BBG Watch Commentary

VOICE OF AMERICA DIRECTOR DAVID ENSOR, DEC. 16, 2014: ” . . . [in response to] parties urging that we all be accurate, objective and balanced, I have as promised, 10 fun facts about BBG Watch.

And the first one is, on BBG Watch, [name of former VOA Foreign and Intelligence Correspondent] … is writing far more than he ever did.

The second one is kind of a interrogatory Here’s my question — where the hell is Truckee, California [managing location of BBG Watch website] anyway?

No. 3. BBG Watch has its own version of the two source rule. Unfortunately, the two sources are [former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) member, former multiple-term Mayor of Knoxville, TN] Victor Ashe, and [former VOA White House Correspondent] Dan Robinson.

Fun fact No. 4. Ted Lipien [Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – co-founder and co-director] is more in love with himself than with Kim Jong Un.

No 5. Even people who argue a lot, like say [names of current VOA journalists] …, even they can agree how bad it [BBG Watch] is.

This is one you may not know. [name of Head of Digital Strategy] … secretly hired BBG Watch to drive traffic to the website. And it’s working.

No 7. BBG Watch now has as many anonymous posters as

No 8. It’s in the running for a literary award for best work of fiction.

No 9. It meets the standard definition of a blog — boring, lousy, obscure, gibberish.

And No 10. According to the Pew Internet Research Report, the BBG Watch audience rivals that of two media powerhouses, the Watchtower magazine [illustrated religious magazine published semimonthly in 228 languages by Jehovah’s Witnesses] and the weekly circular for Shopper’s Food Warehouse.

At the traditional employee-staged Voice of America (VOA) “Follies,” VOA Director David Ensor did not make fun of President Putin or at himself. Despite his status as a senior U.S. government official and director of a U.S. taxpayer-funded news organization, he took shots instead at private American citizens and taxpayers who publish articles on the BBG Watch dog watch website and who with other Americans pay for VOA to stay in business of international media outreach on behalf of the United States.

For the past several years of David Ensor’s tenure at the Voice of America, BBG Watch has been exposing almost daily news and management failures at VOA. Voice of America has record-low employee morale among federal agencies of similar size, as measured by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It registered the largest decline last year among similar federal agencies. (The rating is for the entire agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and not just VOA, but VOA is the agency’s largest entity and has had low employee morale for years.)

In mocking BBG Watch reporting, Ensor made fun of former Broadcasting Board of Governors member, distinguished former U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe, who is also a multi-term former mayor of Knoxville, TN, implying that he could not be trusted as a news source.

In addition to dismissing BBG Watch, an independent American NGO media website, Ensor also made fun of former Voice of America senior correspondents, a former senior White House correspondent and a former senior national security correspondent who are now private citizens, implying that they were either unproductive or are still unreliable. He also cracked a joke about a small California town of Truckee, where the NGO publishing BBG Watch is based.

The Voice of America is overseen by the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA’s annual budget is about $200 million. David Ensor’s annual salary is listed at over $170,000, not counting other federal employment benefits.

BBG Watch, which has exposed numerous management scandals, news failures and waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money, is an independent watch dog website run by volunteers. It receives no money from U.S. taxpayers or any other source. BBG Watch reports have been mentioned in the Congressional Record, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, Government Executive, Fox News, NPR and in other U.S. and international media.

BBG Watch has no comment on Mr. Ensor’s remarks, but we post this report sent to us by a Washington source in frequent contact with Voice of America reporters.

“It’s obvious that David Ensor, and those who may have written or helped write his script, considered it perfectly acceptable to use this event as a platform for vicious personal attacks against former VOA reporters, not to mention a former U.S. ambassador.

Some federal workers, on the public dime, unwisely joined in, apparently seeing nothing wrong, while in the audience people laughed out loud or tittered.

Think of it — what other head of a federal agency (sub-agency in the case of VOA) would think it a good idea to say the kind of things that Ensor did? And have it on video?

But others, current and former employees, who have substantially more spine and the courage to stand up to rampant and damaging mismanagement, not to mention bullying, at VOA/IBB/BBG etc saw it differently.

One called Ensor’s performance “tone-deaf, insulting, petty and unnecessary, and beneath this agency.”

But then again, there does not seem to be much that is beneath this agency or its discredited management structure, which has fumbled over and over again on important news and Internet coverage, making VOA a true laughingstock in the world of international broadcasting and media.

(These were) Government employees using official time, on government property, to attack a former U.S. ambassador, and a privately-run, independent website that has managed to tell most of the real story about the state of affairs at a discredited federal agency

It’s a tragedy, and the joke ultimately is on Americans whose annual taxes go to support what has become an utter embarrassment. Mr. Ensor, and some key figures clinging to their jobs who have [mis]-advised him over the past four years, should leave, pure and simple.

BBG Watch Recommends Watching

Wall Street Journal Opinion VIDEO: Voice of America is a Voice of Anti-Americanism

Link to Wall Street Journal Video

Wall Street Journal Opinion VIDEO: Voice of America is a Voice of Anti-Americanism (TRANSCRIPT)

WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “What you are looking at is not Onion Television; that is foreign propaganda, anti-American propaganda.

You know, throughout the tensions between the United States/Europe and Vladimir Putin, a little known fact has been that the Russians have been using every instrument of their media to run anti-Western propaganda.

The question is what does the United States do to get the truth out to international audiences?

I’m joined now from London bureau by Editorial Page Writer Sohrab Ahmari.

Sohrab, thanks for joining us.”


WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, you’ve been taking a look at the U.S. effort and the State Department’s recent audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and I take it that it is not really, shall we say, a pretty picture.”

SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “Yea, Dan, you were speaking about the omnibus bill. Well, part of that omnibus bill is about $700 million a year that Congress gives to the Broadcasting Board of Governors which is a bipartisan board that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and the other freedom broadcasters. And the latest audit just shows systemic flaws in how the BBG oversees the grants that are sent to the various freedom broadcasters like Radio Free Europe, not taking care of equipment, not accounting for equipment, lack of funds control. It really seems that it’s a mess there. There and very little oversight, in part because the Broadcasting Board of Governors is an itinerant boarded. It only meets once a month. Clearly, there needs to be more direct management. And the best evidence is actually did the clip that you have just showed. That’s actually footage from Voice of America showing a zombie Uncle Sam attacking young South Asians. This was a promotional video for their Urdu Service aimed at Pakistanis. Although it was never aired, it was online as a promotional video, so … it’s shocking.”

WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “It’s fantastic. I take it that the disarray among the Broadcasting Board of Governors has had a real a material effect on the quality of our information services. Most people know what Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty used to be, but take it that the product has kind of degraded as [due to] this lack of management structures … has fallen apart as well.”

SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that the biggest problems have been at the Voice of America. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia — they’ve had their problems too, but on the whole their function is to serve as a surrogate. So. it’s surrogate press for closed societies that can’t have a free press around the world: Russia, Iran, China and so forth. And a lot of the work that they do is still that good surrogate work.

It’s Voice of America where you often have…We’ve documented cases where they’ll invite Iranian officials and give them uncritical platforms to share their views where the Iranians already get the Iranian regime points of view 24/7 from the regime’s own propaganda organs. Why should American taxpayers provide them with that … additional platforms. So that’s where … VOA is where the real quality lapses have [happended].”

WALL STREET JOURNAL DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN HENNINGER: “Sohrab, give us a quick glance at the reform bill which Congress has put together on this because they’ve noticed there’s a problem.”

SOHRAB AHMARI, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: “I think that H.R. 4490, which has passed the House and I think the Senate will be taking it up once the Republicans take over the Senate next year, is a really good bill because it gives … instead of the Broadcasting Board Governors, there will be a full-time CEO, so there will be better financial management and better quality control. And it also makes it clear that the purpose of Voice of America is to support American public diplomacy efforts. It’s not to be just any other broadcaster. It’s to help advance American foreign policy goals abroad. And providing that kind of mission to VOA I think will [help to] really clean up its act then.”




Agency few Americans use generates controversy, this time with contractors, Joe Davidson, The Washington Post, November 24.


Broadcasting Board Outsources Controversial Newsroom Contracting, By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 8, 2014.


Calling VOA Volunteers: Receive Ebola Vaccine And Report on Experience, Nick Massella, FishBowlDC, October 17, 2014.


One Agency’s Short-Lived Idea to Have Its Employees Test a New Ebola Vaccine By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, October 30, 2014.


READ: Voice of America removes anti-Azerbaijani program, By Seba Aghayeva, Trend, October 30, 2014.


Can America Still Win the Information War?, Michael Gonzalez, THE BUZZ, The National Interest, September 15, 2014.


Fixing U.S. International Broadcasting – At Last!,” Dennis Mulhaupt and S. Enders Wimbush, The Weekly Standard, July 3, 2014.


Unmuffling the Voice of America: Congress has a chance to fix an error and give the U.S. a fighting chance in the international war of ideas, Robert R. Reilly, The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2014.


Op-Ed Back off, Congress, and keep Voice of America real,” Al Pessin, The Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2014.


End of an era? Congress tries to neuter Voice of America’s journalism, Gary Thomas, Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 2014.


LIPIEN: A propaganda-free Voice of America – Congress must prevent U.S. tax dollars from helping America’s enemies, Ted Lipien, Washington Times, July 16, 2014.


What in the world: Voice of America’s Lithuanian stir and EU needs UK security, BBC, February 3, 2014.


Opinion: The impact of Russian propaganda on Lithuania is greater than we thought it was: Poor translation of Washington memoir causes controversy, thanks to Voice of America, Audrius Bačiulis, The Lithuanian Tribune, February 3, 2014.


DALE: Only way to save U.S. international broadcasting is complete reform, Helle Dale, The Washington Times, June 23, 2014.


The Voice of America Shouldn’t Be A Whisper: Putin’s propaganda machine is in high gear, while the U.S. scales back the VOA. Why?, John Lenczowski, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2014.


Russian Accuses Voice Of America Of Fake Interview, Michele Kelemen, NPR, February 20, 2012.


Waste and Abuse of Power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, According to Audit, By Reid Standish, Foreign Policy Blog, June 17, 2014.



Voice of America wasted estimated millions on improper contract payments, Radio Free Asia gets clean bill of health, BBG Watch, May 3, 2014.




Audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Administration and Oversight of Acquisition Functions


OIG BBG Audit April 2014


Inspection of U.S. International Broadcasting to Russia

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