Joel Mowbray

In a stunning move, President Bush’s right-hand woman from his 2000 campaign last month sided with the Democratic members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in shooting down the Republicans’ preferred candidate to head up U.S. radio services across Europe, Central Asia and much of the Middle East.

Karen Hughes’ actions have left some perplexed, and many fear that it is part of a troubling direction she has taken in her role heading up public diplomacy at the State Department.

Since April, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has had two votes on hiring a new president of the broadcasting unit that plays a vital role in the war on terror, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL was a key weapon in bringing down the Evil Empire, and it is supposed to aid burgeoning democracy movements today in places like Iran.

At issue is a fundamental question of how to achieve President Bush’s vision of promoting freedom and democracy, particularly throughout RFE/RL’s broadcasting region that includes a Muslim population of some 300 million. Like the Democratic members of the BBG, some believe that the U.S. should appeal to Muslim youth with popular music, only occasionally slipping in news and information. But others, such as the GOP members of the board, would like to return to the principles that proved so effective during the Cold War, namely targeting key decision-makers with serious programming laced with the values and ideals inherent to free societies.

Following an extensive, nationwide search lead by a high-priced headhunting firm, the BBG this spring was presented with two candidates deemed equally strong by the outside consultants: Enders Wimbush and Fred Kempe.

Having served as the director of Radio Liberty from 1987 - 1993, Wimbush was an obvious choice for the three Republican members of the BBG. Not only is he seen as a traditional conservative with a vast knowledge of the culture and the spread of radical Islam, he was a leader in successful efforts to foment freedom inside the Soviet Bloc.

While considered by most observers to be smart and talented, Kempe lacked Wimbush’s depth of experience. Though a working (and award-winning) journalist at the Wall Street Journal, he has no background in radio broadcasting. Nonetheless, the three Democratic members of the board selected him this April.

Since the BBG is evenly split by design, tie votes are decided by the Secretary of State. In this instance, though, Hughes was appointed to cast the deciding vote – and in two separate cases, she sided with the Democrats.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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