Walter Isaacson refused Voice of America request for interview about Steve Jobs biography, could have expected uncomfortable questions
“Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs’ biography who is also the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal government agency, is more than happy to help his CNN friends get high paying federal jobs at the Voice of America (VOA), which is managed by the BBG, and at the BBG itself … But when it comes to giving the Voice of America an interview about his just published biography of Steve Jobs, it is no go. He flatly refused,” VOA Insider reported to BBG Watch.
It seems Chairman Issacson does not think much of the Voice of America, its public diplomacy mission of presenting important American cultural events to audiences abroad, and of VOA employees who work for American taxpayers under his supervision except when one of his former CNN associates needs a high-paying U.S. federal government job, a VOA employee who does not want to be identified told BBG Watch. The top posts at VOA are now occupied by individuals with professional links to Isaacson and CNN. They in turn are making plans to hire more former and current CNN employees, BBG Watch sources reported.
BBG Watch sources believe that this may also explain partly why Chairman Isaacson and the bipartisan board he leads had agreed earlier to fire 45 VOA journalists who are preparing radio and TV broadcasts to China, which the BBG wanted to end on October 1, 2011. It did not happen because Congressman Rohrabacher and other members of Congress put a stop to the BBG plan. Chairman Isaacson now wants to go a step further and privatize the Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti and to curtail the traditional administrative independence granted by Congress to the surrogate broadcasters like Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which are also managed by the BBG. The BBG needs money to pay its top officials high salaries and hefty bonuses, BBG Watch sources allege.
Isaacson may not be entirely to blame for these plans. Since he was busy writing Steve Jobs’ biography, they were developed by BBG bureaucrats with their own agenda. Initially, inexperienced BBG members fell for them, but now some, like Ambassador Victor Ashe who angered BBG executives by meeting with a group of VOA Africa Division employees, are asking Isaacson pointed questions in open board meetings and may no longer support some of these plans. Most Republican BBG members — one notable exception, according to BBG Watch sources, is S. Enders Wimbush — are horrified by the behavior of one of Isaacson’s proteges who formerly worked for him at CNN and now occupies a key BBG executive position. The official reportedly wrote in an email that he was promoting female employees to top positions and complained about “old white guys” in his organization.
Even some Democratic BBG members were said to be in favor of firing the official for making this statement, but in the end most Democrats, at least one Republican, and Chairman Isaacson would not agree. Sources told BBG Watch that Dennis Mulhaupt and Susan McCue defended the official, but Michael Meehan, another Democratic member, did not. Ultimately, they voted to reverse some of the personnel actions taken by the official which could be perceived as discriminatory, a source told BBG Watch. They also adopted a resolution opposing workforce discrimination.
In fairness to Isaacson, he was reportedly also horrified by the “old white guys” statement, reliable sources told BBG Watch, but could not bring himself to fire his former associate — something he had no problem to do when BBG executives had asked for his approval to fire 45 VOA Chinese broadcasters and to close down the VOA Croatian Service, BBG sources observed.
Perhaps Chairman Isaacson has after all a good reason to refuse the VOA request for an interview about his book. Since VOA has not yet been privatized, as Isaacson wants it to be, VOA reporters are still somewhat protected from retaliation and could ask him uncomfortable questions about hiring practices, favoritism and closing down of VOA broadcasting services while hiring former CNN employees and giving bonuses to top BBG executives. They could have also asked how the proposed consolidation and privatization could help turn the BBG into a CNN clone to be run by corporate bureaucrats who would answer only to Chairman Isaacson’s trusted former CNN colleagues. These bureaucrats see an opportunity to expand their empire and to limit Congressional oversight, sources tell BBG Watch.
According to BBG Watch sources, the official who had made the “old white guys” statement does not work at the Voice of America or the International Broadcasting Bureau. BBG Watch is still investigating this story.
But we are so very very thankful that Isaacson generously signed five copies of his book as a way to get BBGers to contribute to the CFC.
Just to play a devil’s advocate, don’t you think that there’s a possibility that he recused himself from an interview on ethical grounds?
Ergo, @jjj – I don’t think that contributing to promoting philanthropy is so much of a problem as promoting the book – which he didn’t do.
If Walter Issacson is too shy to talk about his book with the Voice of America then he should not be the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors because he does not understand VOA’s cultural diplomacy role. It’s like having a U.S. Ambassador in a foreign country refusing to talk about his book which made a significant contribution toward understanding of America. Walter Isaacson’s BBG job comes with certain responsibilities and duties to promote American culture. If he doesn’t want to do it on the Voice of America and wants to privatize it he should perhaps rethink why he is in this job.
And if we talk about ethics, he’s not too shy to have his CNN friends put into high paying government positions at BBG and VOA and to tolerate “old white guys” comments.
I agree, it’s nonsense to think he would have an obligation to “recuse” himself from a VOA interview. I doubt he’d turn down CNN if he were still employed there! If it’s true that he turned the interview request down, it seems more like disrespect for one of the organizations that he runs.
Anyway, his writing is separate from his part-time role on the BBG. It would be VOA’s journalistic responsibility to make it a fair story and not a puff job. VOA would have to report on the bad and so-so reviews for the book, in addition to the positive ones.