BBG Watch Commentary
These days, the work of the Voice of America (VOA) in reporting to the world in English and many other languages on U.S. foreign policy issues is often not done by the Voice of America. For example, the main website of VOA English News completely ignored an important foreign policy speech last Thursday by Vice President Joe Biden, in which he expressed his sympathy for the pro-European street protests in the Ukraine.
The vast majority of 44 VOA language services (other than English) also did not report on Vice President Biden’s speech because the VOA central newsroom had no information about it for anybody inside or outside of VOA.
Consequently, VOA English and foreign language websites and broadcasts made no mention of Biden’s words about Ukraine and Russia, clearly a major news topic of the day:
“Nothing would have greater impact for securing our interests and the world’s interests in Europe than to see a democratic, prosperous, and independent Ukraine in the region. And in our view, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to Russia in the long term.”
The work of the Voice of America was done in this case by Josh Rogin who writes for The Daily Beast. Except that his article is not likely to be translated into many foreign languages and distributed around the world. That’s the job of the Voice of America, which VOA has been doing extremely poorly and chaotically for the last few years under the management of top VOA executives who get their marching orders from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).
See: “Biden Backs Ukrainian Protesters,” by Josh Rogin. The Daily Beast, December 13, 2013, 12:07 PM.
Also see: “Exclusive: McCain Flies to Ukraine as Protests Rage,” by Josh Rogin. The Daily Beast, December 13, 2013, 4:06 PM.
IBB executives and strategic planners tell VOA managers that video and text reports on such things as the royal christening in Great Britain are far more interesting for international audiences and easier to place on local stations in other countries than boring foreign policy speeches. The VOA English website had recently five separate reports, some with video, on the christening of a British royal, but failed to report on former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa’s visit to the U.S. Congress or Vice President Biden’s phone call to Ukraine’s President Yanukovich (except for two sentences a day late).
The VOA English news website also ignored Vice President Biden’s earlier remarks in China on the lack of media freedom in that country (except for one sentence).
When it comes to bipartisan U.S. foreign policy pronouncements and actions, VOA executives frequently forego coverage of such events. It’s most likely not done by design but as a result of lack of any kind of effective leadership, bad management and incompetence at the top levels. Not too long ago, senior VOA executives not only approved but praised a VOA video report from North Korea that repeated North Korean propaganda claims without any significant challenges and focused on showing shops well stocked with food and consumer goods in a country where ordinary people have starved to death.
Biden, who was the featured honoree Thursday evening at the annual gala of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of diplomacy and development as tools of national power, was introduced by a former Republican presidential candidate and his friend Senator John McCain who later in the week traveled to Ukraine. The VOA English website was many hours late in reporting on his planned trip and then got the day of his arrival wrong. Senator McCain was in Kyiv all day Saturday holding numerous meetings while VOA English News had him arriving in Kyiv on Sunday.
Josh Rogin was also the one to break the news in an earlier Daily Beast article about Senator McCain’s trip to Ukraine. BBC, RT (Russia Today) and the Voice of Russia were reporting on the announcement of Senator McCain’s trip many hours before the Voice of America posted a report about it on its English website and got the dates wrong. It was a bipartisan congressional trip. Senator McCain was joined in Kyiv by Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.
A bipartisan theme was also strong at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition event last Thursday, which recognized not only Vice President Biden’s support for U.S. diplomacy engagement abroad, but also the commitment to foreign policy issues of Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita M. Lowey (D-NY). All three have been longtime supporters of U.S. international broadcasting.
According to Josh Rogin, Sen. John McCain said he and the Vice President shared a long friendship and a similar political style despite their partisan differences.
“We’ve managed to remain close friends, partially because neither of us has ever viewed out friendship as incompatible with a good fight, and partially because there’s nothing that an outspoken and excitable politician likes more than the company of another outspoken, excitable politician,” he said.
As reported by Josh Rogin in The Daily Beast, Vice President Biden told the gathering in Washington last Thursday that he knew Yanukovych well and had “several hours worth” of conversations with him in recent months.
“My conversation with Yanukovych just in the past few weeks, I’ve made it clear that he has a choice. He can choose a path that leads to division and isolation or can take immediate tangible steps to diffuse his country’s crisis and start a genuine dialogue with the opposition to agree to a path that returns Ukraine to economic and political health,” Biden said. “We hope he leads his country back to its European path, but he needs help. Because it’s in the most fundamental interest of the United States that Ukraine succeed, the door is open. And what the Ukrainian people have to know is that the America stands with them on the side of universal rights, democratic principles, and economic assistance and intervention,” Josh Rogin reported.
According to The Daily Beast report, Senator McCain criticized the isolationist view of foreign policy espoused by some of the Republican Party’s newer leaders, including Sen. Rand Paul.
“We have seen how much better off we are, how much our country and humanity have progressed, when the United States commits all its assets to leading the world to a more stable, freer, more prosperous future. That doesn’t mean, as the isolationists claim, that we are forever lurching from one crisis to another at the expense of American lives, treasure, and interests,” he said.
What Josh Rogin reported should have also been reported by the Voice of America. Statements on Ukraine from the Vice President and others were certainly timely and newsworthy. The theme of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy, at least toward Ukraine and Russia, would also be interested for international audiences.
The Voice of America covered none of this centrally, which means that its language services also had nothing on it with the exception of the VOA Ukrainian Service.
The VOA Russian Service had nothing on it and it repeated the mistake of VOA English News about the date for Senator McCain’s arrival in Kyiv. A large portion of the population in eastern Ukraine speaks Russian rather than Ukrainian.
The VOA Ukrainian Service has provided its own coverage, which has been far superior to what VOA central news was offering English speaking audiences and VOA foreign language services. It shows that dedicated VOA journalists can perform miracles even when managed by one of the most hostile team of executives in the entire federal government. But these journalists cannot fix the failed news gathering system or reform the organization so it can function and fulfill its mission.
On December 13, when Josh Rogin posted his article about Biden, McCain and Ukraine, VOA managers chose instead to post a Reuters story from London, “Major Chinese Art Collection Set for Oxford Museum” — no doubt far more important for international audiences than Vice President Biden and Senator McCain speaking in Washington, DC about Ukraine and Russia.
There were two other Reuters reports posted on the VOA website on that day: “Beyonce Surprises Fans with Secret Album Release” (four days later it had a whopping 10 Facebook “Likes’) and “Airlines Seek New Rules to Handle Unruly Travelers” (four days later this story on the VOA website has zero Facebook “Likes.”)
There are many VOA reporters who are eager to cover and report real news the way Josh Rogin reports on U.S. foreign policy for The Daily Beast and other media. After Senator McCain’s trip to Ukraine, Rogin interviewed him about possible U.S. sanctions if the Ukrainian government chose to use force against peaceful demonstrators. Needless to say, VOA did not interview Senator McCain when he returned from Ukraine. See: “McCain Considers Ukraine Sanctions,” by Josh Rogin. The Daily Beast, December 16, 2013, 5:35 PM.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which has an oversight role and decides how to fund U.S. international broadcasting, can withhold money that now goes to VOA and IBB executives. It can eliminate the bloated IBB bureaucracy.
There are dozens of former VOA journalists who were put in bureaucratic positions by IBB executives as they eliminated program after program to expand their own empire. Since VOA no longer has enough reporters, the BBG should return these former journalists to the VOA Newsroom and other program units.
The BBG should give all VOA journalists a chance to report real news. The only way to do this is by removing failed and discredited senior VOA and IBB managers. They have made the Voice of America dysfunctional and “defunct,” to use a term from a statement by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she spoke about the agency’s ability to tell America’s story abroad.
The Ukrainian crisis has shown that VOA and IBB senior managers are incapable of arranging even for basic reporting from Washington on U.S. foreign policy topic.
VOA executives in charge of news ignored Vice President Biden and Senator McCain. IBB executives in charge of management and PR ignored such strong supporters of U.S. international broadcasting as Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) and Representative Nita M. Lowey (D-NY).
These failed managers need to go.
U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) PRESS RELEASE
DECEMBER 13, 2013 | RICHARD PARKER
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN, REPRESENTATIVES GRANGER AND LOWEY HONORED FOR CHAMPIONING U.S. GLOBAL LEADERSHIP
From Senator McCain to Grover from Sesame Street, Broad Support Shown for America’s Continued Engagement in the World
Washington, D.C. – Last night, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) recognized Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) for their long-standing commitment to America’s global leadership through strong U.S. development and diplomacy programs. Close to 1,000 people representing a who’s who of the U.S. foreign policy community were on hand to honor the three leaders for supporting a robust U.S. International Affairs Budget.
“The world can be a messy and difficult place. But what we do beyond our borders matters more here at home than it ever has,” said Vice President Biden. “At just over one percent of our federal budget, American investment in diplomacy and development is one of the best bargains the American taxpayer gets.”
Discussing the national security importance of the International Affairs Budget, the Vice Presidentwent on to say, “Our success against terrorism, extremism and pandemic disease depends upon development where it matters most. Without it, extremism grows, terrorism becomes a viable option, and pandemic disease increases the prospect of it flourishing.”
Showing the important bipartisan support that exists for U.S. engagement in the world, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) led the tribute to his longtime colleague, Vice President Biden, saying, “Our military cannot address every one of the deep-rooted causes of violence and instability in the world. Diplomacy and global development are indispensable to our success. Don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone in the military in command or in the ranks. They’ll tell you how critically important foreign assistance is to preventing wars and winning the peace.”
Representatives Granger and Lowey are two of the leading voices on Capitol Hill for strengthening America’s commitment to a smart power foreign policy in the world as Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee respectively.
“The United States plays an important role on the world stage both in terms of our leadership and our responsibility to invest wisely in countries to help advance democratic principles, and enhance our security partnerships,”said Congresswoman Granger. “I’ve also witnessed firsthand the significance of U.S. engagement around the world; whether it’s through bolstering global education, HIV prevention or assistance to help our allies protect themselves from external threats, the benefits are real and tangible.”
“It is a special honor to receive USGLC’s recognition alongside my friends Vice President Biden and Congresswoman Kay Granger, two great advocates for America’s global leadership and for strong and effective foreign assistance,” said Congresswoman Lowey. “Democrats and Republicans must continue working together to ensure that we invest in the vital programs that strengthen our national security by promoting democracy, prosperity, and stability around the world.”
The event was co-chaired by longtime USGLC members, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Sesame Workshop, further demonstrating the broad support America’s investments in the smart power tools of development and diplomacy has across the country.
“For Lockheed Martin and the hundreds of businesses gathered here today, there is simply no choice about whether to be engaged in important global issues,” said Marillyn A. Hewson, CEO and President of Lockheed Martin Corporation. “Today, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the U.S., and over half of our exports already go to the developing world, a number that’s only going to grow. The International Affairs Budget is critical to our nation’s future.”
“Helping others is part of our national identity,” said H. Melvin Ming, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop. “Investing in diplomacy, education and development opportunities across the world is the right thing to do both morally and for the stability and economic growth of all nations. Improving the educational outcomes of the world’s most vulnerable children is in all our interests.”
Also on the program was Grover, the self-described “lovable, cute and furry” Sesame Workshop Muppet, who told USGLC Chairman Dan Glickman and Executive Director Liz Schrayer that “when I go on my trips around the world I will tell all my friends how you are working to build a better, safer, and more prosperous world.”
“While many of us may disagree on some things, it’s clear tonight that Democrats, Republicans and Independents all come together around the importance of America’s engaged role in the world by eradicating diseases like HIV/AIDS, feeding the hungry, and fighting global poverty,” saidGlickman. “The International Affairs Budget provides America with the tools and the resources we need to lead in the world, and this small one percent investment provides a tremendous return for our security, economy, and values as a nation. We are grateful for the leadership of Vice President Biden, Representatives Granger and Lowey, as well as Senator McCain, in calling for a strong and effective International Affairs Budget.”
The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (www.usglc.org) is a broad-based influential network of 400 businesses and NGOs; national security and foreign policy experts; and business, faith-based, academic and community leaders in all 50 states who support a smart power approach of elevating development and diplomacy alongside defense in order to build a better, safer world.