by The Federalist
US International Broadcasting
Voice of America
U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM)
U.S. Agency for Global Mayhem
Let The Hypocrisy And The Bureaucracy Continue
On Thursday, September 24, 2020 the House Foreign Affairs Committee conducted a hearing regarding the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) or as I like to say U-SAG-M. The hearing was chaired by Eliot Engel (D-NY) the outgoing chairman who lost his congressional seat in a primary election earlier this year to another Democrat, despite foreign interference in U.S. elections in his support, which editors and reporters of the Voice of America (VOA), one of the federal entities in the $800 million federal agency, refused to cover because it might have reflected poorly on a friendly ambassador and an ex-management-friendly anti-Trump member of the U.S. Congress.
The key witness in the hearing was not present: Michael Pack, the present Chief Executive Officer of USAGM, not long ago confirmed by the Senate after a lengthy and vicious nomination process.
Not being present afforded the committee chairman and some other members of the committee to savage Pack in absentia. Pack was defended by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) who accused former agency executives of mismanagement and allowing security breaches. The remaining witnesses were a mash-up of individuals who it would seem had their own anti-Pack agenda and were ready to pounce. And pounce they did.
Mr. Pack has made significant changes at the senior level of agency executives. Some individuals who find themselves at least temporarily on the outside looking in would like the public to believe that the actions to suspend them (with pay) were unwarranted. But that flies in the face of a series of scandals that have beset the agency before Pack’s appointment. It also ignores a demonstrative anti-Trump bias in the Voice of America newsroom with less than neutral or objective portrayals of Trump and an instance in which a VOA language service (Urdu) produced a feature extolling Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s nominee running against Trump in the coming election. Without a similar companion piece regarding President Trump, the feature took on the appearance of a Biden political campaign infomercial.
Not surprisingly, former agency official Alan Heil has weighed in on the hearing via the Public Diplomacy Council website with a piece, “US International Broadcasting: a Crisis In Leadership?”
Yes, there has been a crisis in leadership inside this agency. It has been going on since the end of the Cold War. This crisis in leadership is not with the arrival of Michael Pack. It is cumulative, more often in failings by this agency turning a blind eye to the partisan and radical pro-Democratic Party political agitators in the so-called VOA newsroom, a variety of scandals within the agency and security screening failings highlighted in reports by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The crisis in leadership has been the blatant arrogance displayed by senior officials in ignoring or not taking corrective actions where needed. It has been long in the making. Apparently, someone in senior agency leadership thought no one was paying attention to what has been going on with external reports buried in agency file cabinets.
Heil and others have played their favorite diversionary tactic: the alleged audience growth by the agency in recent years – as if these self-reported and self-interpreted audience numbers can be trusted and justify its known failures highlighted in official reports outside the agency itself.
In reality, there is no excuse or justification for failing to take appropriate remedial action in a timely manner, particularly in matters regarding investigative security procedures. Heil and others either ignore or blissfully dismiss such concerns. They also fail to note that the agency has been stripped of some of its security investigative processes which have been turned over to other elements in the Federal Government.
As to the audience numbers: these are unilateral claims. They have not been independently verified. These same agency officials seem to want it that way. They appear to believe that if they make these grand pronouncements often enough they will miraculously become fact.
But the world isn’t made that way. There are other, indirect means to question the agency’s claims. Examining the agency’s social media activity, one sees very anemic numbers on views or likes on Facebook and YouTube. These exceedingly low numbers do not support the agency’s overall audience claims, not to mention impact.
And you would have to know that the agency has long proclaimed a “digital first” strategy. It appears not to be working and hasn’t been working. Which would lead one to believe that there are some serious underlying issues.
One thing that has been learned is the significant portion of the agency’s online presence, especially in English, has been:
In North America!
And in that regard, not exactly the intended geographic destination of agency program material, unless you consider the VOA Urdu Service pro-Biden piece seemingly aimed at Pakistani-Americans in the United States.
It also ignores the fact that the agency is up against a broad array of other local, regional and global media outlets. This isn’t the Cold War when choices were limited and the agency had a greater chance to attract audiences who were deprived of news and information rigidly controlled by totalitarian regimes. Now the playing field has expanded exponentially. Content is increasingly sophisticated as alternative media outlets go after audiences.
Cumulatively, this makes the claims by Heil and others a farce and not to be believed.
As we have pointed out in the past:
No USAGM official is ever likely to admit the obvious: the agency doesn’t have the audience it claims and may not likely have any credible impact and effectiveness for some time to come. To admit this would put the agency on the fast track to being substantially reduced in funding and alternatives to the agency sought.
During the hearing, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, a member of the now-disbanded Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and briefly the USAGM Board, speaking about the agency officials recently departed from the agency or either currently suspended or placed on administrative leave (apparently with pay) opined,
“They (these agency officials) could out-talk and out-think anyone who would seek to challenge them.”
You would have to be supremely gullible or uninformed to buy into Crocker’s statement.
These officials may appear clever, but only clever by half. If you know the agency, one would suspect that Crocker’s declaration to be more than slightly unctuous.
Crocker goes on to say,
“I’m very worried about the cracks that have now taken hold in the ‘firewall’”
Ah, the mythical “firewall:” the supposed barrier to any and all examination of the agency’s programming content.
There is no firewall. If there is one, it was definitely not observed by Obama-Biden administration officials. The agency uses this argument to obstruct legitimate concerns or examinations of the agency’s broadcast and digital content and to whether or not the content conforms to provisions of the VOA Charter.
The Heil piece does not offer any alleged “cracks” in the “firewall” in citing Crocker’s comment. As we see it, none can be offered where none exist.
Heil closes out his commentary by stating,
“It’s high time for Congress to come to the rescue, not only for the sake of justice, but fairness to the third of a billion users around the globe who depend on the networks as centurions of truth.”
Please spare us the megalomania and delusions of grandeur, Mr. Heil.
Congress has other things of national import on its mind right now, not a broken-down relic from the Cold War that has lost its way in more contemporary times.
What we got out of the Congress in this instance was a hit job directed at Michael Pack by people with an anti-Pack/anti-Trump agenda. That doesn’t make this hearing good or right or even worthy of further consideration.
Heil’s demand for congressional intervention is highly ironic:
This is an agency which has rejected any kind of congressional intervention. We can recall not too long ago an agency employee penning an editorial in the Los Angeles Times demanding “Back Off Congress!”
What the Congress has done is mercifully kept the agency afloat by funding it when to all outward appearances it has long outlived its impact and effectiveness in a saturated global media environment. Its usefulness is becoming increasingly questionable.
It is even further ironic that when the current administration shows interest in scrutinizing the agency’s performance, the anti-Trump “resistance” goes wailing to like-minded souls in the so-called “mainstream media” who elevate hysteria to the level of a coming apocalypse.
This is an agency of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. It should be examined and remedial action taken when warranted. To outward appearances, there is an accumulation of deficiencies in the agency’s operations. Pack and the people he has assembled around him from outside the agency do not appear to be intimidated by its embedded bureaucrats.
In the 21st century, this agency does not have a monopoly on truth, Mr. Heil. It rests with the beholder.