BBG Watch Commentary

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaulU.S. taxpayer-funded international media outlet Voice of America (VOA) posted online a perfunctory 200-word English-language report on the announced resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. US Ambassador to Russia to Step Down, VOA News. The U.S. broadcaster charged by Congress with reporting on the policies of the United States “clearly and effectively” had almost nothing to say about the current state of U.S.-Russian relations in connection with this news. The New York Times article on McFaul’s resignation was three times as long as VOA’s. The Washington Post article on McFaul was three and a half times as long as VOA’s.

A recent Voice of America news report on Canadian pop-star Justin Bieber getting arrested for drunk driving was more than twice as long as VOA report on McFaul. The VOA Bieber report included video, which VOA’s McFaul news item did not. In fact, the Voice of America English news website had posted in recent weeks seven different reports on Justin Bieber.

Compared to VOA’s 200-word news report, Russia’s state-funded international media outlet, Voice of Russia, posted in English a far more extensive, in-depth news analysis of Ambassador McFaul’s decision to resign. With over 1,000 words, it was five times as long as VOA’s short news item.

The Voice of Russia report was remarkably pro-McFaul, quoting at length from his social media posting about the reasons for his resignation and from his comments in support of the “Reset” policy in U.S.-Russian relations.



The Voice of Russia report was far from balanced. It did not dwell much on the larger conflicts between Washington and Moscow and the strong opposition in the U.S. Congress to President Putin’s authoritarian rule, but neither did the VOA English News report. At the very least, however, Voice of Russia offered a clear and comprehensive presentation of what the Kremlin wants the world to think about its foreign policy. McFaul calls disagreements between Russia and US on Syria in 2011 a failure, Voice of Russia.

Voice of Russia report had 1,172 words and quoted extensively from McFaul’s comments on his blog about his decision to leave his post and the current state of U.S.-Russian relations.

The Voice of America report offered no clear or balanced presentation of U.S. policy toward Russia and the controversy in the U.S. over President Obama’s “Reset” in relations with the Kremlin.

RT, Russia’s another international media outlet, also posted a far more extensive English-language news analysis (850 words) than VOA English News (200 words) or VOA Russian Service (372 words – VOA Russian Service did not originate and post online its own report, but used a report from Reuters.) US Ambassador to Russia announces resignation, RT.

An earlier Voice of Russia report on McFaul’s resignation, US Ambassador to Russia McFaul steps down for family reasons, Voice of Russia, had 979 words. Both Voice of Russia reports included a short bio for Ambassador McFaul. VOA news report had almost no information about his professional career.

VOA English News report of only 200 words was extremely low on both substance and balance. It had no references to Russia’s role the current situation in Ukraine or the bipartisan Magnitsky Act of 2012, named after a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison after investigating fraud involving Russian tax officials. The U.S. law prohibits entrance to the United States by Russian officials believed to be responsible for his death and prevents them from using the U.S. banking system. It is also seen as a critical bipartisan response to the “Reset” policy, which had been strongly promoted for some years by the White House, the U.S. State Department and Ambassador McFaul. VOA English News report had no mention at all of the human rights situation in Russia.

VOA Russian Service did not do much better in offering a balanced view of U.S.-Russian relations or any kind of deeper analysis of McFaul’s decision to leave his post in Moscow. The service used a generic report from Reuters, a UK-based news agency, that was also short (372 words) and did not include any references to the controversy in the U.S. over the “Reset” policy. The Reuters report used by on the VOA Russian website had no references to the passage of the Magnitsky Act.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) saved the day for American taxpayers and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees both VOA and RFE/RL, by posting online a lengthy reaction piece to Ambassador McFaul’s announcement. The 3,000-word RFE/RL report included comments from both American and Russian experts. RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson spoke to former U.S. Ambassadors Thomas Pickering and James Collins and to Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. RFE/RL’s Andrius Kuncina spoke to Moscow-based political analyst Aleksandr Golts.

RFE/RL’s Russian Service also offered a far more comprehensive and balanced coverage than VOA’s Russian Service, even though Voice of America is required by the VOA Charter (U.S. Public Law 94-350) to specialize in reporting and analyzing U.S. news and U.S. policies.

Recalling McFaul: Four Views On Outgoing U.S. Ambassador To Russia, RFE/RL.

Ambassador McFaul retweeted the RFE/RL report. There was nothing from Voice of America for him worth retweeting, as VOA again failed in in its news coverage.

While Voice of America has not updated its online news about Ambassador McFaul and U.S.-Russian relations for many hours, Voice of Russia has two more new reports:

Wed, Feb 05, 2014
Voice of Russia (Russia)