BBG Watch Commentary

You will be moved by this amazing story.

For sixty years, a WWII American widow could not get a definite answer from the U.S. government what had happened to her husband during the war and where he might have been buried. Peggy Harris of Vernon Texas received misleading information even from her own Congressman. She was married for only six weeks when she lost her husband to the war. She spent six decades wondering what happened and never remarried. Her husband, Billy Harris, remained her only true love to this day.

There is even a slight connection to VOA. Ironically, the U.S. Congressman who gave misleading information to Peggy Harris was Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry (R-TX) who serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. (He is reported to have issued an apology.)

Rep. Thornberry is the same member of Congress who despite overwhelming evidence that the semi-private Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has grossly mismanaged the agency in charge of U.S. international broadcasting and that some of the BBG board members have been doing private business in countries like Russia and China, is proposing to de-federalize and in effect privatize the Voice of America (VOA), which is still the official voice of the United States for overseas audiences but could lose this special status if the Thornberry Amendment on VOA is approved.

Under the negative influence of the semi-private BBG, the Voice of America is already acting as a semi-private, commercial media organization and frequently ignores its VOA Charter, including posting biased, one-sided reports about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump because it lacks good managers and good leadership. Instead of posting on Facebook “click and Likes bait” videos, such as a recent one for China of animals eating watermelons on a hot day in an Italian zoo — which had nothing to do with the U.S. or VOA’s mission — the Voice of America should consider doing a story on this amazing American woman. Hers and her husband’s story also has an international angle.

Members of Congress should take a close look at the BBG, abolish the BBG board with its bureaucracy, and reform the agency, but at the same time they should reject the Thornberry Amendment on VOA. Rep. Thornberry does not know anything about U.S. international media outreach or U.S. public diplomacy. While U.S. funded surrogate broadcasting is better done by private NGOs, the functions of the Voice of America and U.S. public diplomacy cannot be privatized.