BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
A report posted online by the Voice of America (VOA) implied that President Donald Trump may have not known that VOA still exists when he mentioned the tax-funded ($250 million FY19), U.S. government-managed media outlet in his speech in Ocala, Florida on October 3, 2019. Suggestions that Trump may not know whether VOA still exists are almost certainly wrong.
Those in the know dismissed such reporting from VOA as misleading and said that VOA White House correspondents should have tried harder to get answers to questions before VOA posted its report.
Current Voice of America director Amanda Bennett, appointed during the Obama administration, also implied in her November 27, 2018 Washington Post op-ed that Trump may not be aware of VOA’s existence and role.
Trump almost certainly does know that VOA still exists but apparently does not think very highly of its current performance, managers and reporters. This is unfortunate because in addition to some partisan executives and some partisan editors and reporters, VOA still has a large group of honest, professional journalists. They could perform a valuable information service for the United States abroad if a new leader and a new management team could restore respect for the VOA Charter and protect honest, non-partisan, balanced and accurate journalism.
When Trump spoke about VOA, he spoke in both past and present tense. His White House media aides, who presumably include his speech writers or review his speeches, had been briefed some time ago about a VOA foreign language-versioned video in which Trump was described by Hollywood actor as “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.” The video, with foreign language subtitles and the VOA logo, was posted online in a blatant violation of both—the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, and the VOA Journalistic Code—but the partisan, one-sided political campaign post remained on the official Voice of America social media page for some time. It was removed only after complaints were sent in 2016 by an American taxpayer to VOA Director Amanda Bennett and agency’s CEO (until September 2019) John F. Lansing. VOA could have reported on De Niro’s video in a balanced piece that would include both De Niro’s attack on Trump and comments from his supporters. Another Hollywood actor specifically criticized De Niro’s public insults, but VOA ignored his comments.
President Trump’s White House media aides were also given reports by prepared by independent experts which showed that VOA has been repeating Chinese, Iranian, and Russian propaganda without adequate challenge. They were also shown some of the screenshots of social media posts by VOA Newsroom reporters with offensive and obscene comments and memes about Donald Trump. Some of these posts were subsequently removed, but some were still seen online earlier this year (2019).
As John Lansing was telling the National Public Radio (NPR) in a February 10, 2017 interview, “It’s our job is to report all sides of a story and we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President, and their point of view is something that’s newsworthy and we report that,” social media posts and memes by some of VOA English newsroom U.S. federal government reporters showed Donald Trump with a swastika and as a sex organ, and described him with F-words–something that would not be tolerated by most commercial U.S. media outlets, both conservative and liberal.
Critics said that Lansing and VOA director Bennett were both warned about such behavior months earlier but took no effective action to stop it completely.
However, in a resignation letter to President Trump, former Democratic Chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Hollywood media executive and Democratic Party donor Jeff Shell, praised Lansing for “his outstanding work and leadership.” ”I cannot imagine a better first leader,” Shell wrote to Trump.
It was not reported whether President Trump had seen Shell’s letter before making his comments about VOA. One of many scandals Lansing initially missed during his tenure at the agency was the theft of thousands of dollars from the U.S. government by his highly-praised close associate and chief strategic advisor Dr. Haroon Ullah who subsequently was fired, pled guilty and is expected to be sentenced this month in a federal court. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Ullah committed his crime from February through October 2018, while serving as CSO,” USAGM Chief Strategy Officer under Lansing. Lansing resigned from the agency at the end of September 2019 to become the chief executive officer at the National Public Radio (NPR).
Many of the scandals under Lansing’s and Bennett’s watch happened at the Voice of America. A VOA English Newsroom editor, who had been highly-praised and promoted by Bennett, was exposed recently in media reports as the suspected author of multiple anti-Trump social media posts, some of them with obscene images and messages. The VOA editor continues to report on topics relating to President Trump.
A foreign language service VOA TV reporter was also exposed in media reports as having previously produced anti-U.S. Russian propaganda films with alleged anti-Semitic content. The films were created for Russian media before he was hired by VOA. As of recently, the reporter continued to produce videos for the VOA Russian Service even after VOA director and former USAGM CEO were informed about media accounts of his pre-VOA Russian propaganda work. Lansing’s agency spokesperson refused to answer specific questions submitted by outside journalists.
Trump comments on VOA
There is little doubt that Trump knows what is going on at the Voice of America although he may not know all the details.
President Trump is not the only American politician to note that the Voice of America has lost much of its effectiveness in the post-Cold War era. In 2013, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the international media outreach by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)—the former name of VOA’s parent agency which is now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM)—as “practically defunct.”
Numerous critics say that under Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara and former USAGM CEO John F. Lansing—all of them appointed during the Obama administration—the Voice of America also became radically partisan against Trump, the Republican Party and American conservatives in a massive and unprecedented violation of the VOA Charter in this government media organization’s history.
Here is part of the official White House transcript of President Trump’s speech in Ocala, Florida on October 3:
Remarks by President Trump at Signing of an Executive Order Protecting and Improving Medicare for our Nation’s Seniors | Ocala, FL
Issued on: October 3, 2019
The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center
1:47 P.M. EDT
To protect healthcare for our seniors and all Americans, my administration is taking strong actions to ensure that newcomers to our society do not drain our healthcare system, or burden the services that you depend on. You see these people in California, the governor of California — “Come on in, everybody.” Then you wonder why people are flooding our borders. “Come on in. You have free education, free healthcare. Everybody gets a Rolls-Royce.” (Laughter.) “Come on in. Come on in.”
You know, to show you how corrupt CNN is, when I used that expression, they said, “The President wasn’t telling the truth. He said they get a Rolls-Royce and they don’t.” (Laughter.) Ahh, they don’t get it, do they? They never got it.
Some idiot at CNN said, “You can’t win without CNN. I guess we showed them.” (Laughter and applause.) I guess we showed them. (Applause.) And their ratings are so low now that they are no longer the big difference at all. They have really bad ratings.
But you know what is bad for our country? When CNN — so often I go to a foreign country. I go to a country. I meet leaders. And he said, “Why do they hate your country so much?” I said, “Who?” You know, CNN outside of the United States is much more important than it is in the United States. And a lot of what you see here is broadcast throughout the world. And we used to have Radio Free — I think Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. And we did that to build up our country. And that’s not working out too well.
But CNN is a voice that really seems to be the voice out there. And it’s a terrible thing for our country. And we ought to start our network and put some real news out there because they are so bad. (Applause.) They are so bad for our country. They are so bad for our country. I go out there and they say, “Boy, the media hates your country.” And it’s just a shame. It’s just a shame. And we really are — we are looking at that. We should do something about it, too. Put some really talented people and get a real voice out there, not a voice that’s fake.
END OF WHITE HOUSE TRANSCRIPT
END OF BBG – USAGM WATCH COMMENTARY
VOICE OF AMERICA – VOA NEWS
Copied as written (with grammatical errors)—images and a video were not reproduced here but can be seen in the original report on the VOANews.com website
By VOA News
October 3, 2019 05:40 PM
President Donald Trump took aim at CNN in a speech Thursday, suggesting starting “our own network” to counter the global reach of the media giant and it’s “fake” news.
Trump also spoke of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe in the past tense, even though the two U.S. government-funded entities broadcast to an estimated global audience of 275 million people each week.
President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in The Villages, Florida, Oct. 3, 2019.
While complaining about CNN, a frequent target of the president’s ire, Trump told an audience in central Florida, “We used to have … Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, and we did that to build-up our country, and that’s not working out too well.”
“And we ought to start our own network and put some real news out there because they [CNN] are so bad,” he added. “They are so bad for our country.”
It’s unclear why the president spoke about the two news organizations in the past tense. VOA White House correspondents routinely ask the president questions about U.S. foreign policy. Hours before the president’s remarks, a VOA White House correspondent asked about the possibility of returning to peace talks with the Taliban.
Trump has participated in two on-camera VOA interviews, and White House officials routinely offer comment and background for VOA stories.
“VOA has always been — and still is — proud of its mission to provide objective, credible news and information to countries around the world that have no other access to it, and to tell America’s story overseas,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said in a statement Thursday.
VOA has queried White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham and deputies in her office for a comment regarding the president’s remarks, but there has been no immediate response.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering Trump’s choice to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees all government-funded news organizations, including VOA and Radio Free Europe.
Michael Pack, a documentary producer who headed the conservative, California-based Claremont Institute and has worked for the U.S. nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting, was nominated by Trump to head USAGM 16 months ago. If he is confirmed by the full Senate, Pack would succeed John Lansing, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2015.
USAGM CEO Nominee Michael Pack confirmation hearing, Sept. 19, 2019.
FILE – USAGM CEO Nominee Michael Pack speaks at a confirmation hearing, Sept. 19, 2019.
Lansing departed recently to become president and chief executive officer of National Public Radio, an independent, nonprofit public radio and media organization.
Pack testified on Sept. 19 that as chief executive of USAGM, he would place a premium on improving operational effectiveness and employee morale, and preventing further ethical scandals from undermining the organization’s credibility.
“The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say,” Pack testified. “Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined.”
Voice of America began broadcasting in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda with accurate and unbiased news and information. VOA is the largest U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 275 million people. Radio Free Europe was established at the beginning of the Cold War to transmit uncensored news to audiences behind the Iron Curtain.
END OF VOA REPORT