BBG Watch Commentary

In an example of an apparent lack of journalistic curiosity, duty to the VOA Charter and inability to anticipate audience interests, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America posted online Wednesday a news report, “Netanyahu’s Decisive Win Draws Partisan US Response” by VOA News, which completely ignored the widely reported controversy over whether President Obama should or should not have congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his electoral victory.

The VOA report is actually quite good and otherwise comprehensive and balanced. It is, in fact, one of the best examples of VOA news reporting in recent weeks. That kind of reporting should be encouraged. But the report has one major problem. It lacks what appears to be to many in the United States and abroad one of the most newsworthy and currently most controversial component of the news story. The controversy is over the lack of a statement or a phone call from President Obama congratulating Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Even though the VOA report was last updated Wednesday at 12:20 PM ET, it did not include comments to CNN from White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy David Simas which could have at least partly addressed President Obama’s lack of response (so far) to Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral victory.

READ: Obama aide congratulates Israelis, but not Netanyahu, By Jesse Byrnes – 03/18/15 10:01 AM EDT, The Hill, March 18, 2015

By ignoring this controversy in a report that claims to address partisan U.S. issues, the Voice of America opens itself to suspicions of a possible bias, an avoidance of reporting on a controversy out of extreme caution, or even fear of offending the Obama Administration.

UPDATE: The White House is now saying that President Obama will call Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him, but as of 1:15 PM ET Tuesday, the Voice of America is not reporting this news.

FINAL UPDATE: At 1:26PM ET, the VOA report was updated with the following information:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to extend congratulations, the White House said, noting that President Barack Obama would do so “in the coming days.”

Administration spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that the president was committed to continuing unprescedented [sic] security cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu infuriated the White House and some of Israel’s other Western allies by declaring he would not support a two-state solution to Palestinian tensions. “I think that whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel,” the prime minister said.

Earnest on Wednesday reiterated the administration’s support for a democratic and Jewish state of Israel living side by side with an independent Palestinian state, a U.S. policy goal for 20 years.

Some may argue that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not formed a new government and therefore as The Blaze reported “White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy David Simas on Wednesday congratulated the ‘Israeli people’ in an interview with CNN, but did not address his good wishes specifically to Netanyahu.”

The Blaze article, “Rumor Check: Why Hasn’t the Obama Administration Congratulated Netanyahu Yet?,” is a good example of how the Voice of America should have reported on the story, as required by its VOA Charter, but the Voice of America did not in this case. Even though the VOA report was otherwise quite good and comprehensive, it lacked editorial guidance and leadership. It lacked one critical component that The Blaze article provided.

READ: Rumor Check: Why Hasn’t the Obama Administration Congratulated Netanyahu Yet?, By Sharona Schwartz, 11:55 AM ET, The Blaze, March 18, 2015

How could VOA claim to report on a “Partisan US Response” to Netanyahu victory and ignore a controversy many in Washington and in the United States were talking about Wednesday morning?

The Blaze noted the following:

“Obama took nearly a week to congratulate Netanyahu after his last win in 2013.

While he won a solid victory over his left-wing rival, Netanyahu is not technically the leader of the new government and may not be officially declared that for days or weeks.”

The Blaze also reported White House deputy senior adviser for communications and strategy David Simas as telling CNN that “sometimes that takes a couple of weeks, and we’re going to give space to the formation of that coalition government, and we’re not going to weigh in one way or another, except to say that the United States and Israel have an historic and close relationship, and that will continue going forward.”

Other foreign leaders whose parties win elections are technically also not yet certified winners and are not immediately put in charge of a new government, but they nevertheless receive congratulations from world leaders after their parties score a decisive electoral win. Some reports pointed out that President Obama was much quicker to congratulate Vladimir Putin when he won his last presidential election.

The Blaze noted that other foreign leaders have already congratulated Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We’re not suggesting that VOA should have criticized President Obama or his administration for not congratulating Prime Minister Netanyahu on his electoral victory. Under the VOA Charter, that is not VOA’s job. But in the light of the previous controversy over Netanyahu’s speech in the U.S. Congress, on which VOA reported extensively, and in light of an earlier Voice of America “Column” (later changed to “Opinion”), which accused Netanyahu of “eagerness to milk the Paris tragedy,” and calling his call to European Jews to emigrate to Israel “unseemly,” VOA should have at least taken note of the latest controversy, especially if the VOA report claims to focus on a “Partisan US Response.”

Some Voice of America journalists and editors blame bad decisions by senior management and lack of resources for VOA’s news reporting failures.

SEE: Where is Voice of America News? | AFRICA UPDATE, BBG Watch, March 18, 2015

Individual VOA correspondents have no control over how their contributions are incorporated into a final report, which may explain these reports often lack critical information and balance. VOA correspondents have been complaining about it for years, but senior management has refused to take any remedial actions. This appears to be yet another example of leadership, management, and oversight failure by senior Voice of America executives.

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VOA News

Netanyahu’s Decisive Win Draws Partisan US Response

VOA News

Last updated on: March 18, 2015 12:20 PM

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu savors his party’s decisive victory in parliamentary elections, U.S. lawmakers are reacting along party lines.

There are questions over how the win will affect U.S. relations with Israel. Tensions mounted between the two countries over the long-stalled Middle East peace process, as well as the prime minister’s recent, impassioned speech before the U.S. Congress during which he warned against an Iran nuclear deal. The move was criticized as undermining the Obama administration and its international partners.

House Speaker John Boehner who invited Netanyahu to speak, tweeted “heartfelt congratulations” to the prime minister: “Looking forward to continuing the strong bond between #Israel & America.”

“The people of Israel have spoken,” U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House’s leading Democrat, said at a news conference Wednesday, Reuters reported. “I respect the results that they have produced. I think that what they have produced will be a continued lively discussion about the peace process.”

Netanyahu’s win means “security trumped domestic issues,” said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. But the South Carolina Republican, a vocal critic of President Barack Obama, said the vote contained a message for the American leader.

“Embrace the reality that Iran is toppling one neighbor after the other, and that you [Obama] are negotiating regarding their nuclear ambition and they are not paying any price for destabilizing the region,” Graham told VOA. The administration has “an obsession with a nuclear deal with Iran that is disturbing everybody in the region.”

The head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, offered his congratulations in a statement that was more moderate in tone. It celebrated “the oldest and most stable democracy in the Middle East” and congratulated both Netanyahu and his chief rival, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, for a competitive bid.

“We look forward to continuing to build on our mutual interests,” Corker said.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who described the Israeli prime minister as “a friend,” called “Bibi” “one of the strongest people I have seen in the world.

“You have to give him a lot of credit for winning that election,” Hatch told VOA, “and, personally, I think that [outcome] is in the best interests of Israel and I am glad they made that choice.”

Democratic Senators offered temperate responses.

“I am looking forward to continuing to work with” Netanyahu “and seeking peace in the Middle East,” Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. He told VOA he was “not aware of any anger” lingering from Netanyahu’s speech. “All of us are simply looking forward to trying to stop a nuclear-armed Iran and make sure we pursue common goals of peace and civility in the Middle East.”

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said he sees “an unbreakable bond” between the U.S. and Israel, “and we are going to be supportive not only of Israel’s security, but also reaffirming values that bring us together. That’s the case no matter what happens in any election.”

As Tuesday’s polling took place, the State Department took a neutral stance saying the U.S. expected to continue work with Israel, regardless of the election outcome.

“We look forward to working with the next Israeli government, including on our shared agreement for peace and security in the Middle East,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Especially in the last few days of the campaign – when Israeli opinion polls were predicting Netanyahu would not win a fourth term – the prime minister portrayed himself both as a strongman bent on protecting Israeli security and a victim of opposition news media and some foreign leaders, including Obama, observers said.

“I actually think the Obama administration helped contribute to his victory because of the way they treated him,” Republican Representative Paul Ryan said Wednesday on the FOX News program “Fox & Friends.”

“It helped [Netanyahu] consolidate his coalition so that he could have this landslide victory, and I’m pleased to see it happen,” Ryan added.

The head of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, suggested Netanyahu’s campaign strategy may negatively influence U.S. electoral politics, too.

“One of the things we should learn from this is that playing the fear card works,” Jane Harmon said at a center event Wednesday analyzing the Israeli elections. “… Is this going to become a high art form, to our detriment?”

Michael Bowman and Cindy Saine contributed to this report from Capital Hill, with Pamela Dockin contributing from the State Department. Some information also was provided by Reuters.