Trump's Latest Fox News Hire Seems ... Kinda Qualified Actually?!
Donald Trump sure does like Fox News. He hired former Fox exec Bill Shine to add further chaos to the terminally chaotic comms shop, and has chosen former Fox-N-Friends host Heather Nauert to be the next ambassador to the UN, a fact that forces us to look it up again whenever we think it might be real. Yep. So we'll confess when we saw Trump had picked yet another Fox News reporter to head the State Department agency that's supposed to counter foreign propaganda, our first reaction was "hoo boy, Jeanine Pirro's gonna get us into a shootin' war." Only it turns out that Trump didn't choose some drooling fear-stoker to head up the Global Engagement Center (GEC), whose mission now involves both combating propaganda and fighting against foreign disinformation campaigns. Instead, it looks like -- are you sitting down? -- the appointee, Lea Gabrielle, may actually be fairly well-qualified for the job.
It's almost as if Trump went out and bit a bear shitting on the Pope in the woods, as we professional news journamalists say.
CNN's coverage of the appointment certainly found some State Department insiders who were less than thrilled by the appointment.
"Countering information warfare requires someone who understands the threat and the sophisticated tools needed to defend our democracy," said Brett Bruen, a former White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration.
"We currently lack a strategy, resources and time," Bruen continued. "The person who goes into this job won't have the luxury of a learning curve. They need to be prepared to lead one of the most complex and challenging fights of our time. I know from personal experience the Russians will exploit inexperience and any misstep."
The piece also notes that Barack Obama's appointee as GEC director, Michael Lumpkin, and current acting director Daniel Kimmage both have extensive backgrounds in the Defense and State Departments, respectively, and that both have years of experience in defense policy, counter-terrorism, and communications.
But hey, while Gabrielle may not have the same institutional résumé, she's actually no lightweight, either, as an interview published yesterday in Foreign Policy makes clear. For one thing, as the CNN piece also acknowledged, Gabrielle worked for the vestigial but still operative Real News part of Fox, reporting for "Shepard Smith Reporting." She also has a background as a military reporter, choosing a journamalism career after flying F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets in the Navy. Sez Foreign Affairs:
Former Navy officers who served with her have pushed back against criticism leveled at her, praising her leadership skills and saying she has ample leadership experience to excel in the role at the State Department.
During her time in the military and intelligence community, Gabrielle was a CIA-trained intelligence operations officer assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency and deployed to Afghanistan alongside Navy SEALs, according to the interview and a biography provided by the State Department. She also served as a foreign liaison officer with the DIA, coordinating with foreign defense attaches, and she directed a U.S. Navy intelligence program. There are few publicly available details of her time working in intelligence, as much of it was classified. Gabrielle served as active duty military for 12 years and remains in the inactive ready reserves.
Gabrielle may well benefit from leading a mission Trump probably won't pay much attention to. The inter-agency GEC was formed in 2016 primarily to combat the media savvy of the Islamic State, and then, following the Russian disinformation campaign in the 2016 elections, was mandated by Congress to fight foreign influence programs more generally. Trump's first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, didn't see that mission as particularly important, and didn't even bother releasing $60 million in Defense Department funding Congress had appropriated for the GEC. Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been a bit more supportive, and Gabrielle told Foreign Policy that returning the GEC to full operations was her top priority.
So while Donald Trump may have been under the impression he was getting a standard-issue Fox News infotainer, he may have actually stumbled on someone who knows what she's doing. All credit goes to Ms. Gabrielle on that one -- here's hoping she doesn't suffer the same fate as so many competent people in this administration. We wish her luck!
[CNN / Foreign Policy / Photo: Lea Gabrielle on Twitter]
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