Voice of America reporter has sharp words for Trump

BBG Watch Commentary

One of the senior central English newsroom reporters working for the U.S. taxpayer-funded ($221 million in FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) posted to friends on a private Facebook page some sharp words addressed to President Donald Trump.

VOICE OF AMERICA REPORTER:
 
“Just as importantly, we’re all colleagues – journalists who face an increasingly hostile, even lethal, environment. And for the record, POTUS, we are NOT the enemies of the people. We ARE the enemies of falsehood, of distortion, and plutocracy.”

While there is nothing wrong with Americans expressing strong displeasure with President Trump, a VOA reporter, who is also a U.S. government employee and must abide by the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, betrays a certain measure of personal political bias when making personal political views public, or semi-public as in this case.

The audience is alerted through such social media posts that VOA reporters strongly dislike President Trump but fail to be equally critical and journalistically inquisitive toward his political opponents. Whenever VOA reporters fail to acknowledge the existence of the other side of any controversy — such as the alleged bias of some reporters toward Trump and their one-sided reporting that amounts to commentary and attack — audiences are likely to perceive all VOA reporting as being influenced by personal bias.

A personal rebuke of a newsmaker, whether applying to President Trump or any of his Democratic critics, should not be posted by any news reporter working for any American news organization, whether government-managed as in the case of VOA, or private.

Commentators or political experts should, of course, have no limits on expressing their personal views as long as they clearly identify themselves as commentators rather than reporters. In the case of VOA, the VOA Charter requires that any such commentaries have proper balance of view, pro and con.

But a news reporter, especially a news reporter working for the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America who collects his or her federal salary and U.S. government employment benefits, should not make public his or her personal political views. These comments are seen by many people, even if they are posted on a private Facebook page. They are likely to be widely shared. U.S. taxpayers might object that their tax money is used to attack a U.S. political figure in a one-sided manner, especially if such an attack is posted during an official government-paid work assignment. Not just Trump supporters but also Bernie Sanders’ supporters objected to what they called as one-sided “state media” libel attacks by the Voice of America.

While this comment was posted on a private Facebook page, it was widely circulated among VOA English newsroom reporters, some of whom left encouraging comments. Other VOA reporters posted even more strident content on Facebook, including public posts in which they called Donald Trump an “F-word.” One of VOA foreign language services produced a video in which Donald Trump was called by a Hollywood actor “pig,” “dog” and other insulting names without any balance or a response. The video was eventually removed after much criticism.

It is obvious that neither VOA director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara nor Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing and his deputy Jeff Trimble have a handle on the situation. Partisan bias in VOA program content has reached unprecedented levels under their watch and employee morale has reached unprecedented low depths, as shown by the 2017 OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Low morale is an “existential threat” to the Voice of America, the union representing Broadcasting Board of Governors employees said. Where there is low morale and poor leadership in any media organization, violations of journalistic standards become a daily occurrence.

 
 
 

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7 Comments

  1. Honest Journo

    We know BBG Watch loves to take potshots at VOA at every opportunity, but this is just a cheap shot. The journalist was simply speaking truth from facts. President Trump HAS called journalists “enemies of the people,” belittled the profession, and called for curbs on journalistic entities over what he calls “fake news,” which is new coverage that displeases him. As a result, the environment for working journalists has become clearly and verifiably hostile, and, yes, even lethal as some have been threatened. And there is absolutely no question that the president has made numerous assertions that have been clearly and blatantly false, as shown by numerous fact-checkers.
    As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once asserted, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The reporter was not expressing partisan political views, but rather expressing a factual view of hostility to working journalists fostered by this president and his administration. That is not opinion; that is fact. One would think that as a self-proclaimed “media watchdog,” you would support what the reporter said, rather than trying to mischaracterize it and twist it into a bludgeon with which to beat VOA over the head.

    Reply
    1. BBGWatcher (Post author)

      I think you might have missed our point, so we restate it. Reporters should not show their personal political bias. This applies especially to VOA reporters who must abide by the VOA Charter and draw federal salaries paid for by all American taxpayers. We did not say that criticism of President Trump should not be reported. It should. But VOA reporter’s job is to report, not to express his private views. Even if such views are expressed, the VOA Charter says that they must be balanced with opposing views. If VOA reporters have used an F-word to describe Trump and told a sex joke about his wife in public, the least a VOA reporter can do is to add that to his or her criticism of Trump. Otherwise, if you don’t follow the VOA Charter, try to explain to a Trump supporter why he or she should pay your salary. That’s all.

      Reply
      1. Honest Journo

        No, YOU miss the point, so I will also restate: You are conflating the other behaviors – which are out of line – with this reporter’s comments, which are valid. They are not partisan; they are journalistic. He was defending a profession under attack. The comments are verifiably true. And as for a “balanced view,” first of all, the reporter was making a private Facebook post to friends, not posting a CR. Secondly, Trump did say it – it is well documented – and journalists are unquestionably facing a more hostile environment – also well-documented. There is no such thing balancing with “alternative facts” because there is no such thing; facts are facts. If you are such a “media watchdog” as you proclaim, why don’t you get some answers about things like how someone can be a “pro bono” on air contributor to VOA with no explanations about the editorial checks and balances in such a circumstance, instead of mounting a bogus attack on a journalist for defending the honor of a profession under siege?

        Reply
        1. BBGWatcher (Post author)

          The comments this and other VOA reporters posted online might not have gotten CNN or MSNBC news reporters fired for violating social media policies of these organizations with regard to their employees in these admittedly very liberal media outlets, but in some cases perhaps it would. In others, it would definitely result in reprimands from the management. Anything that can become public, and in this case it did because other VOA journalists made it public, is subject to social media policies at any respectable news organization, private or public. VOA is even more unique because 100% of salaries of these reporters is paid by U.S. taxpayers and they are U.S. government employees. It’s not a question of what Trump said; no one denies what he said. It is the political context of what he said and what journalists said about him that VOA reporters must always present in public, whether in their news reports or on their public or semi-public Facebook pages. The VOA Charter requires it. Parts of the media attack Trump, and Trump attacks them. That’s freedom of expression. If VOA declares this reporter to be a commentator and pairs him or her with a defender of Trump, it would also not meet the VOA Charter requirements, in our view, because of VOA’s unique nature. It would still put VOA’s impartiality and credibility under a cloud, which is what the comments did, whether one agrees with them or not. However, if this reporter would terminate his employment with VOA and was paired with a Trump supporter in a VOA program devoted to U.S. commentary on current events, then he or she could say whatever he or she wants about Trump. We have no problem with criticism.

          Reply
  2. Fed Up

    No, BBGWatcher, YOU missed the point. The post cited was not a political comment or attack, but a response to continued accusations from the WH that media are enemies of the people, etc., etc. And if you don’t like what individuals post on their FB pages, stop trolling them. And perhaps pick up a new hobby.

    Reply
    1. BBGWatcher (Post author)

      See our reply to Honest Jurno:

      In reply to Honest Journo.

      The comments this and other VOA reporters posted online might not have gotten CNN or MSNBC news reporters fired for violating social media policies of these organizations with regard to their employees in these admittedly very liberal media outlets, but in some cases perhaps it would. In others, it would definitely result in reprimands from the management. Anything that can become public, and in this case it did because other VOA journalists made it public, is subject to social media policies at any respectable news organization, private or public. VOA is even more unique because 100% of salaries of these reporters is paid by U.S. taxpayers and they are U.S. government employees. It’s not a question of what Trump said; no one denies what he said. It is the political context of what he said and what journalists said about him that VOA reporters must always present in public, whether in their news reports or on their public or semi-public Facebook pages. The VOA Charter requires it. Parts of the media attack Trump, and Trump attacks them. That’s freedom of expression. If VOA declares this reporter to be a commentator and pairs him or her with a defender of Trump, it would also not meet the VOA Charter requirements, in our view, because of VOA’s unique nature. It would still put VOA’s impartiality and credibility under a cloud, which is what the comments did, whether one agrees with them or not. However, if this reporter would terminate his employment with VOA and was paired with a Trump supporter in a VOA program devoted to U.S. commentary on current events, then he or she could say whatever he or she wants about Trump. We have no problem with criticism.

      Reply
  3. Watchdog for Honest Journo

    Honest Journo, who appears to be a “cut out” for a well-known former VOA correspondent — but who may, in fact, BE that former VOA employee, suggests that BBG Watch “get some answers about things like how someone can be a “pro bono” on air contributor to VOA with no explanations about the editorial checks and balances in such a circumstance. . .”

    On that, Honest Journo is correct, though he or she does not mention the actual issue, which is the sudden appearance in VOA’s programming of former FOX/MSNBC/CNN TV host Greta Van Susteren. Van Susteren was brought aboard at VOA on what the VOA director called a “pro bono”/”volunteer” basis.

    Many VOA employees have raised questions about this arrangement, but no one really expects anyone at VOA to raise a real ruckus because the primary goal of VOA journalists and others is to keep their jobs.

    Indeed, Honest Journo is correct that the only place one could expect to see ANYTHING on the Van Susteren issue is none other than BBG Watch, because BBGW is actually the only independent entity playing any sort of watchdog role over BBG and VOA.

    Accusing BBGW of taking “pot shots” because it calls out the latest example of VOA reporters using Facebook pages — which are not identified only as personal pages but are also used to promote these reporter’s professional activities — to voice personal opinions, is absurd.

    Reply

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