All atwitter at VOA

Al Kamen
Columnist September 6, 2012

Journalists are known malcontents, but there’s more grousing than usual among Voice of America employees.

They’re being asked to use their Twitter accounts to disseminate news releases and the like generated by the Voice of America public relations shop — and that has them worried that they could wind up as mouthpieces for their employer’s messages.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Though the effort is being portrayed by the PR office as a way to promote VOA stories and get them wider play in the mainstream media (sounds innocent enough, right?), twitchy journos aren’t convinced.

The project, outlined in an ­e-mail, aims to boost “VOA’s communication with the outside media, generate pickups on good story elements, and to promote our projects and programs.”

It’s that last bit — “promoting” VOA’s initiatives — that seems to be most concerning to reporters, who understandably don’t care to use their own Twitter accounts to parrot their employer’s spin. Some are worried about spamming their followers with useless information. And they fear that being told what to tweet might compromise their journalistic impartiality.


Voice of America journalists fear they’re being expected to spam their Twitter followers with the company line. (Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images)

The request came from an intern in the PR office, and it wasn’t framed as a demand. In fact, the message very kindly noted that the PR office was “asking for your cooperation” on the project. Still, some are taking it as a directive, and others as a potential slippery slope.

A Voice of America spokesman tells the Loop that “nobody’s being coerced” and that the initiative was simply intended to help far-flung VOA journalists share one another’s stories with a wider audience.

But VOA higher-ups know just how hard it is to control a message — even when it’s just delivered to their own people.

Survivor: MDA edition

A month ago, when President Obama nominated Navy Rear Adm. James D. Syring to head the troubled Missile Defense Agency, some folks thought that meant that Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the current MDA director, would be out soon.

Well, not necessarily.

In fact, we hear O’Reilly’s got a solid travel schedule set for this fall, starting with a trip to Berlin next week to attend the 10th annual Multinational Ballistic Missile Defense conference in Berlin on Monday. (Berlin’s lovely this time of year, but don’t start packing unless you have a “secret,” need-to-know clearance.)

O’Reilly, Loop Fans may recall, has come under heavy fire from the Pentagon inspector general, whose May 2 report criticized him for having an abusive management style — probably one reason the MDA had ranked 223 out of 224 smaller agencies in a survey by the Partnership for Public Service.

“If the Senate acts, there should be a change in leadership this fall from O’Reilly to Syring,” a senior Pentagon official tells us. “The exact timing depends on congressional action.”

If that’s the case, detractors shouldn’t get excited. O’Reilly could be there for quite a while.

Getting away from it all

Congress returns next week after a much-deserved five-week vacation — enjoyed, we trust, by all save for those few members who have competitive House and Senate races.

Some might criticize them for taking so much time off — considering how little they accomplished while they were here.

But let’s not forget that they were helping to preserve Washington’s hard-earned reputation as the No. 1 vacationing city in the country, based on a survey released last week of vacation habits in 10 cities.

The survey, by Harris Interactive for the vacation club Inspirato, found that Washington residents are the most likely to take a vacation, Chicagoans are the least likely.

The overall 10-city, five-year average percentage of residents who have taken a vacation showed that 73 percent of Washingtonians took yearly vacations, while only 55 percent of Chicagoans did so. The overall average was 64 percent. Here are the rankings:

1. Washington, 73 percent.

2. San Francisco, 70 percent.

3. Boston, 68 percent.

4. Atlanta, 67 percent).

5. Houston, 66 percent.

6 (tie). Los Angeles, 64 percent.

6 (tie). New York, 64 percent.

8. Dallas-Fort Worth, 61 percent.

9. Philadelphia, 57 percent.

10. Chicago, 55 percent.

All together now: We’re No. 1, we’re No. 1 . . .

Bringing home the bacon

Politicians know their meat: Legislation is “sausage-making,” they throw red meat to their bases, and they talk of pork-barrel spending.

So a meat-centric fundraiser seems appropriate. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is celebrating his birthday — and raising campaign cash — at a Sept. 12 get-together at Fogo de Chao, the downtown Brazilian steakhouse that’s home of an all-you-can-eat protein orgy. “This is a FUN time,” promises an invite. And lest copious quantities of animal, served “gaucho-style” on large skewers, isn’t alluring enough, there’s even more enticing flesh to press. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) will be on hand, too.

Sounds like some serious fundraising chops.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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