FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog Commentary by Ted Lipien, November 26, 2008, San Francisco — Voice of America journalists and other employees who broadcast American news to the world are thankful for the pre-Thanksgiving Day news that Ted Kaufman (Edward E. Kaufman) was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat from Delaware vacated by his former boss, Vice President elect Joe Biden. As concerned as these employees are with state and national-level politics, they are relieved that a person responsible for shutting down Voice of America direct radio broadcasts to Russia, an action taken just days before the Russian military invasion of Georgia last summer, will now be of more immediate concern to the people of Delaware.
Ted Kaufman, who had previously served as Senator Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was appointed in 1995 to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan body which oversees U.S. government-funded international broadcasts, including those by the Voice of America. Although he is a liberal Democrat, Kaufman and another former BBG member, Norman Pattiz of the U.S. radio conglomerate Westwood One, formed an alliance with a few of the Board’s most famously incompetent neoconservative Republicans. Kaufman, Pattiz and their neoconservative allies including James K. Glassman, the current Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs, worked together to outsource much of U.S. international broadcasting to private contractors such as Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa network for the Middle East. These new networks were created based on the outdated Cold War-era surrogate broadcasting concepts and Norman Pattiz’s domestic U.S. radio business models. To pay for them, Kaufman and his allies began a process of closing down Voice America language services, which were financially and editorially more accountable to American taxpayers but also more difficult to be managed by the BBG in any way the Board members saw fit.
Ted Kaufman was the primary force behind the shutting down of many Voice of America radio broadcasts, including programs to Russia, a secretive action taken last summer only days before the Russian army attacked Georgia. Even when after the Russian move against Georgia Kaufman’s foreign policy and public diplomacy blunder became obvious, the future U.S. Senator from Delaware prevented the BBG from voting on restoring the Russian-language radio programs that could reach Russia and the war zone in the Caucasus on shortwave. Shortly before the start of the Georgian conflict, Kaufman also voted to eliminate VOA radio to Georgia and Ukraine on the assumption that even poor, desperate and displaced people in conflict areas will be able to get their news and information from the Internet.
While the BBG praises its own and Ted Kaufman’s achievements, the Board has numerous critics and no major outside defenders. Many have called for its abolition, including the highly-respected Public Diplomacy Council, a Washington nonprofit think-tank on public diplomacy, which accused the BBG of taking “special aim at the Voice of America.” The PDC has recommended that the Broadcasting Board of Governors should be replaced by a new nonpartisan oversight commission. It blamed the BBG for silencing VOA Russian radio and ignoring subsequent appeals to restore it.
The BBG, which had tried unsuccessfully to hire Paula Zahn, formerly of CNN, as its high-profile spokesperson to improve its public image while cutting or reducing programs to countries like Tibet and Russia, issued a statement on the appointment of Ted Kaufman to the U.S. Senate describing him as “a dedicated guardian of the journalistic independence of our broadcasters and a passionate advocate of the Agency’s mission.” It also said that “Mr. Kaufman understands the impact of international broadcasting and has always been quick to credit the brave reporters in the field and dedicated employees behind the scenes who are essential in providing reliable news and information to audiences suffering censorship and lack of press freedom.”
Many VOA employees dispute such statements by the BBG spokespersons as public relations hype hat has no basis in reality. They point out that in addition to terminating VOA radio to Russia, a country where censorship is widely practiced and independent journalists are frequently murdered, the BBG had tried also to reduce radio broadcasts to Tibet. In that case, the BBG was forced to cancel its threat after protests by Tibetan monks on Capital Hill and letters from outraged members of Congress.
A letter issued last summer by the leadership of the Voice of America employees’ unions, AFGE Local 1812 and AFSCME Local 1418, said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors “has been responsible for one blunder after another — to the point that its actions have compromised U.S. strategic interests.” Saying that “the elimination of Russian and Georgian radio broadcasts should be the last straw,” the VOA employees’ union leaders called on Congress to act immediately to dissolve the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Their letter also said that the BBG, “unilaterally and in contravention of the express language of the Congress, closed the Voice of America Russian Radio Service.” “In effect, we are deaf, dumb and blind in Russia,” the union letter said.
Upon learning of Ted Kaufman’s appointment to the U.S. Senate, a high-ranking Union leader told FreeMediaOnline.org that “Ted Kaufman was no friend to the employees of the VOA.” A former VOA Union member and manager said that the statement by the BBG spokeswoman Letitia King describing Kaufman as “the kind of person who expresses sincere appreciation for the person on the front line,” is as hollow “as any statement could possibly be.” The former VOA employee said that Kaufman never sought input from the rank-and-file and kept himself “behind the closed doors of the BBG fortress. ”
Journalistic blunders and financial abuses during Ted Kaufman’s watch at the BBG have been well documented by the independent journalism web site ProPublica.org, a non-profit led by former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger. ProPublica.org investigative journalists reported that a guest invited to participate in an Alhurra program had called for killings of American soldiers in Iraq. The Alhurra network also aired a completely unbalanced report on a Holocaust deniers conference in Tehran. According to ProPublica.org, “the reporter who covered the conference told viewers that Jews had provided no scientific evidence of the Holocaust.” ProPublica.org has also uncovered major financial abuses at Radio Sawa and Alhurra. The BBG has refused to make public an independent study commissioned last year from the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School to review the network’s content because the study is reportedly highly critical of Alhurra and the BBG.
Such public diplomacy, journalistic and financial blunders would be unlikely to occur on a vast scale if Ted Kaufman and Norman Pattiz had not become liberal allies of equally incompetent neo-conservative spenders of U.S. taxpayers’ money who wanted to outsource U.S. international broadcasting to private contractors. Many Voice of America employees are thankful that Ted Kaufman is finally gone from the Broadcasting Board of Governors along with people like James Glassman, who in 1999 co-authored a book DOW 36,000 predicting an unstoppable growth of U.S. stocks, and Norman Pattiz, whose radio programing company’s shares sold at 3 cents on Wednesday and will stop trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Despite Kaufman’s close links with Biden and Biden’s links with Pattiz, who has been one of Biden’s major financial backers, some VOA employees are also optimistic that in managing U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy, President Obama will be true to his promise of rewarding foreign policy experience and competence above political loyalty. They also hope that as a junior Senator from Delaware, Ted Kaufman can do less damage to U.S. international broadcasting than he would have if he had stayed at the BBG. As one former VOA broadcaster, manager and Union leader put it, Ted Kaufman was a big fish in a small BBG pond, but he will be a mere guppy in a mammoth Senate sea.
This commentary may be republished on the web or in print with attribution to the author. Ted Lipien is a former Voice of America acting associate director and was also a regional BBG media marketing manager responsible for placement of U.S. government-funded radio and TV programs on stations in Russia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in Eurasia. He is founder and president of FreeMediaOnline.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit which support media freedom worldwide, and author of Wojtyla’s Women: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church (O-Books – June 2008).
Mark K Parker
It’s a shame that, regardless of who is in power, the American government can rarely foresee the effects of international events or the results of its own actions for the world. Burdened by this myopia, the United States has become a reactive rather than a pro-active force in international affairs. Gone is what I’d call the “frontier spirit” that made America famous and a power to contend with. Instead of being a leader, the U.S. has become a follower – and a follower not of some worthy cause or modern thinking but of its own outdated notions. It was visible in its support for foreign rightist dictators until such policies created a breeding ground for the most outlandish political movements that would bring about a downfall of those puppets and a hatred of America. At one time – just to give an example – it was the support of the Batista and the Shah regimes in Cuba and Iran, respectively, that made it possible for their opponents to gain a firm foothold and triumph – to the detriment of American interests. After all, the populations of those countries saw no other allies in their struggle to shed the shackles of oppression forced upon them with the American military and economic aid. At the same time as this has been happening, the American internal political dialogue was being dominated by a faction that remained blind to this phenomenon. Thus the old philosophy prevailed, resulting in George W. Bush’s election and the placement of Cold War specialists in key government positions. Even though the old dream of imposing the Pax Americana on the world fell in shambles as more and more countries turned away from the U.S., Washington insisted on conducting business as usual. The answer that it got was the election of a buffoon petty dictator Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Convinced of being exploited by the American companies, Venezuelans, plagued by poverty despite their oil revenues, turned to the option they considered to be the only one closely aligned with their resentments and demands – the option taking root in what I’d call national socialism. The results have been disastrous for Venezuela and for American interests in South America. A similar shift to national socialism occurred in Russia – with Russian media forced to follow the Putin line or risk severe repercussions from being closed to having their journalists murdered. While assassination and military aggression has been legitimized by the Putin regime, the U.S. was deciding to end the Voice of America’s Russian-language broadcasts, abandoning a nation in transition and in need. Earlier Americans abandoned East European countries in the same fashion well before democracy has solidified there and ignoring such increase in outbreaks of xenophobia as anti-intellectual and anti-Semitic attacks – both verbal and physical – that began to plague those countries once again. What is even more disturbing, In Poland the xenophobic tendencies have been subsidized by its government, as clearly illustrated by the Polish anti-fascist foundation Nigdy Więcej (Never Again) on its website (http://tinyurl.com/63veb6):
“The latest issue of Nigdy Więcej (Never Again) – Searchlight’s sister publication in Poland – has revealed how the Polish Ministry of Culture financed a fascist publication.
The publication Templum Novum is a pseudo-intellectual magazine, published by a shadowy ‘advertising agency’ under the name ‘Arte’ and registered in the provincial town of Biala Podlaska.
Nigdy Wiecej has uncovered the fact this is little more than a front for the so-called Narodowa Scena Rockowa (National Rock Scene –NSR), a political and business operation responsible for the production and distribution of fascist material like the CDs of leading [N]azi skinhead music acts, including the notorious [N]azi band Konkwista 88.
Apart from the CDs, the NSR bosses have published books such as the Polish edition of Joe Pierce’s Screwdriver: The First Ten Years about the British band that laid the foundations of the international white power rock scene.
Templum Novum poses as a historical and political review. For example, in issue 4/2007 it presents a very thinly disguised version of fascist ideology including, among other things, many pages of antisemitic ranting by none other than the late Leon Degrelle, the infamous Waffen SS general, based on a speech eulogizing Hitler in 1981. The magazine also carries sympathetic articles about other Nazi icons like Julius Evola, the Italian fascist ideologue, and presents the ideas of the Polish nationalist neo-pagan writer Jan Stachniuk (the founder of the 1930s extremist group Zadruga).
The most shocking detail in that issue of Templum Novum is its small-print acknowledgment of sponsorship received from the Polish Ministry of Culture. The same information can be found in the next issue, which includes a lengthy interview with Alain De Benoist, the French New Right theorist.
It seems the decision to sponsor the fascist magazine was taken under the previous administration of Jaroslaw Kaczynski who included the extreme right in his government coalition. Nevertheless, the second issue of Templum Novum supported financially by the Ministry actually appeared some two months after the change of the government that took place as a result of the parliamentary election on 21 October 2007. The editors of Nigdy Wiecej have called on the Ministry to check its procedures to prevent such scandals in the future.”
So much for Never Again AND “never again” as the battle call for democracy in the post-Nazi Era. So much for the support of the United States for democracy around the world. What a sad testimony to American dangerous capitulation and impotence in the face of clear threats to democracy, no less dangerous than international terrorism which often relies on the Nazi-period propaganda.
I saw the closing of VOA’s East European services with my own two eyes as scores of excellent journalists were being fired under false pretenses. We were told that the services were being closed because of the changes in Eastern Europe – a statement clearly belied by the article quoted above. The true reason we were being fired was the fiscal ineptitude of the VOA that wasted millions on training some so-called “video journalists” – radio journalists that were expected to carry video recorders rather than a microphone to supply VOA’s nascent TV service with images. They were being “trained” for a reported $100,000.00 a pop. Now, for $100,000.00 one could train a truly outstanding TV journalist at one of the leading institutions of higher learning. Yet as if by the touch of a magic wand, radio broadcasters were expected to turn into TV journalists nearly overnight. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for my former colleagues at the VOA central newsroom, but let me tell you – I’ve seen the products of the video-journalists’ make-overt and they ain’t pretty. They give credence to the saying so aptly revived during the last U.S. Presidential campaign: you can put lipstick on a pig but what you get in the end is still a pig. Suddenly, people who so vividly painted the picture of the world to their listeners were expected to do the same with a foreign medium and many a time they failed to live up to the expectations. It wasn’t, I believe, for the lack of talent but because it takes more than throwing some money at a problem to get a solution. There is a reason why some journalists join the printed press, others – radio and still others – TV. VOA has tons of experience in RADIO broadcasting and had done a wonderful job placing those broadcasts with local and national radio stations and networks in target countries. As a VOA/Polish Service correspondent in Warsaw I got lots of recognition from the short-wave and placement-broadcasts – something that VOA should be proud of. Why waste that same kind of capital in Russia and other regions by crippling VOA programs – I will never understand.
When I joined VOA in 1985, its days of meeting the requirements of unadulterated propaganda war with the Soviet Block were long over and VOA placed great emphasis on balance – in and of itself one of the greatest tools of strengthening the idea of media democracy in countries run by totalitarian regimes. VOA thus became one of the greatest building blocks of American Public Diplomacy which in the end, along with some other, more conventional pressures, triumphed over communism. Yet, having won the Cold War, can we win the peace? That’s one of the fundamental questions facing us since the fall of the Berlin Wall – a question, I believe, that will receive the wrong answer from a U.S. government bent on dismantling its own victory through foolish decisions regarding its Public Diplomacy. VOA deserves much more in the face of international threats to American democracy and prosperity. I hope my voice will add to a wake up call that will be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and on the Capitol Hill.
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