The Board of Radio Free Europe Intends to Fight

January 21, 2021 Updated: January 24, 2021


Just a few days ago… in the BB era (Before Biden)… I and four others —talk show stalwart Blanquita Cullum, filmmaker Amanda Milius, the Liberty Counsel’s Jonathan Alexander, and the Center for the National Interest’s Christian Whiton—were named to the new Board of Directors of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.

These outlets—non-profits funded via annual grants from the USAGM (US Agency for Global Media)—share one board. The goal of the USAGM is to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”

Appointed at the same time were the new presidents of the three organizations: Ted Lipien for RFE/RL, Steve Yates for RFA, and Victoria Coates for MEBN (of them, more in a bit).

All of us were chosen by Michael Pack, the CEO of USAGM. Mr. Pack is an accomplished documentary filmmaker—his films on Alexander Hamilton and, more recently, Clarence Thomas are particularly worth a look—whose initial nomination by Donald Trump was stymied for months by the opposing party.

Pack clearly wanted to clean up the USAGM, which had been overwhelmed by a combination of mismanagement and partisanship. It was not, in the view of Pack and many others, adhering to the goal I quoted above. Not even close.

Quite late in the Trump administration Pack was finally approved but even then ran into many land mines. Nevertheless, as Reagan famously said, “People are policy,” which brings us to where we are in BE, the Biden Era.

Normally, as administrations change, heads roll. And Pack’s did—on day one! (He might consider that a compliment.) Biden, or his people, asked for his resignation and he complied.

Are we next?

Frankly, I was more than prepared for it when I got the initial phone call from Michael asking me if I would serve. So I rather expected it might be a “short term” board appointment.

It’s not for me, then, that I am writing this, or even for my co-board members whom I, of course, wish well. I’d like us all to continue to serve, but that’s not the point.

I am writing to encourage the continued appointment of the three new presidents who, I believe, are extraordinary choices for increasingly important jobs.

It would be national shame if they were pushed out for conventional political reasons. Indeed, if Biden’s claim of wanting to “bring us together” has any substance at all, these would be the first people he should keep.

Two of them I know personally and will address them first.

If someone were to have asked me who is the best person to head up Radio Free Asia—probably the most important of the positions given the rise of Communist China— I would have said immediately Steve Yates.

I have known Steve, casually, for a few years but in early January 2019 I went with a small group Steve led to Taiwan to observe their election and got to know him a lot better.

There I learned not only that Steve spoke fluent Mandarin—he had spent several years in Taiwan as a missionary—but that he was a hero in that country to the extent that people recognized him in the street as if he were a rock star and wanted to have their photos taken with him.

The reason for that recognition was that Steve was said to have brokered a groundbreaking congratulatory phone call from Donald Trump to Tsai Ing-wen, the then newly-elected president of Taiwan. This, of course, made Steve a champion to the Taiwanese who crave the kind of recognition from the United States that can help stave off the communist giant just 110 km to their west.

I also learned his expertise in all Asian affairs was deep, similar to Stephen Mosher’s, who often writes here at The Epoch Times, Michael Pillsbury’s or Gordon Chang’s.

Such a man is just the person to monitor broadcasts on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. It doesn’t hurt that he has a great sense of humor too—and almost as much an insatiable hunger for Taiwanese dumplings as I do.

And if there’s anyone I know who is just as bright as Steve Yates, it’s Victoria Coates.

Victoria is something of a polymath. She served on the National Security Council and even became Deputy National Security Advisor after the elevation of Robert C. O’Brien.

But, mirabile dictu, she is not a lawyer, nor is she a military person. She’s an art historian! With a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Say what? Yes, really. And she has written a superb book melding the two, which once upon a time I reviewed for PJ Media: “David’s Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art.” (I highly recommend it.)

So, although Victoria tells us correctly that she would be the first national security professional to head the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, she is considerably more than that.

Indeed, she is just the kind of person with a wide-ranging mind to navigate the many minefields of the Middle East and help her networks correct the propaganda and distortions often emanating from Al Jazeera and others.

I only know Ted Lipien via one phone call from Prague—the headquarters of Radio Free Europe—but what I heard impressed me. He sounded like a very level-headed guy.

I also like that he served as president of Free Media Online, an NGO that supports independent journalists and promotes media freedom worldwide.

He will have a lot immediately on his plate. Apparently, the Russian government is attempting to label our journalists as “foreign agents.”

Not only that, an RFE/RL media consultant with failing health has already been imprisoned in Russian-client Belarus.

At the same time, RFE/RL journalists in Afghanistan are receiving death threats and have had to be evacuated to India or lodged in safe houses in Kabul.

Lipien, who was in charge of Voice of America broadcasts to Poland during the Solidarity struggle for democracy, is someone with the right experience to handle these extremely tense situations.

To remove him, again for the same old tired political reasons, would be foolish.

Removing any of these highly-qualified people would once again show the American people how absurdly partisan our country has become.

We on the board intend to fight it. We urge others, including those with political influence, to help us.

UPDATE: All board members and presidents have now been officially fired from Radio Free Europe et. al. by the Biden Administration (unfortunately via email—so not suitable for framing). We consider it a badge of honor. Since freedom of speech seems to be disappearing in the United States, what exactly would we have been promoting?

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, co-founder of PJMedia, and now, editor-at-large for The Epoch Times. His most recent books are “The GOAT” (fiction) and “I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasnt Already” (nonfiction). Find him on Parler (he hopes again, soon) @rogerlsimon

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.