In highlighting its interview with USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett, Politico blasted her short-time predecessor Michael Pack. Politico did not review Bennett’s long record as VOA Director and scandals under her key aides, covering a much longer period. Some of the incidents and scandals, including the recent censorship of a VOA report about communist leaders in Vietnam and the agency management excuses, can be gleaned from U.S. government, NGO, and independent media reports with links listed below the commentary and links to the latest Politico and Washington Post reports about USAGM and VOA.
USAGM Watch Commentary
In highlighting its interview with U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Amanda Bennett, Politico blasted her short-time predecessor, Trump Republican appointee Michael Pack. Politico did not post the interview in full but had this comment:
USAGM faced numerous controversies during the last year of the Trump administration under the leadership of Michael Pack. He accused some employees of being foreign spies, decapitated the agency’s leadership, and was accused of misusing his office. … Bennett’s view: “The Ukraine invasion, more than any other national, international event that we’ve seen in the last decade really shows the power of information and that information played a huge role in how things unfolded,” said Bennett, who also headed Voice of America in the Obama administration.
READ MORE: “What’s Mandarin for fist bump?,” Ryan Heath and Daniel Lippman, Politico, November 14, 2022.
While Politico reports that former USAGM CEO, Michael Pack “accused some employees of being foreign spies,” there is no public record of him accusing any agency employee of espionage. Pack did reveal that intelligence services of foreign nations, such as Russia and China, could have taken advantage of the lax security procedures at the agency during the tenure of former CEO John Lansing and Amanda Bennett as VOA Director. During his short stay at the agency toward the very end of the Trump administration, Pack revealed that because of numerous violations of security procedures, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) withdrew the USAGM’s authority to conduct background security investigations of new hires.
During Bennett’s tenure as Voice of America Director, VOA employed some journalists who had previously worked for Putin-controlled state media channels in Russia. One had a history of repeating Russian government propaganda against Ukraine and another produced anti-U.S. propaganda videos with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. One former Russian state media reporter remained employed by VOA for many months after a warning was sent to Amanda Bennett and John Lansing.
The latest scandal shedding light on Amanda Bennett’s leadership and management skills, as well as those of her top aides — former acting USAGM CEO and former top VOA executive Kelu Chao and current acting VOA Director Yolanda Lopez — was reported today by the Washington Post. The original incident took place in May 2022 under their watch but before Bennett rejoined the agency as CEO. The agency’s explanation was issued Monday.
THE WASHINGTON POST
A story about undiplomatic comments by Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh caught on a hot mic went viral — before the U.S.-funded news agency removed it after complaints from his embassy
The headline and the subheadline are from today’s (November 15, 2022) Washington Post report by Paul Farhi.
The official Voice of America explanation, included in the Washington Post article, is even more astounding.
THE WASHINTON POST
In VOA’s first public response about the matter, a spokeswoman, Bridget Serchak, said Monday that the video was pulled not because of Vietnamese pressure but because the language used by the Vietnamese officials in it was “objectionable,” and in violation of the organization’s standards. She compared the language used to “words considered obscene by the FCC,” although some Vietnamese speakers suggest the language was merely coarse but not broadly offensive.“Voice of America removes story that embarrassed Vietnam’s prime minister,” Paul Farhi, Washington Post, November 15, 2022.
In 2017, Amanda Bennett, as VOA Director responding to a similar, earlier incident at the Voice of America, “Denied Pressure from China Led to Shortening of Whistleblower Interview.”
The links listed below to U.S. government, NGO, and independent media reports shed light on USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett’s leadership, managerial, and editorial skills while she served as VOA Director from 2016 to 2020. Some of the reports cover a longer period before and after her tenure as VOA Director but include the tenure of some of her current top aides. She once called them members of her “excellent leadership team.”