Resigning BBG member S. Enders Wimbush called for more efficiency but missed meetings
BBG Watch Commentary
S. Enders Wimbush, who announced his resignation as a Republican member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), advocated increasing efficiency by cutting Voice of America (VOA) news broadcasts to China and replacing them with Internet-only delivery, but he missed some key BBG meetings and at the end of his tenure had to reverse his earlier position after it was rejected in bipartisan votes in Congress and criticized by many leading human rights activists and China experts, sources told BBG Watch. Many sources also described Mr. Wimbush as having a “very hot temper” in his dealings with some of his agency colleagues and subordinates.
His spotty attendance record at regular board meetings, which are only held several times a year, probably did not go well with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), we were told. Senator McConnell largely controls who on the Republican side is proposed for presidential nomination to the BBG and who may be reappointed. As one of the four Republicans on the nine-member board, Wimbush will be replaced by a new board member but probably no sooner than later this summer. As reported by the Foreign Policy magazine blog The Cable, President Barack Obama formally appoints McConnell’s choices for the GOP seats and the president chooses the nominees for the four Democrat seats himself. The Cable reporter Josh Rogin also wrote that the Wimbush resignation came after a long period of enmity between Wimbush and another GOP board member, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe.
Sources told BBG Watch that at board meetings Wimbush often clashed with Ashe who opposed him on broadcastings cuts to China, Tibet, and other nations lacking free media. Another Republican member Dennis Mulhaupt often sided with Wimbush, sources told BBG Watch. But after the Dalai Lama and respected human rights campaigner Annette Lantos, the wife of the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, made passionate pleas in defense of the Voice of America broadcasting, Wimbush, Mulhaupt and other board members voted to continue broadcasts to Tibet and China.
Mr. Wimbush made a mistake of believing the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives who convinced him that almost no one in China listens to shortwave radio broadcasts. That assertion was spectacularly refuted by the blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng who said recently that he had managed to listen secretly to Voice of America Mandarin radio programs even while in prison. S. ENDERS WIMBUSH’s LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE WASHINGTON TIMES Ending VOA China presence politically smart
Mr. Wimbush also made a mistake of believing the executive staff that Internet-only VOA program delivery to China will be both sufficient and will promote efficiency. Members of Congress of both parties and numerous critics made fun of this assertion by pointing to widespread and effective government censorship of the Internet in China despite the BBG’s attempts to circumvent it. These efforts can help only a very small group of savvy Internet users.
Mr. Wimbush also believed that Radio Free Asia shortwave radio broadcasts to China would be sufficient and the elimination of Voice of America broadcasts would help to pay for more Internet-based content. He may have not fully grasped that IBB and VOA executives were replacing some news and current affairs broadcasts with lifestyle programs to help them pass the Chinese Internet censors, sources told BBG Watch.
On the issue of transparency and accountability at the BBG, Mr. Wimbush made a mistake of supporting the proposal that a new agency CEO should not be required to be nominated by the President on confirmed by the Senate. IBB executives are still pushing in Congress for the approval of this proposal which, in our opinion, would limit Congressional scrutiny and public control of the agency and US international broadcasting.
On the issue of transparency and improving efficiency, Mr. Wimbush made a mistake of supporting the proposal to merge the BBG’s grantee-surrogate broadcasters into one large bureaucratic unit without sufficient public input and without Congressional hearings. BBG/IBB executives are now trying to sell this proposal in Congress. Two out of three heads of grantee-surrogate broadcasters have expressed serious reservations about the consolidation plan, as did Governor Victor Ashe and many outside critics.
Our sources tell us that on the human side, one of the most difficult aspects of Mr. Wimbush’s tenure on the board for some of his colleagues and subordinates were his people skills. Mr. Wimbush’s temper revealed itself when he reportedly urged other board members to take some unspecified steps to protect BBG and IBB executives from what he considered to be unfair criticism by anonymous contributors to our blog. The agency is supporting open and anonymous criticism of government officials abroad. But we still want to thank Mr. Wimbush for his public service, for his apparently well meaning intentions and for reversing his position on broadcasts to China and Tibet. We wish him Godspeed.