New Leadership Is Exactly What Voice of America Needs

COMMENTARY Global Politics

New Leadership Is Exactly What Voice of America Needs

Dec 16th, 2020 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Helle C. Dale

Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy

Her current work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries.
Author and veteran broadcaster Robert Reilly has been named the new director of Voice of America, the U.S. government’s flagship broadcast network. Kwanchai Lerttanapunyaporn / EyeEm / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Voice of America is under new leadership starting this week.

Author and veteran broadcaster Robert Reilly became the new director of the U.S. government’s flagship broadcast network.

The liberal bias has been clear for a long time, but it clearly intensified under President Donald Trump.

Voice of America is under new leadership starting this week. Author and veteran broadcaster Robert Reilly became the new director of the U.S. government’s flagship broadcast network—commonly known as VOA—on Monday as part of a desperately needed cleanup.

Reilly’s appointment was made public in a statement by Michael Pack, the CEO of the U.S. Global Media Agency (which operates VOA). According to Pack, “Bob’s inimitable experience and proven leadership as both a public servant and a private citizen will greatly benefit the entire agency.”  

Under the previous leadership of VOA Director Amanda Bennett and CEO John Lansing—both appointed by the Obama administration—VOA suffered from mismanagement and a strong liberal bias—indeed, much like most of the U.S. media establishment.

Mismanagement of personnel and resources has been well-documented in annual Office of Inspector General reports, one of which just came out last week. 

For years, instead of cleaning house, Bennett served as a cheerleader for her agency, countering every criticism with praise for her staff.

The liberal bias has been clear for a long time, but it clearly intensified under President Donald Trump. A recent investigative report by former White House correspondent Dan Robinson found that bias was flagged as early as 2016, when Amanda Bennett took office by a commission she herself established. Yet, things got only worse. 

Bennett resigned this June, just prior to Pack, a Trump appointee, taking office after numerous delays and obstruction by Senate Democrats. Since Pack took over and fired the directors of the Global Media Agency’s networks, VOA has been run by Acting Director Elez Biberaj, who will now return to the Eurasian division, which he previously headed.

Reilly has many years of experience in U.S. government and in broadcasting. He previously served as VOA director from 2001 to 2002. He also served in the Pentagon as communications director during the second Gulf War. For the past five years, Reilly has run the Westminster Institute, which focuses on anti-terrorism and the threat from Islamist extremism.

He a man of tremendous knowledge and principle, and has been well-known in conservative circles for decades. 

In a statement from the Global Media Agency, Reilly said he was delighted to return to the network, adding, “I have always been a firm adherent of VOA’s mission of telling America’s story to the world.”

Reilly would hardly find favor with Joe Biden in the White House. Biden has already appointed a transition team led by Richard Stengel, who was appointed by the Obama administration as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and is a former Time magazine editor. 

Biden has made his own promise to clean house at the Agency for Global Media. In fact, Biden promised that anyone associated with the Trump administration would automatically be disqualified from serving in the Agency for Global Media during his administration.  

Ever since Pack took office, endless articles have levelled charges of pro-Trump bias against him. Yet, partisan politicization is exactly what Biden is promising. What Pack has actually done is attempted to install a measure of accountability and even-handed reporting in broadcasts and in the social media content of staff. 

Interestingly, an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act may guarantee Reilly a longer tenure. The amendment mandates that a six person advisory board approve any personnel changes by the Agency for Global Media CEO. Though an attempt at limiting the CEO’s powers, it freezes in place current personnel changes. The advisory board has not been populated yet and may not be for some time as its members have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

So for now, it will be up to Reilly to restore standards, accountability, and professionalism to VOA. Hopefully, he will the time and the opportunity to put things right.  

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal