BBG Watch Commentary

Practically defunct (Hillary Clinton’s words), U.S. taxpayer-funded ($224M FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) failed to report on its main VOA News English-language website whether a senior White House staffer Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, actually represented President Obama a memorial ceremony in Cuba for Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro.

VOA News did report earlier that “White House officials said President Barack Obama asked Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the president’s nominee to be ambassador to Havana, to represent the United States.” But VOA News never reported whether Ben Rhodes was actually there during the funeral and what he might have done after or before the funeral.

Ben Rhodes had played earlier a central role in negotiations with the Cuban regime on the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.

Other U.S. media, including The New York Times, reported that while Ben Rhodes and the U.S. Ambassador would be present, President Obama was not sending a formal delegation to attend the memorial services for Fidel Castro. The Voice of America failed to make this point and highlight what the White House apparently thought was an important distinction to make.

VOA English News never followed up, as it should have, with a report mentioning or confirming Ben Rhodes’ actual presence at the memorial ceremonies in Cuba or obtained and posted a comment from the White House official.

The VOA Spanish website also had no report mentioning or confirming that Ben Rhodes had made it to Cuba and was present at the memorial services for Fidel Castro. It seems that very few, if any VOA foreign language services, had any reports on Ben Rhodes in Cuba.

Foreign audiences relying on the Voice of America for news would not know from VOA News online text reports on December 3 and December 4 whether the United States government was indeed represented at the memorial ceremonies for Fidel Castro, as previously pre-announced even by VOA, who else might have represented the United States, or whether these U.S. officials, if they were actually present during the funeral, had anything to say beforehand or afterwards.

The Voice of America also apparently failed to report on what Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, had said a few days earlier about Ben Rhodes going to Cuba and about U.S.-Cuban relations. In terms of explaining U.S. policy toward Cuba, Josh Earnest’s remarks were quite significant and should have been reported by VOA. We could find no evidence in searching through VOA’s online text content that the White House press secretary’s comment were reported by VOA English News.

This is what was reported by The New York Times on November 29:

NYT: The administration decided that the relationship between the two countries remained “quite complicated,” Mr. Earnest said. “There are many aspects of the U.S.-Cuba relationship that were characterized by a lot of conflict and turmoil, not just during the Castro regime.”
Mr. Earnest said the administration continued to have significant concerns about the Cuban government, including its poor protection of basic human rights.
“So, we believe that this was an appropriate way for the United States to show our commitment to an ongoing future-oriented relationship with the Cuban people,” Mr. Earnest said.
…Although he is not a diplomat, Mr. Rhodes was the central White House interlocutor during negotiations with the Cuban government over the recent opening of relations between the two countries, and he was scheduled to be in Cuba this week for more meetings anyway, Mr. Earnest said.

The VOA Charter, which is U.S. law (Public Law 94-350), says that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.” This requirement does not seem to worry too much the current Broadcasting Board of Governors and Voice of America leadership.

VOA has been sliding into further dysfunction, chaos, and political bias under the outgoing BBG Chairman Jeff Shell (whom President Obama wanted to replace even before the House of Representatives passed an amendment last week which may turn the BBG board into only an advisory body).

Contributing to the current sorry state of the agency have been Shell’s choice for BBG CEO and director, John F. Lansing (who lacks prior experience in government operations or U.S. public diplomacy), and VOA director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara who during the pre-election campaign period allowed posting of one-sided hit pieces against Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and even a smear against Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) while at the same time promising to prevent biased reporting and to uphold the VOA Charter.

SEE: Voice of America reporters horrified by decline of VOA journalistic standards, BBG Watch, November 30, 2016.

The agency has become even more mismanaged in recent days. A BBG press release for the media quoting John Lansing SEE: Dysfunctional U.S. agency gets its chief’s name, title wrong in a press release, BBG Watch, December 5, 2016.

SEE: BBG chiefs heap praise on executives of a failed agency, BBG Watch, December 1, 2016

The main VOA News report on December 4 about the memorial ceremonies in Cuba was largely a one-sided glorification of Fidel Castro and his legacy, failing to mention for proper balance in any detail executions of political opponents, major human rights abuses, poverty, and thousands of Cubans who had died trying to flee the island under Castro’s dictatorship. In only one short sentence, VOA News said that in that particular report that “Casto [sic – VOA editing standards have also deteriorated], [was] a polarizing leader who was celebrated by some Cubans as a champion of the poor and harshly criticized by others as a tyrant who wrecked the country’s economy and violated human rights.”

To its credit, VOA News did report at greater length on some of Castro regime’s abuses in some of its earlier better-written, better-edited and more balanced news reports. VOA still has a few good journalists and editors left, but they are stymied and dispirited by mismanagement and poor leadership.

While posting at least two reports on funeral events for Fidel Castro in Cuba, the Voice of America’s VOA News did not cover at all a counter-event held in Washington, DC by Cuban Americans and other opponents of communism and totalitarian regimes, even though VOA is required by its Charter to represent all of America, not just the United States government or “any single segment of American society.”

A candlelight vigil, “Remembering the Victims of the Castro Regime,” organized by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, took place in the late afternoon on December 4th, 2016 at the Victims of Communism Memorial on the corner of New Jersey and Massachusetts Avenues in Washington, DC. The anti-Castro event was happening only a few blocks from the VOA headquarters building. It was covered by other U.S. news outlets and some international media.

In an earlier statement, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation said: “On behalf of Fidel Castro’s tens of thousands of victims, we urge President Obama and all leaders of the free, democratic world to boycott the butcher of Havana’s funeral. Now is the time for the US to recognize the interests of the Cuban people, not the Communist Party. America’s leaders can ensure that the ending of Fidel Castro’s dark chapter of Cuban history can mark the beginning of a truly democratic future.”

VOA News also did not report on the call to boycott Fidel Castro’s funeral.

A truly horrifying performance by the current Broadcasting Board of Governors and Voice of America leadership.
VOA’s Anti-Trump Hit Piece





Castro’s Remains Buried in Private Ceremony in Cuba

Last Updated: December 04, 2016 9:51 AM
VOA News
[AP Photo Used by VOA News Not Reposted]  
Cuba’s President Raul Castro places the ashes of his older brother Fidel Castro into a niche in his tomb, a simple, grey, round stone about 15 feet high at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago, Dec.4, 2016.
The remains of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro were buried in eastern Cuba early Sunday morning after nine days of nationally-mandated mourning across the island.
The ceremony at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba was made private at last minute, barring journalists from around the world from witnessing the service.”
Casto, a polarizing leader who was celebrated by some Cubans as a champion of the poor and harshly criticized by others as a tyrant who wrecked the country’s economy and violated human rights, died on November 25 at age 90, after years of declining health.
Fidel Castro’s ashes arrived Saturday afternoon in Santiago de Cuba, the city where he started the Cuban revolution in 1953. The procession followed in reverse the route Castro and his rebels fighters took as they advanced on the capital from the Sierra Maestra mountains before taking power in January 1959.
[AP Photo Used by VOA News Not Reposted]  
Cuba’s President Raul Castro, second from right, salutes during a rally honoring his brother Fidel Castro at Antonio Maceo plaza in Santiago, Dec. 3, 2016.
The ashes, held in a wooden box draped with the Cuban flag, encased in glass and pulled on a trailer by an army jeep, left from Havana last week. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans mourning, cheering or chanting “I am Fidel!” lined the streets as the cortege rolled through towns along the 900-km route.
Cuban President Raul Castro told tens of thousands of onlookers gathered for a rally in his brother’s honor in Santiago de Cuba Saturday evening that the government will honor Fide’s wish that no monuments or public venues be named after him.
“This is the unconquered Fidel who calls us with his example,” Raul Castro, dressed in his four-star general’s uniform, told the crowd, which had burst into chants of “I am Fidel.”
[AP Photo Used by VOA News Not Reposted]  
People wait for the start of a memorial honoring the late Fidel Castro at Plaza Antonio Maceo in Santiago, Cuba, Dec. 3, 2016.
Castro allies, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and football (soccer) champion Diego Maradona, attended the event.
Current and former world leaders expected to attend the funeral also include Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and past Brazilian presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.
Raul Castro assumed office in February 2008 and has pledged to step down in 2018.


1 comment
  1. The overstaffed and overpaid investigation team will make sure this kind of oversight never happens again!

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