Cleaning house at the BBG; former CNN CEO to manage U.S. international news programs

Share: Logo., Free Media Online Blog, November 18, 2009, San Francisco — Walter Isaacson, Chairman of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, at a State Department briefing, April 29, 2008. Photograph released by the U.S. State Department.One of the worst managed U.S. federal agencies will have a new leadership. President Obama has announced his intention to nominate former CNN chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson, a Democrat, to chair the Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG, an independent federal agency in charge of all U.S. civilian international news broadcasting. President Obama also intends to nominate seven other new members of the bipartisan board, including Dana Perino, the former White House Press Secretary to President George W. Bush, and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor H. Ashe. They would be among four new Republican members of the BBG.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the eight new appointees would replace the current BBG leadership with the exception of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who serves as an ex officio member.

The BBG manages the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)—Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. All are funded exclusively by U.S. taxpayers.

The agency with the estimated $717.4 million budget in FY 2009 and nearly 3,800 employees has been consistently rated by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, OPM, in employee surveys as one of the worst managed within the federal government. Some of the current BBG members and their executive staff tried to withhold from the U.S. Congress and journalists independent taxpayer-funded studies revealing cases of serious mismanagement at the BBG and its privatized broadcasting entities, especially Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. One of the studies described substandard journalistic practices at Alhurra, including broadcasting stattements from Holocaust deniers, and its failure to attract a meaningful audience in the Middle East.

To pay private media contractors favored by the Bush Administration, the BBG eliminated all Voice of America Arabic news programs and cut broadcasts to many other countries without free media. VOA Russian-language radio broadcasts were terminiated in July 2008, just 12 days before the Russian military attack on Georgia.
Both Republicans and Democrats appointed to the BBG by President Bush approved these controversial decisions. The effort to create contractor-managed broadcasting to the Muslim world, as opposed to broadcasting by the Voice of America, which operates under a Congressional charter as a U.S. government entity with guarantees of journalistic independence, was led by former Democratic BBG members: Norman Pattiz and Edward E. Kaufman who is now a U.S. senator from Delaware. Their alliance with neoconservatives in the Bush administration was essential for carrying out plans to privatize U.S. international broadcasting. Only one current BBG member, conservative radio host Blanquita Walsh Cullum, was reported to have opposed some of the questionable management practices at the BBG, particularly the push to eliminate Voice of America broadcasts to countries without independent media.

Walter Isaacson, who upon approval by the U.S. Senate would become new BBG chairman, is president of the Aspen Institute and serves as chair of the board of Teach for America. He is the former chairman and CEO of CNN and former editor of Time Magazine. He is the author of “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”, and the co-author of “The Wise Men”.

President Obama also appointed three other Democrats:

• Michael Lynton,

• Susan McCue,

• Michael P. Meehan;

and four new Republican BBG members:

• Victor H. Ashe,

• Dennis Mulhaupt,

• Dana Perino,

• S. Enders Wimbush.

As of 9 PM November 19, the public relations documents on the BBG website have not been updated to include the White House announcement on the pending personnel changes.
End of report. This report may republished with attribution.

Biographies of Democrats whom President Obama intends to nominate to the BBG (from the White House press release):

Walter Isaacson, Chair, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Walter Isaacson is President of the Aspen Institute and serves as chair of the board of Teach for America. He is the former Chairman and CEO of CNN and former editor of Time Magazine. Mr. Isaacson is the author of “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”, and the co-author of “The Wise Men”. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he was appointed vice-chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Mr. Isaacson is a graduate of Harvard College and Pembroke College of Oxford University.

Michael Lynton, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Michael Lynton is the Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. He is the former CEO of AOL Europe and Chairman and CEO of Pearson plc’s Penguin Group. Mr. Lynton is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the boards of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Rand Corporation. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School and is proficient in French, German and Dutch.

Susan McCue, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Susan McCue is President of Message Global, a strategic advocacy firm she founded in 2008 for social action campaigns. She was the founding President and CEO of The ONE Campaign to combat extreme global poverty, and before that was Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from 1999 to 2006. She also is currently Vice Chair of Humanity United. A New Jersey native, Ms. McCue is a graduate of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., with degrees in economics and journalism.

Michael P. Meehan, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Michael P. Meehan currently serves as President of Blue Line Strategic Communications, Inc. and as Senior Vice President at Virilion, a digital media company. For over two decades, Meehan served in senior roles for U.S. Senators John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, two presidential campaigns, two U.S. House offices and congressional campaigns in 25 states. Mr. Meehan earned a B.A. in political science from Bates College.

Biographies of Republicans whom President Obama intends to nominate to the BBG (taken from the White House press release):

Former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor H. AsheVictor H. Ashe, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Victor H. Ashe recently served as United States Ambassador to Poland from June 2004 to October 2009. He also previously served as a Tennessee State Representative and was the longest serving Mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee. Mr. Ashe has served as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was twice appointed to the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee and is a former member of the Americorps Board of Directors. He currently sits on the Board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Rovers Association. Mr. Ashe is a graduate of Yale University and the University Of Tennessee College Of Law in 1974.

Dennis Mulhaupt, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Dennis Mulhaupt is founder and managing director of Commonwealth Partners, Inc., providing advisory services to philanthropic institutions and families. He previously served as Executive Vice President at KCET in Los Angeles, a west-coast flagship public broadcasting and media company. Earlier in his career, he was Vice President at Claremont McKenna College; Vice President for Medical External Relations at Stanford University; and Senior Associate dean in the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences at the University of Southern California. Mr. Mulhaupt received his B.A. from the University of Southern California and an M.Phil. in international relations and criminology from Cambridge University.

Dana Perino, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Dana Perino is the Chief Issues Counselor for the United States at Burson-Marsteller and is a Fox News Contributor. She is the former White House Press Secretary to President George W. Bush – the first Republican woman to hold that position. Ms. Perino previously served in the United States Justice Department, was Director of Communications for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and worked on Capitol Hill for Representatives Dan Schaefer (R-CO) and Scott McInnis (R-C). She holds a M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois – Springfield and a B.A. in Mass Communications from Colorado State University – Pueblo.

S. Enders Wimbush, Member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

S. Enders Wimbush is the Senior Vice President for International Programs and Policy at the Hudson Institute. He previously worked in the private sector with Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International Corporation, and served as director of Radio Liberty in Munich. Mr. Wimbush founded and directed the Society for Central Asian Studies in Oxford, England, through which he created the international journal Central Asian Survey. Mr. Wimbush also served as a Senior Analyst for the Rand Corporation. Mr. Wimbush received his A.M. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and B.A. in History from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.