USAGM Watch Commentary
By Ted Lipien
USAGM Watch readers may have seen former Voice of America (VOA) director Amanda Bennett’s Washington Post op-ed in which she attacks new Voice of America VOA diector Robert Reilly, “I was Voice of America’s director. Trump’s latest pick to run the organization is dangerous” (December 11, 2020),
as well as a separate attack on Robert Reilly in a NPR report by David Folkenflik, “New VOA Director Arrives With Baggage: Anti-Islamic and Homophobic Writings” (December 11, 2020).
Bennett and Folkenflik make various assumptions about Reilly’s character but provide no evidence from his extensive employment history and writings that he has ever discriminated against anyone on the basis of religion, nationality, gender or sexual preference, or that he would wish to violate U.S. law by engaging in any kind of discrimination as VOA director, a position he already held in 2001-2002.
Since the Post refused to publish an op-ed I had submitted—which was not a direct response to Bennett’s later op-ed or a defense of Reilly but rather a countering of some of the previous disinformation by some of the former and some of the current VOA and U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) executives and managers—I would like to share for the sake of balance an article on the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) platform written by Juliana Geran Pilon, a Romanian-born naturalized American writer and professor, “The voice of which America? Only the most naive imagine that the international broadcasting organization called Voice of America speaks for us all.“
I’m hopeful that unlike The Washington Post, Richard Stengel and other members of the Biden-Harris USAGM Transition Team are interested in a diversity of opinions and will in fact insist that the Voice of America reflect all of American society and institutions as required by the VOA Charter.
I do not know Prof. Pilon, but as I learned from Wikipedia, she is, like myself, a refugee from communism who came to the United States as a teenager.
“She attended the University of Chicago under a scholarship and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy in 1969. Between 1969 and 1970 she studied history and philosophy at Princeton University, but returned to the University of Chicago where she earned an M.A. in philosophy in 1971 and a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1974. Pilon served as an assistant professor in the department of philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta from 1977 to 1979. In 1979, she relocated to Stanford University, where she was a Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution. The following year, she held a fellowship at the Institute for Humane Studies in Menlo Park, California. From 1981 to 1988, Pilon was a Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. From 1992 to 2002, she joined the International Foundation for Election Systems, serving as Director of Programs for Europe and Asia, then Vice President for Programs, and as Senior Advisor for Civil Society. In August 2002, she became Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University, serving in that capacity until February 2003.”
Former VOA senior White House correspondent Dan Robison commented on social media that Prof. Pilon’s analysis on the Jewish New Syndicate (JNS) platform
“… is the best article detailing the problems of biased reporting and social media activity by VOA staff members. It’s a story given pretty much no attention by elite mainstream media, including The Washington Post, which has connections with the last VOA director. High profile VOA reporters are among VOA staff using the VOA platform to post biased comments, basically associating themselves with an incoming administration in violation of VOA’s own standards & practices and standards of objectivity. What’s more, concerns about political bias at VOA were made clear in a 2016 report produced by consultants brought into VOA — see https://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/2016-report-confirmed-problem-of-political-bias-at-voice-of-america/ for the report on this.”
Prof. Pilon quotes from my recent Washington Examiner op-ed, “‘Voice of One America’ is against US law,” and makes other points on reports of mismanagement within the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
The narrative one gets about VOA and USAGM from The Washington Post and NPR is certainly the dominant one, but it is, in my view, false as it relies on misleading and unverified claims of individuals who themselves are to blame for having allowed the culture of partisan, one-sided activist journalism to establish itself at the Voice of America in violation of the VOA Charter.
Disclosure: Ted Lipien is a former acting VOA associate director, former Eurasia Division director, former BBG regional marketing director and former Polish Service chief during Solidarity period in Poland. He is a co-founder and supporter of USAGM Watch.
JNS – Jewish News Syndicate
JULIANA GERAN PILON
Only the most naive imagine that the international broadcasting organization called Voice of America speaks for us all.
December 10, 2020 / JNS) Whether most Americans even know it, they are paying for an international broadcasting organization called Voice of America, or VOA. Yet only the most naive imagine that it speaks for us all. In reality, though its charterconfidently promises to “represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions,” that has been mostly wishful thinking. As former VOA executive Ted Lipien observes, “there are two Americas, one left-leaning liberal America and one right-leaning conservative America. But the taxpayer-funded VOA, in the $800 million USAGM, not only reflects but also represents just one of them—illegally.”
And tragically, for public diplomacy is a formidable weapon defying oppression. Like Lipien, a refugee from communism, I recall my parents, at great risk, listening to America’s (forbidden) message on shortwave radio. Broadcasting to isolated, information-starved people in China, North Korea, Africa and elsewhere is undoubtedly a godsend. But our government-sponsored media must offer “a balanced and comprehensive projection” of ideas, for both legal and moral reasons. Yet far too often, it does not.