BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
A March 5, 2019 screenshot of a 2016 post, showing a dog and “F*ck Trump” graffiti, which appears on a personal Facebook page linked to a Voice of America (VOA) reporter who has other similar anti-Trump social media posts. The images have been edited for this commentary to obscure obscenities.
Senior Voice of America (VOA) and U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) executives have not responded to recent inquiries regarding the individual believed to be a VOA reporter who has posted and re-posted multiple anti-Trump messages on his Facebook page since 2016.
Some of the posts from 2016 include obscene phrases, which are still visible to the public on Facebook as of this writing on April 5, 2019. One shows a “F*ck Trump” graffiti. Another post from 2017 appears to mock Americans who voted for Trump. Other posts on the same Facebook page link to VOA news reports and programs and show images with the VOA logo.
The VOA reporter believed to be the author of these posts has at least one senior VOA executive listed as a “friend” on his currently active Facebook page.
Many other current and former VOA and USAGM employees appear as his Facebook friends, which makes it almost certain that this is not a fake or troll account.
We are still waiting for USAGM and VOA senior management to respond to questions sent to them earlier this week. So far there have been no answers.
Sources at USAGM have reported that VOA director Amanda Bennett has floated the idea of establishing a new label to be used across all media platforms, similar to the “Democracy Dies in Darkness” used by The Washington Post.
Bennett (who with her deputy, Sandy Sugawara, has close past professional connections with The Post) has suggested “Free Press Matters” or something similar.
BBG/USAGM Watch poses the question: Are “F*ck Trump” messages and similar posts seen online from VOA’s federal government employees protected as free press expressions of opinion?
The majority of VOA reporters do not post such controversial content on social media, but some of the ones who did later received public praise for their overall performance as VOA journalists and some were promoted or rewarded by the senior management with prestigious work assignments. We have asked whether the VOA Director has seen any of these controversial Facebook posts by these VOA employees, but we have not received any answer.
USAGM CEO John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett should answer questions about such Facebook posts and clearly communicate what are and what are not acceptable social media activities by VOA federal employees and contractors.
Such social media posts appear to violate VOA’s “Guide to Best Practices” which states:
“VOA journalists and all those preparing broadcast, website and social media programming must avoid any action or statement that might give the appearance of partisanship. THIS INCLUDES THE WEARING OF LAPEL PINS, RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS, CLOTHING DESIGNS OR COLOR SCHEMES THAT APPEAR TO SUPPORT ONE PARTY OR INDIVIDUAL OVER ANOTHER. THERE IS NO PLACE AT VOA FOR ADVOCACY JOURNALISM – THE PRESENTATION OF NEWS FROM ONE PARTICULAR VIEWPOINT OR ONE SPECIFIC AGENDA.”
In the past, Lansing and Bennett claimed to have “the greatest respect” for the office of the president, and asserted that upholding “the highest journalistic standards” remains their highest priority.
Yet, under their watch, an unprecedented number of highly partisan and other controversial messages have been posted online by VOA and other USAGM employees.
In one VOA-produced video posted on an official VOA foreign language service Facebook page included references to Donald Trump as “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.” The video was removed but only after outside protests were received by the agency
The personal but publicly accessible Facebook page believed to belong to a VOA reporter still includes such references to Donald Trump as “#horrorclown,” “f*uck cheeto with hair,” “f*cking Trumpy and his neo-Nazi crew” and “pets who hate Trump.” Most of these references to Trump appear in videos shared by the reporter on his Facebook page.
A post about Americans who voted for Trump said: “New favorite game: spot a Trump supporter on Metro.”
This message from a person who appears to be a highly-praised Voice of America reporter was posted shortly after the 2017 Presidential Inauguration.
BBG/USAGM Watch is confident that USAGM and VOA managers would want to respond to questions on this issue — yet, as of today, they have not.