Steven Korn’s Disastrous Tenure at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: A Postmortem by Judy Bachrach

BBG Watch Commentary

Judy BachrachIn one of the best investigative journalism reports on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a contributing editor for Vanity Fair Judy Bachrach describes in a new article for World Affairs journal the complete disintegration of the taxpayer-funded Radio Liberty.

Here are some excerpts:

“There was supposed to be a formal meeting of the Board of Governors today, Monday. Now there is simply an informal one, with no official decisions to be made. Steven Korn, the demonstrably unfit and arrogant RFE/RL president, was supposed to tender his resignation today, but no one appears to know if this will happen now.”

“For one thing, as I am told, ‘there are almost no employees’ left pursuing Moscow stories: so bad is the situation that when anti-Putin demonstrations took place recently, only two sound engineers were packed off to cover them (along with just one correspondent). This is the result of mass firings at Radio Liberty and related departures this fall—in September, dozens of fine Russian journalists disappeared overnight from RFE/RL rosters.

It was shortly after this that a concerned Moscow investigative reporter, Anastasia Kirilenko, asked Gessen during a meeting of those who remained: “Will we reporters still be sending formal questions on important issues to Vladimir Putin? Or his people?” The reply from Gessen, she felt, was evasive, so she pursued the matter. Could she, Kirilenko, continue her two-year investigation into links between the Russian mafia and the Russian defense minister as well as underworld links with other top Russian deputies? She had new sources, after all, she told Gessen.

A few days later, Kirilenko tells me, she had her real answer. ‘Masha said, no—what I had sent her, she claimed, was badly edited. We had another person with an idea: The fate of polar bears … that really pleased her!’

How about a story on Russian marriage and funeral traditions? another reporter inquired. “Yes!” Gessen replied. ‘I love your idea.’ Or, added the new Russian service director, maybe a piece on kindergartens in Russia, or yet another on Russian cinema and how films get made. What the remaining RFE/RL journalists were supposed to cover now, Gessen informed her crew in October, was ‘stuff others don’t do. That’s the best journalism around.’ No one knew what precisely that meant, but Kirilenko had a pretty good idea. She resigned.”

“Last week, Elena Polyakovskaya, yet another journalist openly supportive of the purged correspondents and critical of the new Russian website, found her contract was not going to be renewed. When I discovered this, I immediately phoned a person of considerable authority and rectitude, who questioned Gessen. Lo and behold, Polyakovskaya was informed her services would still be needed.”

BBG Watch has learned, however, that unlike Polyakovskaya’s previous contract, the new one offered to her by Masha Gessen does not guarantee that she will actually be given any assignments. Her previous contract made her a full-time employee for all practical purposes. The new one, which Gessen proposed, does not.

READ MORE: “Steven Korn’s Disastrous Tenure at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: A Postmortem” by Judy Bachrach, World Affairs, December 31, 2012.

ALSO READ: “Korn Fired: Meltdown at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty” by Judy Bachrach, World Affairs, December 24, 2012.

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