Russian propaganda who occasionally contributes articles to U.S. newspapers on this subject sent a screenshot of the controversial RFE/RL Facebook ad with the Russian propaganda theme to BBG CEO John F. Lansing and alerted him about this development. The expert received no response from Mr. Lansing. Earlier similar warnings to Mr. Lansing and Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett that both RFE/RL and VOA have been buying questionable Facebook ads with U.S. taxpayers’ money have also received no response. Mr. Lansing had told the expert earlier to stop contacting him at his personal emails address about such issues, but the latest alert, which received no response, was sent to his BBG official email account.
The recent RFE/RL Facebook ad targeting Americans appears to be a typical pro-Kremlin “peace program” message. Such messages are carried regularly in Russia’s RT media content and in other Russian state media channels.
In its Facebook post, RFE/RL showed that NATO spends more money on the military than Russia without pointing out the aggressive nature of President Putin’s foreign and military policy and the annexation of Ukrainian and Georgian territory. The RFE/RL Facebook ad also failed to point out the obvious difference in the cost of personnel and equipment between Russia and the NATO countries.
This is how the United States Information Agency (USIA), which was the predecessor of the BBG for overseeing U.S. international broadcasting but specialized mostly in public diplomacy and employed U.S. diplomats skilled in media relations and in countering hostile propaganda, described the Soviet “peace program” during the Cold War in one of its publications in 1956:
The theme of “peace” — Communist style — has been stressed by Soviet leaders ever since the Bolshevik Revolution. At the same time, Moscow has steadily expanded the Soviet empire at the expense of its smaller neighbors, by armed force, intrigue and subversion.”
–“A Primer on Communism: 200 Questions and Answers,” U.S. Information Agency Press Service, 1956
By showing the chart of the differences between NATO’s and Russia’s military budgets without any context or analysis, U.S. taxpayer-funded RFE/RL was in effect favoring the Kremlin’s “peace program” propaganda. On top of everything else, U.S. taxpayers paid for being targeted by the BBG-run RFE/RL with this propaganda ad.
Before being recommended in 2015 for the BBG CEO position by former Democratic BBG Board Chairman, Hollywood film executive Jeff Shell, John Lansing, a former U.S. cable TV industry executive and manager of TV stations, had no prior experience in U.S. public diplomacy, foreign policy, U.S. international broadcasting or managing a U.S. federal government entity.
FOR MORE ANALYSIS SEE: U.S.-Funded Broadcaster Directed Ads to Americans. By Kevin Roose, The New York Times, July 19, 2018.
“A broadcasting organization backed by the federal government has used Facebook to target ads at United States citizens, in potential violation of longstanding laws meant to protect Americans from domestic propaganda.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which typically broadcasts to audiences in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, bought several ads on Facebook in recent days that were targeted at users in the United States. The ads included several human-interest stories about Russia and a graphic about NATO’s popularity. As with other state-funded media organizations, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is mostly restricted by law from promoting its content in the United States except on request.”
MORE IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
BBG CEO John Lansing and RFE/RL President Thomas Kent were also warned that targeting of Americans with RFE/RL Facebook ads buys comments from Americans using U.S. taxpayers’ money. More than 95 percent of these comments on the RFE/RL English-language news web site appear to be from Americans living in the U.S. (or Russian trolls pretending to be Americans, but most likely both) and nearly 100% have been virulently anti-Trump. These English-language comments, on both VOA and RFE/RL, social media pages do not reflect the direct divisions of political opinions among Americans. They are singularly one-sided. Almost all of them are highly critical of President Trump even though opinions in the United States about him are divided. There were more such comments under a recent RFE/RL Facebook post, including “POS” twice in reference to President Trump.
What an embarrassment for the once great RFE/RL.
Those responsible should have been fired or should have stepped down.
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