Bureaucracy Warning SignVoice of America Information War Lost: David Ensor In His Own Words

By The Federalist

On Tuesday, December 16, 2014 what used to be the Voice of America (VOA) newsroom held its annual “VOA Follies.” As we noted in a previous commentary, this used to be a sometimes funny and clever event during the holiday season.

It isn’t any more.

But this year’s offering may qualify for being “extraordinary.” We say this because David Ensor, the VOA director, made a personal appearance and contribution to the event, attempting to lampoon BBG Watch. Self-deprecating humor or even humorous comments about Putin, Iran’s ayatollahs, or ISIS do not appear to be part of Mr. Ensor’s repertoire. An independent U.S. NGO media outlet, BBG Watch, is. We can assure Mr. Ensor, that BBG Watch would also be mocked and attacked if it were based in Russia, China, Iran or Cuba instead of being based in Truckee, CA (near Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley USA).

Here are Mr. Ensor’s remarks:

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 – cusib.org) 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 VOANews.com website. And it’s working.

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

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.

As we noted, Mr. Ensor’s remarks are “extraordinary:”

Perhaps a better choice of words would be politically reckless and suicidal. As Mr. Ensor suggests, he put together this spectacle at the urging of others. Another demonstration of lack of good judgment, pandering to sycophants who may surround Mr. Ensor and his office.

It is politically reckless to attack (a) private citizens who are also taxpayers, (b) former employees whose records of service are perhaps far more superlative than Mr. Ensor’s, (c) a distinguished former US ambassador and former member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), (d) an independent NGO watch dog website which does the same thing in the United States and abroad — exposes government corruption and persecution of journalists — which is also part of BBG’s mission, (e) make a funny reference to a religious publication from Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world.

  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure as VOA director, the agency has expanded its record as one of the worst organizations in the Federal Government, with the largest drop in employee morale among mid-size federal agencies this past year.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s watch, there has been one after another misstep in the reporting of news to include posting a false interview with a Russian dissident, mistranslation of  a statement by  a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, which was then exploited by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, reporting without balance on North Korean regime’s statements,  and an historically biased “documentary” by the VOA Armenian Service, for which he had to publicly apologize to the Government of Azerbaijan.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure, the VOA newsroom has been essentially demolished in favor turning over core central news functions for uneven treatment by the 43 VOA language services who are under-resourced and lack any kind of guidance or leadership from senior management for taking on the responsibilities of a central newsroom.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure, he publicly supported an employee editorial titled “Back Off Congress.”
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure the agency produced an equally infamous video promotion for distribution to Pakistan portraying Uncle Sam as a bloodthirsty zombie.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure, in an effort to stop the complete implosion of US Government international broadcasting – particularly by the Voice of America – the US Congress has written legislation to reform the agency. Further action on this legislation is anticipated when the new Congress convenes in 2015.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure, for the first time in Voice of America’s history a bill was introduced to defund VOA.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure and before he came on board, VOA and the agency illegally hired and mistreated hundreds of full-time contract employees.
  • During Mr. Ensor’s tenure, The Wall Street Journal has recently published an editorial titled, A “Broken Voice of America,” and a Wall Street Journal Video Opinion Journal: “Voice of Anti-Americanism.”

This is a fraction of a list that could be titled “VOA Gone Bad: The Implosion of a US Government Agency.”

Under the circumstances, the very last thing one should be doing is drawing attention to a very bad situation which reflects negatively in the extreme with regard to Mr. Ensor’s lack of leadership and management acumen.

Also under Mr. Ensor’s tenure, his chief of staff is on an extended Leave of Absence. So-called “senior advisers” come and go – a pattern that we expect will continue.

Perhaps the 2014 “VOA Follies” should be subtitled,

“David Ensor: The Last Great Act of Defiance.”

We don’t know if the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) would behave in this manner. Certainly not likely in public. Perhaps this is the kind of thing one would expect from the international broadcasting entities in Russia, China and Iran.

Be assured that BBG Watch deals in much more fact than does Mr. Ensor.

In the early days of his tenure, we were inclined to give Mr. Ensor fair consideration. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, we have become more disaffected by Mr. Ensor’s stewardship of this agency. Part of the disaffection comes from Mr. Ensor’s failure to take ownership of the agency’s shortcomings which have ballooned into seismic failures. It also comes from Mr. Ensor’s endless mantra portraying the agency as a “news company” which it clearly is not and by inference trying to purloin the agency’s Charter and mission. It also comes from Mr. Ensor’s inability to define agency priorities, as in the example of a “digital first” initiative for the VOA newsroom which he could not even define and is still elusive.

One suspects that Mr. Ensor’s days as VOA director may be numbered. Indeed, perhaps either the BBG or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – designate, Andrew Lack, should take ownership of Mr. Ensor’s remarks as a template for requiring his departure.

It’s time.

It is way past time.

One would have thought that Mr. Ensor could have done something more constructive with his time this day, other than to memorialize himself and his words as unbecoming of a public servant heading a Federal entity.

Mr. Ensor’s continued presence serves nothing useful other than a constant reminder of an agency that is totally dysfunctional and defunct.

The Federalist
December 2014