Â FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online BlogÂ Commentary by Ted Lipien,Â November 26, 2008, San FranciscoÂ — Voice of America journalists and otherÂ employees who broadcast American news to the world are thankful for the pre-Thanksgiving Day newsÂ that Ted Kaufman (Edward E. Kaufman)Â was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat from Delaware vacated by his former boss, Vice President electÂ Joe Biden. As concerned as these employeesÂ 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 takenÂ just days before the Russian military invasion ofÂ Georgia last summer, will now beÂ of more immediate concernÂ 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,Â Â Kaufman and another formerÂ BBG member, Norman Pattiz of the U.S.Â radio conglomerate Westwood One, formed an alliance withÂ a fewÂ of the Board’sÂ most famously incompetentÂ neoconservative Republicans. Kaufman, Pattiz and theirÂ neoconservative alliesÂ includingÂ James K. Glassman, the current Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs,Â worked together to outsourceÂ much ofÂ U.S. international broadcasting to private contractors such as Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa networkÂ for the Middle East. These newÂ networksÂ wereÂ created based on the outdatedÂ Cold War-era surrogate broadcasting conceptsÂ and Norman Pattiz’sÂ domestic U.S. radio businessÂ models. To pay for them, Kaufman and his allies began a process ofÂ closing down Voice America language services, whichÂ were financially and editoriallyÂ more accountable to American taxpayersÂ but alsoÂ more difficult to beÂ managed by the BBG in any way the Board members saw fit.
Ted Kaufman was theÂ primary force behind theÂ shutting down of manyÂ Voice of America radio broadcasts, includingÂ programsÂ to Russia, a secretive action taken last summerÂ only days before the Russian army attacked Georgia. Even when after the Russian move against GeorgiaÂ Kaufman’s foreign policy and public diplomacy blunder became obvious,Â the future U.S.Â Senator from DelawareÂ prevented the BBG from voting on restoring the Russian-language radio programs that could reach Russia andÂ 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,Â 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,Â the BoardÂ has numerous critics and no majorÂ outside defenders. Many have called for its abolition, including the highly-respected Public Diplomacy Council, a WashingtonÂ nonprofit think-tank on public diplomacy, which accused the BBG ofÂ taking “special aim at the Voice of America.”Â The PDC has recommended thatÂ the Broadcasting Board of Governors should be replaced by a new nonpartisan oversight commission. It blamed the BBG forÂ silencing VOA Russian radioÂ and ignoring subsequent appeals to restore it.
The BBG, whichÂ hadÂ tried unsuccessfullyÂ to hire Paula Zahn, formerly of CNN,Â as its high-profile spokesperson to improve its public imageÂ while cutting or reducing programs to countries like Tibet and Russia,Â issued aÂ 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.Â They point out that in addition toÂ terminating VOA radio to Russia, a country where censorship is widely practiced and independent journalists are frequently murdered,Â the BBG hadÂ tried alsoÂ to reduce radio broadcasts to Tibet. In that case, the BBGÂ was forced toÂ cancel its threatÂ after protests by Tibetan monks on Capital Hill and letters from outraged members of Congress.
AÂ letter issued last summerÂ by theÂ leadership of theÂ Voice of America employeesâ€™ unions,Â AFGE Local 1812 and AFSCME Local 1418,Â said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors â€œhas been responsible for one blunder after another â€” to the point that its actions have compromised U.S. strategic interests.â€ Saying that â€œthe elimination of Russian and Georgian radio broadcasts should be the last straw,â€ the VOA employeesâ€™ union leaders called on Congress to act immediately to dissolve the Broadcasting Board of Governors.Â Their letterÂ also said that the BBG, “unilaterally and in contravention of the express language of the Congress, closed the Voice of America Russian Radio Service.”Â “In effect, we are deaf, dumb and blind in Russia,”Â the unionÂ letter said.
Upon learning of Ted Kaufman’s appointment to the U.S. Senate, a high-ranking Union leader told FreeMediaOnline.org thatÂ “Ted Kaufman was no friend to the employees of the VOA.” A former VOA Union member and manager said that theÂ statement by the BBG spokeswoman Letitia King describing Kaufman asÂ â€œthe kind of person who expresses sincere appreciation for the person on the front line,â€Â is as hollow “as any statement could possibly be.”Â The former VOAÂ employee said that Kaufman never sought input fromÂ the rank-and-file andÂ kept himselfÂ “behind the closed doors of the BBG fortress.Â “Â
Journalistic blunders and financial abuses during Ted Kaufman’s watch at the BBG have been well documented by the independentÂ journalism web site ProPublica.org, a non-profit led by former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger.Â ProPublica.org investigative journalistsÂ reported that a guest invited to participate in an Alhurra program had called for killings of American soldiers in Iraq. The Alhurra network alsoÂ aired a completely unbalancedÂ 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 Californiaâ€™s Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg SchoolÂ to review the networkâ€™s content because the study isÂ reportedly highly critical of Alhurra and the BBG.
Such public diplomacy, Â journalistic and financialÂ blunders wouldÂ be unlikely to occur on a vast scaleÂ if Ted Kaufman and Norman Pattiz had not becomeÂ liberal allies ofÂ equally incompetent neo-conservative spenders of U.S. taxpayers’ money who wanted toÂ outsource U.S. international broadcasting to private contractors. Many Voice of America employees are thankful that Ted Kaufman is finallyÂ gone from the Broadcasting Board of Governors along with people likeÂ James Glassman, who in 1999 co-authored aÂ book DOW 36,000 predicting an unstoppable growth of U.S. stocks, and Norman Pattiz, whose radio programing company’s sharesÂ sold at 3 cents on WednesdayÂ andÂ will stop trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Despite Kaufman’s close links with Biden andÂ Biden’s links withÂ Pattiz,Â who has been one ofÂ Biden’s majorÂ financial backers,Â some VOA employees are alsoÂ optimistic that in managing U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy,Â President Obama will be true to his promise ofÂ rewardingÂ foreign policy experience andÂ competence above political loyalty.Â 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 aÂ small BBG pond, but heÂ will be a mere guppy in a mammoth Senate sea.
This commentaryÂ may be republished on the web or in printÂ with attribution to the author.Â Ted Lipien is a former Voice of AmericaÂ actingÂ associate directorÂ andÂ was also a regionalÂ BBG media marketingÂ manager responsible for placement of U.S. government-fundedÂ radio and TV programs on stationsÂ in Russia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in Eurasia.Â 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).