USAGM WATCH COMMENTARY
President Trump announced his intent to nominate Kenneth R. Weinstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
Weinstein is Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), whose entities include the Voice of America (VOA), Radio and TV Marti in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). The USAGM Board is bipartisan, but its chairman is by law a member of the party of the U.S. President.
Ken Weinsten was confirmed as a member of the board on September 23, 2013 and as chairman on January 25, 2017. Weinstein became chairman of what was previously called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) when President Trump was sworn-in in January 2017, but he had to work with the BBG Director and CEO John Lansing who had been appointed at the recommendation of the previous Democratic BBG Board Chairman Jeff Shell. After January 2017, Shell continued to serve as a regular Democratic Board member until his resignation in September 2019. Lansing also resigned last year and went to lead the National Public Radio (NPR) shortly after his top aide and chief strategic advisor Haroon Ullah pled guilty to federal charges of stealing money from the agency. Ullah was selected for his USAGM chief strategic advisor position by John Lansing. VOA Director Amanda Bennett, also selected by John Lansing during the Obama Administration, continues to serve in her position despite various programming scandals under her watch. As a chairman of a part-time bipartisan board and without a permanent agency CEO appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Weinstein’s ability to push for greater and faster reforms at USAGM and the Voice of America was severely limited.
Opposition from some Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed for two years the confirmation of Michael Pack who is President Trump’s nominee to become USAGM Director and CEO. With support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Weinstein was able to recommend Jamie Fly to serve as RFE/RL President and to get the bipartisan board to approve his selection. Fly’s appointment resulted in management improvements at RFE/RL. RFE/RL and VOA directors’ positions do not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
On several occasions, both in public and in private, Weinstein expressed his appreciation to members of the non-partisan and independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB) for bringing to his attention examples of mismanagement and poor programming. He pushed for ending journalistic bias in VOA and RFE/RL Radio Farda programs to Iran. On one occasion he publicly identified un-journalistic behavior of a frequent outside contributor to VOA programs about Iran, but VOA’s management continued to use the person in their broadcasts.
Weinstein is also President and CEO of Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., where he has held various positions since 1999 and serves on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations, which provides counsel to the United States Trade Representative.
His Hudson Institute bio says that “he is often interviewed by major broadcast and cable outlets around the world, and speaks French and German. A frequent guest on French television and radio, he has served as in-studio commentator for live French-language coverage of U.S. congressional and presidential elections since 1996.”
FROM WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCEMENT:
Mr. Weinstein is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Aspen Institute Prague, a member of the Board of Directors of ELNET–France and serves on the Advisory Board of the Forum for Jewish Leadership. Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Director and Director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Shalem Center; Director of the Government Reform Project at the Heritage Foundation; and Director of Policy for the New Citizenship Project. Mr. Weinstein received his B.A. from the University of Chicago, an M.Phil. from Sciences Po (Paris), and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Mr. Weinstein speaks fluent French and German.
FROM USAGM BOARD MEETING, SEPTEMBER 11, 2019:
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