BBG Watch Commentary

Behind the HeadlinesThe resignation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton was long overdue.

Lynton has been AWOL from engaging in BBG business since December 2012. He has missed every BBG board meeting for the last five months.

Lynton must have been made aware that U.S. media had gotten hold of information about his absences and was about to print articles. Congressional committees were asking questions. At least one Congressman was about to send a letter demanding answers from Lynton about his prolonged absence at BBG meetings.

READ: SONY Entertainment CEO Lynton quits BBG board after questions raised about attendance, Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, May 23, 2013.

The cascade of questions triggered his departure.

One such question is how he could reconcile his position as CEO of a private corporation, Sony Entertainment, doing business in Russia and China that depends on the good will of the regimes in these two countries with the BBG’s mission of promoting media freedom, which these regimes find highly objectionable.

During Lynton’s tenure on the BBG board, International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives, who are the administrative arm of the BBG, tried to silence Voice of America (VOA) radio and television programs to China and VOA radio programs to Tibet.

Also during Lynton’s tenure, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) executives, with the support of IBB, fired dozens of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia and eliminated their pro-human rights programs.

Lynton reportedly defended the firing of Radio Liberty journalists and objected when BBG Governor Victor Ashe started to ask questions about the circumstances of their firing. Lynton then stopped attending BBG meetings when Ashe and two other BBG members, Susan McCue and Michael Meehan, initiated management changes at RFE/RL designed to bring back the fired journalists.

Gary Schmitt wrote in the American Enterprise Institute blog AEIdeas that Michael Lynton’s resignation was not really a surprise.

“…he’s reportedly missed every board meeting since the beginning of the year. But the lack of seriousness on the part of the administration and the members of congress responsible for keeping board positions filled is pretty appalling. Both parties like to insist that “soft power” matters, that the “war of ideas” is still a critical element in American statecraft, and that “getting the truth out” is important for the success of defending freedom around the world. But if the continuing dysfunctionalism of the BBG is any indication, that can hardly be the case.”

READ MORE: The BBG circus and US soft power, Gary Schmitt, AEIdeas, May 24, 2013.

Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation also reported that “The Chairman of the Board, Democrat Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, has not attended a board meeting since December 14.”

READ MORE: U.S. Broadcasting Affected by Obama Administration Culture of Intimidation, Helle Dale, The Foundry, May 23, 2013.

Helle Dale’s article also includes a comment from an anonymous writer posting as “Penny,” which represents a vicious attack on BBG’s Governor Victor Ashe. There can be little doubt that the writer is a staffer of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). The comment also shows complete contempt for Broadcasting Board of Governors employees, which is typical for top IBB executives. They have been at war with their employees for years and have been rated in numerous Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint surveys as being the worst managers in the entire federal government, as well as being responsible for the lowest employee morale. Ambassador Ashe has been a big thorn in their side and an object of numerous smear campaigns. This is one of the most vicious ones.

“The outsize mythology developing around BBG Governor Victor Ashe approaches a level of dishonesty of startling dimensions. Helle Dale now joins a small but devoted band of Ash-ites, led by the howling of Ted Lipien’s interlocking websites and the unbalanced ranting of someone named Judy Bachrach on the Foreign Policy website. All seem intent on obscuring what has been obvious to anyone tuning into the BBG’s monthly meetings or consuming recent assessments of the BBG’s progress, or lack of it: Ashe is poison. Three other highly respected Republican Governors have fled the BBG, according to those who know them because Ashe proved such an obstacle to reforming the organization and such a loathsome colleague. The Inspector General’s report on International Broadcasting of January 2013 uncharacteristically singled out a single Governor—Ashe—for obstructing the board, intimidating staff, leaking documents to the press, and all round reprehensible behavior for a senior presidential appointee.

A quick search of BBG decisions shows that Ashe voted in favor of just about everything he now purports to oppose as it became opportune for him to do so. Helle Dale once was a thorough journalist. How is it possible that she failed to check Ashe’s actual record? She lauds him for opposing firings at Radio Free Europe, when the record is clear that he approved them repeatedly and enthusiastically, as the successive minutes of BBG meetings reveal. Ashe the Morale Booster? He is indeed wildly popular with the Voice of America’s rigid unions, which oppose all sensible and necessary reforms, because he champions saving their jobs over fixing international broadcasting. Dale’s contention that Ashe must be kept because without him the BBG will lack the Republican it needs for balance is laughable. He is no conservative, and probably not a Republican. All of Ashe’s positions scream RINO: Republican in Name Only. For someone who regularly throws verbal bouquets at Barak Obama at BBG meetings (go watch the tapes!) and supports Big Labor’s agenda, Ashe is a curious choice for Dale and Heritage to support.

Dale needs to do her homework. Ashe is the dysfunction at the BBG, and the sooner he is replaced by Ryan Crocker and sent home to Tennessee the sooner real reform of international broadcasting can begin.”

Another commentator takes issue with the alleged IBB attack on Governor Ashe. It’s worth noting that IBB officials are supposed to serve the BBG board.

“…He came in with a Board that had made up its mind as to what the answers were before the questions were ever asked. As a result, they never bothered to inquire what the affects would be of their proposals, nor what the political viability of those proposals would be either in international broadcasting nor on the Hill.

The results were predictable enough. Minimal changes were made and gradually the Board members, seeing that the task was not going to be easy nor bring them the glory they expected, fell away, leaving the Board as it now stands without a quorum.

By contrast, Governor Ashe stayed the course, and he took the time and did his homework. He talked not only to the heads of the various entities, but to the rank and file and to the union – a government union that has asked a Democrat controlled Senate to buck the plans of a Democrat Administration in favor of a Republican appointee. If that does not speak volumes on behalf of Governor Ashe, it is hard to imagine what does.

Were there times when Governor Ashe was less than diplomatic? Absolutely. He is a lawyer by training, punctilious about detail, and when that earned him the animosity of certain of his colleagues and the overly politicized BBG staff, they tried to shut him out and shut him down. They spoke the pretty language of collegiality when, in fact, that was simply a pretext for gagging the Governor for expressing his views. They pushed – and he pushed back, and he did it hard.

All the banging of spoons on high chairs that is now coming from BBG staff ignores the fact that they have “sat too long for any good they have been doing,” accomplished next to nothing and deserved a good swift kick. It is the braying of the grotesquely inadequate against an individual who demanded and expected more and it does not deserve much more credit than that.

The BBG structure is deeply flawed, but it can be made to work with open debate and a willingness of the Governors to put the time in, study the issues, and not just show up for meetings once a month – if that. Moreover, it can be made to work if the staff realize that they work for all the Governors and not just the ones that they find congenial. Indeed, attacks on Governor Ashe’s professionalism border on the satirical coming from the BBG staff, who combine a cynical politicization and a blundering incompetence in equal measure.

Mr. Ashe may not make “Cuddly and Lovable Governor of the Year,” but he took the time to challenge his own preconceptions, ask questions and adjust his thinking to conform to the answers he got, and not just show up for meetings – and he is the ONLY Governor to have attended all meetings to date – with the expectation that his mere presence would fix the problems that have dogged international broadcasting. He got more done than all the other Governors combined, and if he did not always play by the Marques of Queensbury Rules, perhaps that was because the rules were rigged on behalf of a self-serving staff and a Board that thought it deserved credit just for showing up.”

ALSO READ: Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Dysfunctional, Defunct and Ungovernable – Penny’s Folly, The Federalist, BBG Watch, May 26, 2013.