Idea of Balance on Voice of America: A Double Attack on Trump Multiplied

BBG Watch Commentary

The United States is a nation of many political opinions, not just one opinion or a dominant opinion. No one in America has a near monopoly on expressing personal opinions, unless it is an online opinion page paid for in full by U.S. taxpayers at the Voice of America (VOA), which is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency.

The Voice of America “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” promises after the VOA Charter (U.S. Public Law) that “VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussion and opinion on these policies.”

But when it comes to personal commentaries by outside commentators commissioned by the Voice of America to offer their comments, what VOA delivers on its “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” are mostly one-sided attacks on President Donald Trump, his administration and his policies by commentator Barbara Slavin. She also seems to have a near monopoly on personal commentaries on that page. Another commentator, used by VOA far less frequently and who has not written anything for VOA in recent months, agreed with her criticism of Donald Trump. In addition, her professional connection with VOA is not at all well described for international and U.S. domestic online audiences.

At the same time, as we pointed out, Trump and his supporters were also getting hit on the Voice of America from another commentator who instead of providing balance reinforced Ms. Slavin’s views, whether on Trump or other U.S. politicians.

Since January 1, 2017, Ms. Slavin has had seven (7) of her mostly anti-Trump personal commentaries posted on the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page.” She had four (4) in December and five (5) in November. We doubt that even the best VOA staff journalists are accorded such special treatment.

This is how VOA presents Ms. Slavin: “Barbara Slavin is Acting Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Follow her on Twitter @barbaraslavin1. The views expressed are that of the author.”

Barbara Slavin Reports on VOAUntil BBG Watch pointed it out some time ago, VOA did not have a disclaimer that Ms. Slavin’s commentaries include her own views. VOA also used to show her photo on the main VOA News homepage with a caption: “Barbara Slavin Reports.” These have been changed by the previous VOA management team due to BBG Watch articles and protests, but nothing else has changed under the current management. In fact, there is much more political bias and chaos now than at any time in VOA’s 75-year history.

 

 

Trump and More Trigger Protests Like It Was 1968 By Barbara Slavin, VOA February 13, 2017 Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 10.21 PM ET

Trump and More Trigger Protests Like It Was 1968

 

Posted February 13th, 2017
 
By Barbara Slavin
 
From Bucharest to Baghdad to Birmingham, England and its namesake in Alabama, people are filling streets, squares and town halls to demand more transparent, accountable and welcoming government.
 
The protests have become a regular occurrence in the United States since the inauguration of President Trump on January 20. But they are spreading in a way not seen since demonstrations against the U.S. war in Vietnam in 1968.
 
Unlike those days, when those in the streets were largely young people angry at the war and the capitalist system, the new demonstrations are multi-generational and promote a variety of causes. The biggest event so far –the Women’s March on Washington – occurred on Jan. 21 and attracted nearly a half million people. It was replicated around the United States and in major cities overseas.
 

READ MORE ON VOICE OF AMERICA

 

 

To compare the 1968 anti-war demonstrations in the United States and abroad to current anti-Trump protests is highly misleading, in our view, for international and U.S. domestic audiences alike, but no editor at the Voice of America has provided any fact checking or an opposing point of view for this personal commentary.

Here are more of Barbara Slavin’s “entries,” as the Voice of America editor calls them, taken from VOA’s “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page.” She is clearly the preeminent personal commentator for the Voice of America. And in recent months she again seems to have a virtual monopoly on the VOA opinion page for such personal commentaries with a one-sided viewpoint.

The BBG/VOA management should explain to international audiences and to U.S. taxpayers why that should be the case. Why these commentaries are not balanced with an opposing point of view from another commentator, also writing personal commentaries for VOA?

The BBG/VOA management should also explain whether these are paid or unpaid commentaries. It would be useful also to know whether any such personal commentators being commissioned by VOA have professional and institutional connections, other than those already listed, or whether they receive payments from any source that could potentially represent a conflict of interest.

Back to the ‘Axis of Evil’ on Iran

 
By Barbara Slavin

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to the White House next week, he is likely to find common ground with its new occupant on at least one topic: Iran. Tough rhetoric by the Trump administration, coupled with new sanctions over missile tests and Iran’s inclusion in a controversial travel ban, signals […]
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An Unwarranted Sanction Against Iran

 

By Barbara Slavin

With the advent of the Trump administration, many Iran analysts feared the new president would scrap the landmark nuclear deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. Little did we know that U.S.-Iran relations were about to be set back more dramatically as collateral damage in a counter-productive presidential […]

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

 

By Barbara Slavin

This analyst has been to a demonstration or two going back to the Vietnam War, when tens of thousands of people used to congregate in Washington to protest U.S. military intervention in that faraway Asian nation. Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington was of a different order of magnitude – larger by a […]

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Trump Inauguration Could Be Eclipsed by Protests, Lawsuits

 

By Barbara Slavin

This will be an inauguration like no other. As Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office on Friday, the mood in Washington is expectant, anxious and defiant. A new Gallup poll shows that Trump – unlike any other president-elect in modern history – has actually lost popularity since the election. […]

Read the rest of this entry »

 Islamic Republic of Iran Loses a Pillar and a Pragmatist in Rafsanjani

 
By Barbara Slavin

Next to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, few Iranians have had more influence over the past three decades of Iranian history than Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, who died Sunday at age 82 of a heart attack, was a master manipulator of Iranian politics who inspired both respect […]

Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

We strongly believe in the Voice of America fully reporting on any political scandals, such as the current Putin/Russia/Flynn story, or any conflict of interest in any U.S. administration, including the current Trump administration. But when it comes to personal commentaries presented by VOA, Ms. Slavin has a particular point of view, shared by many but clearly not all Americans. We respect her views and the views of others who disagree with President Trump. We don’t deny her the right to express her strong opinions against Mr. Trump and the Trump administration, including in VOA programs, as long as they are properly labeled and presented with other views in accordance with the VOA Charter.

One could question, however, why the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America, as a general practice, should choose some individuals over others — none of them particularly very well known or influential in the United States — to have personal commentaries on the VOA website, whether they are in support or in opposition to any current U.S. administration.

But under any circumstances, the rules of good journalism, the VOA Charter, the VOA Journalistic Code, and the VOA Conflict of Interest Policy must apply. In our view, as a general proposition, personal commentaries do not belong in VOA program content unless they are presented in the same venue, at the same time, with at at least two or better yet four and more other such commentaries expressing a variety of views on any controversial topic. Even then, the use of specially-commissioned personal commentaries by a U.S. taxpayer-funded agency, in our opinion, is highly questionable.

While the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” includes quotes from both conservative and liberal U.S. media, which are more or less updated from time to time, only Ms. Slavin seems to have quite the unique honor to be able to pen personal commentaries for the Voice of America on a regular and overwhelmingly abundant basis.

It should be pointed out that there are many other, better known and much more widely read online and seen on television American journalists, commentators, current and former politicians, experts, analysts, former government officials and others on both sides of the political spectrum who presumably could provide, in our view, a more representative and authoritative exposition of American opinions if VOA would bother to ask them to comment and to present several of such personal commentaries in a truly balanced and representative manner — not a single commentary dropped here and there that misleads audiences as to how representative of the American political spectrum the views of a single commentator can be. The VOA website is after all paid by U.S. taxpayers of all political persuasions, as is the entire $224 million VOA budget and the $777 million budget (including VOA) of its dysfunctional and mismanaged parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

But if the Voice of America is going to post countless commentaries by Ms. Slavin, the BBG/VOA management at least owes it to American taxpayers and international, and increasingly U.S. domestic audiences, that someone holding clearly opposing views to Ms. Slavin’s worldview should also have just as many commentaries on the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” as she does.

There is no such person at the present.

What is to prevent these one-sided personal commentaries from influencing U.S. elections?

After all, about half of the audience to Voice of America online English-language content comes from the United States rather than from abroad. VOA and commentators writing for VOA are influencing U.S. voters at U.S. taxpayers’ expense with, as it has been alleged, hit pieces against individual candidates for political office.

The badly designed, poorly-updated, barely edited and chaotic VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” is a testament to the lack of leadership and guidance from BBG CEO John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett. Both she and Mr. Lansing seem to be oblivious to one-sided VOA reporting and commentaries.

SEE: BBG CEO ‘greatest respect’ for President belied by Voice of America Trump epithets, BBG Watch, February 12, 2017.

 

Ms. Slavin definitely does NOT use vulgar language, as some regular VOA reporters (a small number) do, but under the watch of BBG CEO John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett, Donald Trump has been called by some of them (they have been criticized for doing this by their more experienced current and former colleagues) truly appalling names on social media and even in quotes used in VOA programs, in all of these cases without any balance:

“F*ckface Von Clownstick.”

“Punk,”

“Dog,”

“Pig,”

“Con,”

“Buls**t artist,”

“Mutt,”

“Idiot,”

“Fool,”

“Bozo,”

“Blatantly stupid.”

 

 

Ms. Slavin had nothing to do with this Voice of America Trump hit piece prepared by the VOA Ukrainian Service which offered no balance or any response and was was eventually removed by the management in response to protests. As we pointed out, Ms. Slavin does not use inappropriate vulgar language in her commentaries even if her commentaries are strongly anti-Trump. She did call him a “bully” in a headline and wrote for VOA that “the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying.” (Rise of the Bullies: Trump, Erdogan and Putin” By Barbara Slavin) She also wrote that Donald Trump is “Like an animal that keeps gnawing at a wound…” because of his criticism of Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S. District Court judge in Southern California, who ruled in a case involving his businesses.

There is nothing wrong with expressing opinions critical of President Trump on the Voice of America if they are properly attributed, properly labeled and properly presented in a broader context. Presumably, James Kirchick — described by VOA on the “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” as “an American journalist, a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative [who] writes for The Daily Beast, Tablet Magazine and VOA” — was supposed to provide a countervailing, conservative opinion to Barbara Slavin’s numerous, past and recent, anti-Trump commentaries.

Barbara Slavin and James Kirchick side by side on Voice of America U.S. Opinion and Commentary Homepage Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 10.34 PM ET. Spavin's three most recent  anti-Trump commentaries are dated:  February 13, 2017; February 7, 2017;  January 30, 2017. Kirkchick's most recent commentary is dated July 29, 2016.

Barbara Slavin and James Kirchick side by side on Voice of America U.S. Opinion and Commentary Homepage Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 10.34 PM ET. Slavin’s three most recent anti-Trump commentaries are dated: February 13, 2017; February 7, 2017; January 30, 2017. Kirchick’s most recent commentary is dated July 29, 2016. It was also an attack on Trump.

The problem with the VOA and BBG top management approach to balance and the VOA Charter is that while Ms. Slavin has been extremely busy writing for VOA and having her attacks on Trump posted by VOA, (she has been especially critical of Trump’s Iran policy, as she was highly supportive before of President Obama’s Iran policy), Mr. Kirchick has not written anything for the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” since July 29, 2016.

That is correct: his latest post on the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” is dated July 29, 2016 and yet he is prominently featured on the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page” homepage next to Ms. Slavin as if he represents a different viewpoint.

But there is a further problem. Even when he was writing for the VOA “U.S. Opinion & Commentary Page,” Mr. Kirkchick did not really provide much balance for Ms. Slavin’s anti-Trump views. Mr. Kichick was just as critical of Donald Trump as Ms. Slavin has been consistently in her numerous commentaries.

Ironically, Mr. Kirchick’s July 29, 2016 commentary is also an attack on Donald Trump who was then running for the U.S. presidency. There was no countering point of view from Mr. Kirchick to balance any of Ms. Slavin’s anti-Trump commentaries.

 

 

Trump, Putin and NATO By James Kirchick, VOA, July 29, 2016 Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 10.23 PM ET
 

Trump, Putin and NATO

 
Posted July 29th, 2016
 
by James Kirchick
 
Once again, Donald Trump has unsettled America’s allies and brought joy to its adversaries.
 
In an interview last week with the New York Times, the Republican Party presidential nominee reiterated his shoddy understanding of how international alliances and deterrence strategy work. Asked if the United States would come to the defense of its NATO allies – in particular, the Baltic States – were they to be attacked by Russia, Trump responded, “I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do.”
 
READ MORE ON VOICE OF AMERICA
 

 

In the past, Ms. Slavin and Mr. Kirchick also had similar views on Bernie Sanders when he was running against Ms. Clinton. These one-sided VOA commentaries were criticized at the time by Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s supporters, as reported by BBG Watch.

 

BBG Watch Commentary
 

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump camps accuse Voice of America of state-media bias

June 17, 2016
 
ShadowProof Logo

US STATE MEDIA RUNS HIT PIECE ON BERNIE SANDERS, Dan Wright, ShadowProof, June 16, 2016

 

DAN WRIGHT: “For reasons still unknown, a United States government owned and operated media outlet, Voice of America, published a hit piece on Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.
 
“The story, titled ‘Does Bernie Sanders Believe in Democracy?,’ was written by Jamie Kirchick, who has elsewhere openly advocated for the election of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as president.”

 

“Senator Sanders, according to this story in a US state media outlet, has been a ‘shill’ for undemocratic regimes,” Dan Wright writes in ShadowProof.

He correctly points out that “Kirchick’s piece appears in the ‘Opinion and Commentary’ section of the VOA website, which shows a quote from VOA’s charter at the top of the page, stating, ‘VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussion and opinion on these policies’.”

Dan Wright also correctly observes that:

 

“As broad as that mandate may seem, electioneering and hit pieces on US citizens obviously fall outside those parameters. VOA does not have the right to advocate for a particular candidate or even to attack one. That is not within its charter, nor should any US citizen have to subsidize their own defamation.”

 

Quite right.

It is one thing for the Voice of America to present a roundup of differing U.S. media commentaries and other opinions as long as they are reflective of broader views within the American society and American media, or to have politicians or experts of different political persuasion participate in a single program; and quite another to commission or repost a single opinion article from any particular partisan individual or to translate into Russian and post online an anti-Donald Trump campaign video without any attempt to provide balance within the same web space. The current VOA practice is journalistically unethical, unfair, politically dangerous, highly deceptive and confusing for U.S. domestic and foreign audiences. If it continues, VOA risks defunding of the organization by the U.S. Congress.

There are two things at play here:

1. Ignorance on the part of some VOA and BBG senior officials, managers, editors and line reporters of VOA’s special public role as a media organization created to serve underserved audiences abroad, not in the United States.

2. General dysfunction within the organization which Democrat Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State and ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) described in 2013 as “practically defunct” and incapable of responding to the information war being waged by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and ISIS. Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, said the same thing about the BBG earlier this year.

Even though the BBG and VOA have new top leaders, these problems appear to have become worse in recent months.

The new leadership and some of the newer reporters seem not to understand the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, and VOA’s special and delicate position among American media outlets. VOA is unique on the U.S. media scene. It is a U.S. government-run entity, funded by taxpayers to distribute programs abroad. But VOA’s program content has been now widely available through the Internet in the United States for many years. America is a country with the Bill of Rights to the Constitution which says that the government shall not interfere with or restrict free press. Free press means media not funded by or controlled by the government. The Voice of America, which is 100% funded by Congress and run by government officials, must be especially careful to remain non-partisan and unbiased, especially when it comes to U.S. politics, if it wants to survive and continue its noble mission abroad.

The U.S. Congress assigned to VOA an important role abroad, but the new BBG and VOA leadership needs to understand that while American taxpayers want VOA to be free of government censorship, they don’t want to pay for one-sided commentaries on domestic politics in the United States.

Reporting all news — yes. Presenting a variety of opinions reflective of the American society and doing this in a balanced and objective way — yes. Posting campaign videos and commissioning hit pieces on American politicians — no.

Slanted [Voice of America] journalism on Trump, a reader from Russia posted a comment under a report on the VOA English news website.

Another Russian posted this comment on Facebook:

“Голос Америки, насколько законно с точки зрения законодательства США, что правительственный медиаресур, финансируемый американскими налогоплательщиками, участвует в предвыборной агитации?”

“How legal is it for the Voice of America, in light of U.S. legislation, that the [U.S.] government’s media resource funded by U.S. taxpayers, is involved in the election campaign?”

The Russian Facebook user was reacting to the Voice of America Russian Service posting online, both Facebook and YouTube, of the recent Hillary Clinton’s anti-Donald Trump campaign video with Russian subtitles. The VOA Russian video had no attached balancing material and was not paired with any other content. U.S. taxpayers paid for versioning the anti-Donald Trump Hillary Clinton campaign video into Russian and for posting it on the Voice of America social media pages which can be viewed in the United States.


One-sided coverage and politically biased coverage is found throughout the Voice of America. Commentator Sierra Rayne writing in American Thinker reported that “[o]ne of VOA’s flagship programs is Issues in the News, where “[p]rominent Washington correspondents discuss topics making headlines around the world,” has two American journalists who should be balancing one another but who are both strong critics of Donald Trump.

“During the GOP primaries, the [Voice of America English] program has repeatedly focused on the Republican nomination race, and in particular on Donald Trump,” American Thinker commentator wrote. “To say the coverage and discussion of Trump has been less than flattering would be an understatement.”

American Thinker Logo

READ MORE: The Voice of America’s anti-Trump show, Sierra Rayne, American Thinker, May 9, 2016

 

Also, Truth Revolt, a blog of the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center founded by David Horowitz, has reported that the Voice of America, “a taxpayer funded news service” and part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a tax-funded “Government News Agency” is “Campaigning Against Trump.”
Truth Revolt Logo

READ MORE: Tax-Funded Government News Agency Campaigning Against Trump, Truth Revolt, June 9, 2016

 

READ MORE: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump camps accuse Voice of America of state-media bias

 

ALSO SEE BBG WATCH COMMENTARIES FROM 2015

New attacks on Netanyahu in Voice of America opinion article without a disclaimer, BBG Watch, February 22, 2015.

 

Another no rebuttal Voice of America column attacking Netanyahu, BBG Watch, March 21, 2015.

 
 
 

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2 Comments

  1. Winston Wood

    The U.S. Opinion and Commentary page was an invention … to answer criticism from both within and without VOA that the service wasn’t fulfilling the third part of the charter, “presenting the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, … and will also present responsible discussion and opinion on these policies.”

    Of course, the Policy Office researches, prepares and records editorials to do exactly that, but management doesn’t require the services to run them, lest VOA come across to listeners as a government broadcaster. Every two weeks, however — pay day — VOA management and staff are more than happy to work for the government. Pathetic.

  2. Outraged

    BBG Watch has provided a great service in pointing out this issue
    to readers. You are right to observe that VOA has an obligation to
    provide transparency — why were these particular people chosen to
    pen personal viewpoint pieces on a taxpayer-funded VOA website?
    What are they paid, not only for these commentaries, but other
    appearances — Slavin for example as for years served as a host of
    one of the main VOA discussion programs?

    It should also be noted that Slavin’s VOA pieces are cross-promoted
    on the website of her place of employment, Atlantic Council. What’s
    the deal with that? What are the connections between the Atlantic Council,
    and VOA? There is one huge one, of course — former VOA director David Ensor
    ended up landing at the Council, where is an Executive Vice President, following
    four rocky years heading VOA.

    It seems stuff like this happens all the time at VOA. BBG Watch is
    right to raise questions.

Comments are closed.