Power of the punchline

Thanks for your article, Dannagal G. Young (“Lighten up,” CJR, July/August). One thing you fail to mention: Satire actually gets political results. Congress passed the 9/11 firefighters/police health bill thanks to the efforts of Daily Show outrage. Over several days, Jon Stewart and staff hammered at the topic, and the legislation soon got passed.

I also find the Stewart/O’Reilly conversations to be not only entertaining but enlightening. Stewart does not pull punches with O’Reilly, nor does O’Reilly fail to take on Stewart. True political discourse of political differences.

Comment posted on cjr.org

Voice of America?

It is disappointing that CJR would publish Gary Thomas’ commentary on the Voice of America (“Mission impossible,” CJR, July/August), which contains multiple errors, and calls for changes that are either unrealistic or have already been proposed by the very organization Thomas maligns.

VOA’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization. Our audience numbers have never been higher. They are based on VOA’s credibility as an independent news organization. In Africa, we are big on radio and mobile. In Iran, one in five adults watch us every week on TV. There is nothing “schizophrenic” about what we do.

VOA produces dozens of television programs, has nearly 50 separate websites and a wide range of mobile platforms, in addition to radio, podcasts, and social media. Audiences look to VOA for accurate and balanced news they cannot get on state-controlled media in many countries, and we provide that in more than 40 languages.

Kyle King
Director, VOA Public Relations
Washington, DC

I worked at VOA longer than Gary Thomas—35 years—and I agree with him 100 percent. Thomas made one small error: Sanford Ungar came before David Jackson, not after him. From the time I started in 1971 until Jackson became director in 2002, the news division was protected from higher-ups and allowed to write under the VOA Charter—accurate, objective, and comprehensive. We covered Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment and other controversial issues fully and fairly because we were not the Voice of the Executive Branch; we were the Voice of the American people. I produced Opinion Roundups, and I went out of my way to find comments critical of American policy as well as comments in agreement. It never occurred to me to do anything else—because I was a VOA professional. A friend of mine was the news division chief under Jackson and he finally resigned rather than accept Jackson’s attempts to censor and manipulate the news product. Under USIA, VOA correspondents abroad did not answer to the local US ambassador. Their copy went straight to Washington for editing. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was, is, and will be the instrument for the destruction of a precious national resource. I know good people who risked their lives to cover the news for VOA. I knew good people who died on the job. Their tradition of public service means nothing to those now in charge. I wish someone with the power to change things at VOA gave a damn.

Anthony C. Collins
Reston, VA

While I may not agree with every proposal of Gary Thomas (though many are on point), I am appalled as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors over the arrogant refusal of VOA to answer Thomas’s questions. It is so contrary to the purpose of VOA in bringing different views on issues to the public. The response seems similar to what repressive regimes say when VOA or other news groups ask for comments.

As one governor, I apologize. I ask David Ensor, head of VOA, to respond how this has happened. He is a former journalist and surely he was unaware that this has happened. His challenge is preventing another episode like this.

Victor Ashe
Knoxville, TN

Cris de coeur

Francesca Borri, I’m so impressed with your article “Woman’s work” (CJR, July/August). Even though, through my work and constant follow-up, I am quite well informed about the situation in Syria, your personal view and experiences of the war have really touched me. It even made me cry! I really wish you will stay safe, and I do wish the same to those poor people in Syria, most of whom have no way to get out and no other place to go! You are so close to us in Jerusalem and yet so far away . . . Wishing you good luck and a better editor—if there are any!

Annika Khano
Jerusalem, Israel

The Editors