USAGM Watch Commentary

A journalist writing under open name whom we were able to identify as having decades of international and domestic experience took issue with an op-ed in Defense One by Tara Sonenshine, former U.S. under secretary of state or public diplomacy in the Obama Administration and a fellow in public diplomacy at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, who wrote about the $800 million U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The agency, previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), manages the Voice of America (VOA) and other tax-funded U.S. government media outreach programs for foreign audiences.

Americans Should Fight Propaganda, Like We Used To. By Tara Sonenshine, Defense One, June 1, 2020

Comment by Beamwest

It’s always interesting to see ex-Public Diplomacy officials, of every party, re-emerging when there are perceived threats to the status quo of the woefully-mismanaged and incompetent thing known as the USAGM (formerly BBG, formerly USIA).

Also interesting is the amount of misinformation spewed. Let’s tick off some of these disinformation points:

(1) The author asserts that under the Trump administration (“from day one” she says) the “Twitter-in-Chief” somehow pushed USAGM away from broadcasting about democracy and that everything “went out the window”. What BS. In reality, Voice of America, the largest element under USAGM, has been controlled throughout the Trump administration by Obama-era appointees who have done everything possible to resist any change in the agency, when any president has the authority to make management changes in it.

(2) The author gives the impression that Trump himself somehow caused the agency to lose its traction with whatever global audiences it once had and become weakened in the information “war” with China and Russia. Again, much of this is BS — the weakening of the agency occurred over many years, long before Donald Trump was in the White House, and actually accelerated during the Obama administration. It was, in fact, President Obama and other officials in his administration who forced the former BBG to take strong action vis a vis Russian disinformation.

(3) The author states that Trump “dismantled the remnants of the USIA (i.e. the BBG). Again, that’s just BS — it was Barack Obama who signed a defense bill before he left office which put in place steps that members of Congress, on a bipartisan basis, felt were necessary to try to begin a process of needed reforms and repairs to the agency, which was described at various times over the decades as “the sickest federal agency” and (by the late Republican senator Tom Coburn) “) “the most worthless organization in the federal government”.

The author is correct in observing that Congress should demonstrate stronger oversight over the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which has been perhaps the most grossly mis-managed of federal agencies.

THAT is exactly what lawmakers began to push for in the middle part of the first decade of the 2000s, and which led to legislation that in turn led to the defense bill signed by Obama.

Finally, the author states that Trump has exerted “little oversight” over the USAGM, yet complains that Trump’s nominee should be blocked from heading the agency. That’s the same nominee, by the way, who stated clearly during his nomination hearing in 2019 that he would protect journalistic integrity at the agency.

Opponents of Trump rightly state that there are no alternative facts, just facts. Well, get your facts right before pontificating about this agency.

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