BBG Watch Commentary

NASA Photo Posted  With NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Failure
NASA Photo Posted With NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Failure

Mismanaged U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) was once again “out to lunch” after business hours in Washington, DC when an unmanned NASA-contracted supply rocket, Antares, bound for the International Space Station, exploded shortly after its launch Tuesday evening from the nearby U.S. state of Virginia.

Voice of America was late posting the story online, provided only minimal amount of information, had no multimedia content, and failed to put the news of the explosion on its main homepage. Update: VOA added some additional photos to the story Wednesday afternoon.

This was one of many such news reporting lapses at the Voice of America in recent years under its current senior management. These failures happen now almost daily.

The U.S. Antares rocket exploded Tuesday at about 6:22 PM EDT. The explosion was reported almost immediately by all major international media, including BBC and CNN, as breaking news and prominently featured on their homepages. Major news media outlets other than VOA then continuously updated and expanded the story and kept it as a homepage lead item with images of the exploding rocket.

Voice of America did not manage to post a brief news item until 7:55 PM EDT and even then the news did not appear on the VOA English news homepage. It was hidden on the VOA USA News page and remained there for many hours. International audiences looking at the VOA homepage would not have known that anything unusual has happened.

BBC Antares Explosion Report Screen Shot

Voice of America also did not report, as BBC did, that the AJ-26 engines used to lift the rocket away from the pad, “are actually modified Russian-built power units that were originally developed for the ill-fated Soviet Moon rocket, the N-1. They have been refurbished to modern standards, but one blew up in ground testing earlier this year.”

The lack of this critical information in the Voice of America news report made it easier for comments mocking U.S. technology to be posted under another VOA report, “Russia Launches ISS Cargo After Explosion – VOA News,” which was posted at 5:32 AM EDT Wednesday. This report did make it unto the VOA news homepage at some point Wednesday morning with these readers’ comments, at least some of which appear to be from the Kremlin’s Internet trolls:

Readers’ Comments on VOA Website

by: william li from: canada
October 29, 2014 10:40 AM

“second times in one year? this is the quality of made in america, lol”

by: Igor from: Russia
October 29, 2014 10:35 AM

“It is a clear evidence russians can do what other cannot. So stop spreading lies that we only sell oil and gas for money because oil and gas are granted to us by God.”

by: Ally from: Russia Rossiya
October 29, 2014 9:20 AM

“As can be seen without the Russian space industry in the United States, as before can not be criticized .Many our technology, in the west said that Russia is not the US will be without space))))”

The first VOA news report, posted at 7:55 PM EDT Tuesday, “US Rocket to Space Station Explodes on Launch – VOA News” had only one comment:

by: Michael from: USA
October 28, 2014 10:41 PM

“Well after so many years of technological advancement and expertise, you would expect that we could at least get rockets off the ground!

Probably saving money in materials and design here is the culprit along with some greedy idiots in the helm of this project.”

Voice of America not only failed to provide international audiences with all critical and relevant information on a major breaking news story but also became a platform for anti-U.S. comments facilitated in this case by VOA’s failure to explain all the facts behind the accident.

Voice of America also did not report, as both BBC and Russia’s RT did, that “the rocket had been carrying “hazardous materials” and that Frank Culbertson, executive vice-president of Orbital Sciences which built the rocket, warned the public against picking up any debris.

“The two Americans, three Russians and one German aboard the space station were watching a live video feed from Mission Control and saw the whole thing unfold before their eyes,” one watcher of the Voice of America website reported last night to BBG Watch quoting from a report from another news organization.

“HAHA- THEY WERE WATCHING IN SPACE BUT EVIDENTLY VOA WAS OUT TO LUNCH!,” a former Voice of America broadcaster observed. 

“A [Voice of America]newsroom in name only,” another veteran VOA employee commented.

“Fox, AOL, other outlets are all carrying it.  It’s all over FACEBOOK.  Is everyone at VOA asleep?,” was a comment from yet another former Voice of America journalist.

BBC was covering the story constantly with images and video of the explosion. It took Voice of America about 90 minutes to post a brief news item based on Reuters with a Reuters photo from NASA. The same photo as well as other images, video and much more detailed information were available to VOA directly from NASA but were not used by the U.S. taxpayer supported news organization serving international audiences. The Voice of America news story also did not include any Tweets from NASA and other sources, which Russia’s RT posted online together with images and video. SEE: ISS-bound rocket explodes on takeoff from NASA facility in Virginia (PHOTOS, VIDEO), RT (formerly Russia Today), Oct. 28, 2014.

“The Lorton Patch had more news than VOA.  These are sad days and I wonder if the 3rd Floor [Voice of America, International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) senior leaders and management] even gets it?,” a former high-level BBG official asked.

Voice of America did not cover the post-explosion NASA news conference, while Russia’s RT and BBC did report details of the press conference and posted videos, numerous images and Tweets from NASA and other sources.

The only photo on the short VOA news item about the Antares rocket explosion was from Reuters. Voice of America Director David Ensor and his deputy Steve Redisch maintain, however, that VOA is a multimedia news organization. They have launched the so-called “Digital First” initiative. Many VOA journalists consider Voice of America to be poorly managed with most resources wasted on the constantly growing bureaucracy, while news programs, programming positions and program support are being cut by senior leaders.

From RT’s website


Some of the Tweets used by Russia’s RT


These Tweets and other multimedia NASA news content was not used by VOA.


Social media outreach tells the story of VOA’s decline


The VOA news item posted on Tuesday at 7:55 PM EDT is showing only 19 Facebook “Shares,” 11 Tweets, and only one readers’ comment as of Wednesday, 2:30 PM EDT.

Russia’s RT multimedia news report is showing more than 3,800 Facebook “Likes” or “Shares,” 977 Tweets and 747 readers’ comments as of Wednesday, 2:30 PM EDT.


VOA Screenshot


VOA Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 2.24 PM EDT
VOA Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 2.24 PM EDT


RT Screenshot


RT Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 2.14PM EDT


Multimedia Content on RT Site



More comments from former and current VOA journalists

FORMER VOA JOURNALIST: “Do you think the simple explanation is that there is no one on the web desk who can get breaking news up on to the site? Are web desks staffed 24/7?  Are the web persons under the authority of Central News or do they get to pick what’s important for breaking news, i.e., a separate bureaucratic kingdom?  Do the people on the news desk know how to get something up on the web in the absence of any web people?   

Another key element is the Assignments Desk.  Who determines who covers what?  For example, if the space shot was going up at 6:30 PM, as it did, would there have been an alert from Assignments for someone to cover?  Or could Newsroom decide that?  In the olden days, there would be a person or persons who would be following the story.  Or does everyone go home at 5 PM?.  Does anyone from the day shift pass on stuff to the night shift?  

BBC got the news up quickly after it happened.  Then there was an update at 7:30 PM to which a lot of background was attached, probably from archive material, and BBC continued the coverage.  The BBC news was not hidden, tucked away in a USA News section [as VOA’s brief news item was].   It was on the main BBC news page story.  With VOA you had to hunt for it, as I did.

Andy Lack [Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) selectee to become CEO of the federal agency in charge of the Voice of America and other U.S. taxpayer-funded international news media] will have to analyze the mechanics of how the news is tracked and posted and what is causing these egregious lapses.”

One current VOA employee suggested that perhaps there was no one at the Voice of America Tuesday evening who knew how to get the story posted on the VOA homepage.

“Indeed, the VOA site as of this hour does not even have the breaking news crawl at the top and, as you point out, the rocket explosion is nowhere to be seen.”

A few minutes after 8:00 PM Tuesday, the following email was sent out to media outlets by Principle Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz. VOA did not mention the White House announcement in its brief news item or the fact that President Obama, who has shown personal interest in the U.S. space program, was informed of the accident while on a campaign trip in Wisconsin.

“This evening the President was briefed on the launch failure of the Antares rocket in Wallops, Virginia. The President was briefed by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Anita Decker Breckenridge and will continue to get updates as more information becomes available.”


News Content Available to VOA But Not Used

NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Failure

NASA Antares Explosion PhotoThe following statement is from William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, regarding the launch failure that occurred at Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the attempted launch of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft at 6:22 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28.

“While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences’ third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies.

“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”

Image: The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

› NASA’s Orbital webpage

Video of NASA news conference following mishap

Published on Oct 28, 2014
NASA held a news conference Tuesday October 28 following the mishap that occurred at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the attempted launch of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Briefing participants were, Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Programs Group at Orbital Sciences Corp, Bill Wrobel, director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, and Mike Suffredini, NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager.

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