BBG Watch Commentary

A few days ago, Voice of America (VOA) newsroom reporters, editors and managers, who are U.S. federal employees, collaborated on preparing a holiday skit in which they lampooned President-elect’s daughter Ivanka Trump, told a sex joke about Mrs. Trump, and said repeatedly that Donald Trump was “a joke.”

But when a few days later, BBC and all other major media reported that “an airline has thrown a passenger off a flight after he accosted Ivanka Trump, the eldest daughter of President-elect Donald Trump, on a plane from New York,” the Voice of America newsroom was conspicuously not reporting on the BlueJet-Ivanka Trump harassment incident.

Russia’s propaganda channels RT and SPUTNIK reported on this U.S. story, JetBlue removes passengers for ‘harassing’ Ivanka Trump” | RT, as did almost everybody else in the U.S. and international media world.

Not the Voice of America (VOA News).

Ivanka Trump lampooned in a VOA satire skit

But a few days earlier, a handful of VOA newsroom reporters found plenty of time and energy to demean Mr. Trump’s daughter and his wife at a holiday party organized on U.S. taxpayers’ time and money in a U.S. federal building in Washington, DC, where VOA has its headquarters.

SEE: Voice of America Civil Service Employees Satire Trump, Future First Lady, BBG Watch, December 17, 2016.


Ivanka Trump was called “First Daughter, lady, whatever…” in the skit performed by VOA newsroom reporters. A sex joke was told about future First Lady Melania Trump.

Unprecedented bias and partisanship at VOA

It is not just extreme bias at a work-place holiday party that should concern American taxpayers and lawmakers. Voice of America reporting under the current VOA leadership has become more partisan and biased when it comes to U.S. politics than at any other time in VOA’s history, many current and former VOA journalists, both Republicans and Democrats among them, agree.

If one has any doubts about VOA newsroom content for international and U.S. audiences being now highly politically biased, one can search on Voice of America websites for such terms as “fascist” and “leftist” with references to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and U.S. politics.

Searches of the VOA websites and social media pages show that there are multiple “right-wing,” “fascist,” “racist” references and labels in VOA’s U.S. politics news content; there are none or almost zero “liberal,” “left-wing” references or labels in VOA News content in recent months. VOA has never used or explained the term “snowflakes” while generously using far more politically-charged labels against Donald Trump and his supporters without, in many cases, any countervailing facts or opinions.

Low class humor

As far as the holiday satire goes, VOA newsroom’s humor was not even funny. It was low-class, pedestrian, testosterone-driven, anti-women, and in bad taste. It did enormous damage to the Voice of America and its reputation by exposing unbridled bias and partisanship among some (not all) VOA central newsroom staffers.

Such blatant displays of sexism and partisanship as in this year’s Voice of America’s holiday performance would not be tolerated by many other U.S. news organizations, especially if they became public, because they show audiences, advertisers, and in this case American taxpayers who pay the salaries of VOA journalists, that some reporters can be highly biased, sexist, and completely insensitive to how women, minorities, and handicapped persons feel when exposed to such low-class, nasty humor.

Almost all of VOA’s reporters’ jokes were about Mr. Trump, women in his family, and his women associates. There was one sex joke about former President Clinton and a brief mild joke about Hillary Clinton; everything else dealing with U.S. politics was almost entirely a hit piece aimed at Mr. Trump, with much of the focus being on women in his private and professional life.

It was an ugly, partisan, sexist performance from a handful of VOA newsroom staffers and managers who have never made fun of President Obama, Mrs. Obama and their family in a any way — not that such sexist lampooning and demeaning humor would be acceptable against any U.S. President, U.S. President-elect, the First Lady, their children, or anybody else. These VOA reporters, editors, and managers have shown not only their poor taste and poor judgement, but also their lack of any kind of creative talent or a sense of humor.

At least one, if not more VOA reporters, was so impressed that he or she reportedly streamed these jokes live to the Internet. At least one VOA reporter had posted before memes depicting Mr. Trump with a Nazi swastika and as a sexual organ.

Many VOA reporters disapprove of management and political bias

It must be pointed out that only a handful of VOA English newsroom reporters, editors, and managers were directly involved in making fun of Mrs. Trump and Ivanka Trump, but a few more — not all — loudly laughed and applauded these lame and tasteless jokes. One of those seen laughing the most was a VOA political reporter, BBG Watch was told.

It appears, however, that most of Voice of America’s rank and file journalists disapprove of VOA newsroom staffers, editors and managers who have put together the holiday show. Many of their colleagues found this kind of boys locker room anti-women humor highly distasteful and harmful to VOA’s reputation for fairness and objectivity. These VOA reporters told some of their colleagues that they are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from managers and executives who tolerate such behavior.

There were no truly funny political jokes at the VOA holiday party held in a U.S. government building on government time of the type that could pass for a biting political satire without crossing the line into personal attacks. VOA humorists did not try to say, for example, that Vladimir Putin has agreed to sing at Donald Trump’s inauguration — an often-repeated joke that most people, even those who generally approve of Mr. Trump, might find funny. These VOA staffers chose to tell bad sex jokes instead and make fun of women, minorities, and the disabled.

Most of their so-called “political satire” was aimed at Mr. Trump. But there were also jokes making fun of ethnic minorities in the U.S., even jokes about handicapped persons. It was a truly despicable performance. The ugliest, the most sexist jokes were directed against Mr. Trump’s wife, his daughter, and his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Ms. Conway accent lampooned in the VOA skit

A few days after the VOA newsroom lampooning incident, Kellyanne Conway was appointed as Counselor to the President by President-elect Donald Trump. Good job, VOA newsroom. It’s good for the Voice of America to have friends in the White House, isn’t it?

Many of VOA’s reporters work in foreign languages. Some speak with a slight foreign accent. But very few VOA newsroom reporters who told sexist jokes about women speak a foreign language fluently, with or without an accent, as many of their VOA foreign language service colleagues do.

VOA’s women journalists object to sexist jokes and romanticizing of ISIS terrorist

VOA’s women journalists and foreign language journalists were particularly appalled by the primitive antics of the handful of VOA newsroom reporters, editors and managers, BBG Watch was told. Current and former experienced VOA reporters — many of whom are women who had voted for Hillary Clinton and are not at all admirers of Mr. Trump — were deeply troubled by VOA’s descent into nasty, sexist, and partisan humor at a holiday party and biased news reporting.

Some of VOA’s most experienced women journalists, past and present, were also disturbed by VOA director Amanda Bennett praising on social media a recent VOA report which many see as romanticizing a terrorist in addition to being poorly written, poorly edited, and presented in such a way that it may actually encourage recruiting into ISIS by glamorizing its fighters, even those who are killed.

SEE: Voice of America story romanticizes a terrorist, experienced VOA reporters complain, BBG Watch, December 23, 2016.

BBG and VOA senior leadership ultimately responsible

Let’s return to the so-called “VOA Follies.”

At least private sector reporters, if they do engage in similarly tasteless performances and risk being fired (some private sector reporters have been fired for showing extreme bias on social media), do the damage to themselves and their news organizations on their own time, or on their private companies’ time.

These VOA reporters did it on U.S. government time at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. That such behavior is being allowed and involves not just individual reporters but also some managers says a lot about the current leadership at the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the dysfunctional federal agency in charge of VOA, which may soon be reformed as a result of bipartisan legislation passed this month by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama.

Ironically, the same VOA reporters who engage in such conduct and some of the U.S. media express alarm that the legislation might lead to politization of the Voice of America under President Donald Trump. In fact, the legislation only partly restores the same agency leadership arrangement that had existed for decades before the ineffective Broadcasting Board of Governors set-up was created.

While only a handful of VOA newsroom reporters, editors and managers was directly responsible for the sexist and tasteless holiday skit, the responsibility for such a degrading treatment of women falls squarely on the current senior leadership of the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors which constantly praises the agency’s management team as being excellent and outstanding. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and herself then an ex officio BBG board member was absolutely right when she called the BBG “practically defunct,” because it still is. Hopefully, a bipartisan legislation just sighed by President Obama will lead to a major overhaul of this defunct, dysfunctional federal agency, now in the midst of a leadership and management meltdown.

SEE: Obama signs off on reducing status of Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG Watch, December 23, 2016.


ALSO SEE: BBG dead last among mid-size federal agencies in Best Places to Work 2016 Rankings, BBG Watch, December 21, 2016.


Featured photo credit: By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons