BBG Watch Commentary
Irwin Steven (Steve) Goldstein was sworn in today, December 4, 2017, as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department. Nominated by President Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he is likely to represent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at board meetings of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the dysfunctional agency in charge of the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) which oversees Radio and Television Martí, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) which operates Alhurra Television, Radio Sawa and MBN Digital.
The honor of a lifetime! Today I was sworn in as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I’m looking forward to all we’re going to accomplish! pic.twitter.com/ItpJoaB8SA
— Steve Goldstein (@UnderSecPD) December 4, 2017
The present legal status of the BBG board is somewhat unclear since the expected presidential nomination of Michael Pack to be the next BBG CEO and Director has not yet been processed. The Secretary of State is an ex officio member of the BBG board but is usually represented at BBG board meetings by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (@UnderSecPD).
Steve Goldstein would be Tillerson’s likely representative at BBG board meetings, but under the legislation passed in late 2016 and signed by President Obama, the future role of the BBG board is to be only advisory. The future BBG CEO and Director nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate will have the authority to run the agency. To clarify this point, there is no “future role” of the BBG Board as a governing or overseeing body. The Board was abolished by legislation. A new advisory body will be constituted by selecting one person from each list of three candidates provided by the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A sitting BBG Board member and possibly any who had previously served would be ineligible to be considered. The existing BBG CEO has the authority to run the agency, but he has not been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate as the legislation specifies.
During a 2013 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the Broadcasting Board of Governors as “practically defunct” and losing the information war to countries such as Russia.
Since then, under the management team led by Obama-era appointees, BBG CEO John F. Lansing and VOA director Amanda Bennett, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Voice of America and to some degree Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty have been rocked by scandals. They included unprecedented biased reporting and partisan social media posts by some of the Voice of America reporters and services during the 2016 presidential campaign, as in this VOA Ukrainian Service political ad video which was subsequently removed by VOA management after numerous protests.
Violations of journalistic ethics at VOA and RFE/RL, as well as blatant partisanship in some of the VOA reporting, were publicly exposed and criticized in an open BBG board meeting last April by Ann Noonan, Executive Director of the independent and non-partisan Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org).
Since then, senior VOA managers led by Amanda Bennett had ordered the shortening of a live interview with Chinese whistleblower businessman Guo Wengui, causing a catastrophic drop in VOA’s credibility in China and protests by Chinese Americans who staged a mock funeral in front of the VOA building in Washington, DC. VOA and BBG executives responded to the self-created crisis by placing on administrative leave five frontline VOA Mandarin Service journalists who had disagreed with the management’s decision to shorten the interview. The BBG/VOA senior management is now trying to fire three of the VOA Chinese American journalists. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest organization of journalists, has asked for an explanation.
In a rare comment from America’s top diplomat about increasing programming and management controversies at the Voice of America, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last June in response to a question from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would support an investigation by the the Office of Inspector General of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (OIG) of the VOA director’s decision to shorten an interview with a Chinese whistleblower, “if it would seem there has been anything improperly done.”
In a highly unusual Facebook post for the Voice of America director, Amanda Bennett seemed to have implied that she disagrees with congressional and U.S. executive branch decisions to force Russia’s propaganda channel, RT, to register as a foreign agent in the United States.
Bennett wrote: “When the US government compels RT to register as a foreign agent, then other governments consider requiring US media to register as foreign agents and then…” Most previous Voice of America directors carefully avoided public comments on U.S. foreign policy and controversial domestic political issues in order not to contribute to partisanship and to preserve bipartisan support for VOA. Such comments also tend to influence VOA reporters, some of whom have already shown a strong tendency for partisan bias. Neither Bennett nor John Lansing have any prior experience in U.S. public diplomacy or government service.
The post on VOA director Amanda Bennett’s Facebook page appears to have been subsequently removed. Here is a screenshot of her post taken the day after it appeared on Facebook.
On top of everything else, in yet another devastating report, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors identified the most serious management and performance challenges facing BBG and concluded that:
OIG ON BBG (FY 2017): “In particular, during FY 2017, an external auditor performing the audit on OIG’s behalf and under OIG’s direction found that BBG did not have an effective information security program.”
The BBG has been consistently at the bottom of annual employee morale surveys conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). 2017 saw an increase in the gap between the BBG and the next worst-managed medium size federal agency. In two recent posts on its website and Facebook page, the union representing many of the Broadcasting Board of Governors federal employees, which include U.S. government workers at VOA, explained why the $740 million agency (FY 2017) has remained at the bottom of the OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) which measures employee satisfaction and their assessment of agency leaders and supervisors.
These could be just a few of the Broadcasting Board of Governors issues on which Steve Goldstein may have some input in his new government role as the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department. Other issues requiring immediate outside attention are partisan and offensive social media posts by some VOA reporters which remain online as of early December despite numerous warnings to VOA and BBG executives that they undermine VOA’s credibility as an objective news organization and violate its VOA Charter. At least until Michael Pack is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and becomes BBG CEO, Steve Goldstein is the highest ranking nominated and confirmed U.S. government official who perhaps can provide some adult supervision at the BBG.
According to his State Department bio, Goldstein grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Another Tennessean in U.S. government service, former mayor of Knoxville, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland and former BBG Governor Victor Ashe, who now serves on the Advisory Board of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting, was repeatedly calling for “adult supervision” and for reforming the BBG before his BBG term expired in 2013.
Before the new BBG CEO is confirmed and can take up his duties, as a temporary measure Steve Goldstein hopefully can get at least some reforms started at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America. This is urgent because the current state of affairs is also having a tremendously negative impact on U.S. public diplomacy and VOA’s and America’s image abroad, as one can see in these screenshots from VOA reporters’ 2016 social media posts which violate both good taste and journalistic ethics.
U.S. State Department
Irwin Steven (Steve) Goldstein
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Term of Appointment: 12/2017 to present
Steve Goldstein was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs on December 4, 2017.
Mr. Goldstein is a communications and branding executive who has led external affairs at the highest levels of business and government.
Before becoming Under Secretary, he was Senior Vice President of BP Global Solutions, where he advised the founders of two start-up technology companies in the energy and health care fields on marketing strategy and staff management.
Mr. Goldstein’s experience includes seven years as Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at TIAA, a Fortune 100 company providing financial services to people who work in the academic, research, medical, and nonprofit fields. As the senior executive responsible for marketing, communications, and advertising, he played a leading role in transforming the company for the digital age.
Previously, Mr. Goldstein was Vice President of Corporate Communications for Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, where he helped lead one of the world’s premier newspapers through a major redesign, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was on assignment in Pakistan.
Mr. Goldstein has also led communications for the investment firm AllianceBernstein and for the Insurance Information Institute.
During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Mr. Goldstein served as an Assistant to the Secretary and the Director of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. He joined the Bush Administration after serving for eight years as a press secretary and chief of staff to several members of Congress.
Mr. Goldstein grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he taught high school for five years at the start of his career. Mr. Goldstein is a competitive indoor rower.