BBG Watch Commentary

IMG_2045Steve Herman, who was recently named White House bureau chief for the U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224 million in FY 2017) Voice of America after he and one of his VOA colleagues posted a report on how President Trump’s tweet about “Fake Media” being the “Enemy of the American People” was reminiscent of statements by such 20th century mass murderers as Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, has a new report in which he talks about the “mushroom method” of “keeping reporters in the dark and feeding them manure.”

The earlier VOA report, “Trump’s Attack on Media as ‘Enemy of the People’ Has Historic Echoes,” included an image of Stalin and Trump photos being sold in Russia. Whether the photo used by VOA was specifically intended to reinforce the idea that Trump is similar to Stalin is not known.

Herman is described in his VOA bio as “The veteran journalist [who] spent 26 years in Asia, including reporting from Tokyo and subsequently as a VOA correspondent and bureau chief in India, Korea and Thailand. He also served as VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based out of the State Department.”

The lead paragraph of VOA’s Steve Herman “mushroom method” report says:

“The ‘mushroom method’ refers to keeping reporters in the dark and feeding them manure. Throughout many presidential administrations, reporters assigned to the basement by the West Wing [White House press facility] have frequently complained of being treated like mushrooms.”

While the VOA reporter uses a milder word “manure,” the standard colloquial English expression he cites comes with a more vulgar word. For our foreign readers, a dictionary definition of manure is “animal waste.”

Here is another quote from the VOA report:

“Others [mainstream media White House reporters] have compared their plight to prisoners in cramped, overcrowded quarters.”

The concluding paragraph of the VOA report says:

“Struggling to avoid being cultivated with the mushroom method, the subterranean journalists advocate to a sometimes-skeptical outside world the words of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants’.”

In the report, Herman writes about “inclusion of of far-right media” [Emphasis added.] in the White House press briefings. His report does not explain for international audiences which specific media in the United States are “far-right” and which are “far-left” and how they differ from each other when it comes to the so-called “fake news” and conspiracy theories (VOA Newsroom reporters never label any U.S. media as “left” or “far-left” while often using the “far-right” label), but the report provides an explanation from the VOA reporter, who is a U.S. government employee whose six-figure salary is paid by U.S. taxpayers, what in his view “far-right” U.S. media outlets do:

“Tempers have frayed over the White House’s decision to credential commentators from far-right online websites, including those accused of supporting white nationalism and trafficking in conspiracies.”

“One such figure has commented publicly that he was in the press room primarily to dig up dirt on the established White House correspondents.”

Herman followed up with a comment on his Facebook page:

“I’ve concluded that being a correspondent at the White House is akin to mushroom cultivation. And we’re the mushrooms. Here’s why:…/3765865.html

Voice of America director Amanda Bennett simply loved Steve Herman’s report. This is her Facebook post:

[It appears that she has subsequently removed her post. Hopefully it has been preserved in some way since Amanda Bennett is a U.S. government official and anything she posts in her official capacity is part of the official government record.]

READ MORE: White House Reporters Prefer Sunlight to Spotlight, Steve Herman, Voice of America, March 14, 2017.

We feel sorry for Steve Herman, but we are also surprised that such an experienced reporter like him would waste his time at the White House working for the Voice of America while he could try to get a job, for example with The Washington Post, and become an investigative journalist digging up dirt on President Trump and his administration. After all, it was VOA which on the election night in November 2016 had two pre-written “Hillary Wins” reports ready for broadcast and none about Trump. One wonders what kind of information VOA was feeding its foreign audiences prior to Trump’s win. We know that some VOA services were posting campaign videos designed to ridicule Trump. VOA had posted also a hit piece on Senator Bernie Sanders, an erstwhile opponent of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

While some audiences overseas, including the dictatorial leader in Cambodia, may have taken seriously the earlier VOA report about Trump, Lenin, Stalin and Mao as an indication that President Trump will follow in the footsteps of these 20th century communist dictators and mass murderers and may imprison and perhaps even execute American journalists, we have irrefutable evidence from Steve Herman’s own Facebook page and his other recent social media comments that he is very much alive, free, posting online whatever he wants and remains defiantly unconcerned what U.S. taxpayers may think about the Voice of America, his U.S. Federal government employer.

His recent bold comment on Facebook conclusively reassured us that he is doing just fine (his Facebook name is “newsguy”) and is in no danger other than perhaps getting some U.S. taxpayers and members of Congress angry at the Voice of America, its Federal agency, and its employees:

Steven L. Herman “I’m not overly concerned how Americans unfairly perceive us [Voice of America] — they are not out [sic (a typo — should be our)] intended audience.”

It is not clear whether the VOA reporter knows that about half of Voice of America online traffic for VOA English-language news content also comes from the United States rather than from other countries, especially those without free media, as the U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. Congress hoped it would. A surprisingly large portion of some of VOA’s online traffic in foreign languages also comes from the U.S., which raises concerns that some other VOA English (not Steve Herman) and VOA foreign language reporters, whose programs and social media posts have included insulting and even obscene names for Donald Trump, his family and his supporters, may be propagandizing to Americans.

Americans do pay VOA’s bills and cover the entire budget ($777.8 million, including VOA) of VOA’s parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Not all current and former VOA journalists agree with the prevailing style of VOA reporting under VOA director Amanda Bennett, deputy director Sandy Sugawara (both with past personal and professional links to The Washington Post) and BBG CEO John F. Lansing (all three are holdovers from the former administration).

Some worry that one-sided, biased and partisan reporting, which in their view violates the VOA Charter, can lead to defunding of the Voice of America by the Trump administration or to serious budget reductions and job losses among VOA and BBG Federal employees. Former VOA senior White House correspondent Dan Robinson commented:

Dan Robinson “Nice puff pice. VOA’s stature, if that word can be used, at the White House is quite low, and went lower under Obama as respect decreased for the dysfunctional BBG. Obama gave VOA….ONE intervew over his eight years in office.”

Another former VOA senior reporter observed:

“[VOA Director] Amanda [Bennett] reposted Herman’s … self-tribute on FB. After 3 hours … an astounding 1 share and 4 likes, two of them being [two VOA managers].”

A reference to nausea was omitted from the above comment in the interest of good taste.

Current employees definitely blame the senior agency and VOA leadership for VOA’s decline and record low (among Federal agencies) employee morale. We also found this comment, but we are not sure whether it was meant to be serious or facetious.

Brilliant The power and content of VOA can be of great significance and value to help the administration share its view, plan its progress with the world.

VOA is of great resource to the administration as well as to the world.

For anyone abroad who may have wrongly concluded from the earlier VOA report that President Donald Trump might treat dissenting journalists like Lenin, Stalin, or Mao would treat them (presumably put them in front of execution squads), we are happy to be able to confirm that Steve Herman is very much alive, still safely reporting news, or more accurately put, presenting his personal commentaries at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

We won’t label his reports “far-left,” although some may be far-fetched. His Trump-Lenin-Stalin-Mao report, however, was promptly referenced by the respectable mainstream left-wing newspaper The Washington Post. This paper is believed to be the model of advocacy journalism (as opposed to VOA Charter mandated journalism) for the current BBG and VOA management team, while the “right-wing” media is allegedly followed by “white nationalists” and “racists” (terms found in VOA reports) who had elected Donald Trump, if one is to believe the narrative the Voice of America now tires to sell to its foreign and American audience.

In fact, a surprisingly large number of middle class and working class American women, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and even African Americans had voted for Donald Trump, are opposed to illegal immigration, and don’t see Trump whose wife is an immigrant and his daughter a convert to Judaism as someone who speaks for “hate and prejudice” (also a term reported by VOA to describe Trump in a report praised by the VOA director).

The vast majority of Trump voters are neither “white nationalists” nor “racists.” Moreover, despite VOA’s frequently reported concerns about media freedom in the United States under President Trump, Steve Herman is still safely reporting from the White House, i.e. from inside of the home of the “Dictator-in-Chief” (correction: Commander-in-Chief) and his wife.

For those among our foreign readers who after seeing Steve Herman’s earlier report with references to Trump, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao are still worried that President Trump might have Steve arrested or even executed, you have absolutely no reason to worry. President Trump is going to do no such thing. He is a democratically elected leader of the executive branch of the U.S. government. America still has a democratically elected parliament (U.S. Congress) and independent courts. Arresting journalists based on what they report is not how American democracy works. President Trump has given absolutely no indication that he will restrict free press. He is not a dictator.

The same message is intended for any foreign dictator who may have been confused by VOA’s Trump-Lenin-Stalin-Mao report. Rest assured that no harm has come to the intrepid VOA reporter. American taxpayers are still paying his full salary.

As you can see below, manure or no manure, Steve Herman is still safely and happily reporting from the White House in Washington, D.C. on the most important news of the day.

Isn’t America great?



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