BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
According to sources in the Voice of America (VOA) Mandarin Service and friends of former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, a few months ago VOA China Branch recorded a nearly one-hour-long interview with Bannon in connection with the 40th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-China relations, but failed to air it or post it online while broadcasting and posting online many other interviews in full or in large segments, including a statement from Chinese Ambassador in Washington Cui Tiankai.
In the interview with VOA which has not been broadcast, Bannon was very critical of the Communist Party regime in China, calling it “evil,” sources in the VOA Mandarin Service who requested anonymity told BBG – USAGM Watch reporters.
Friends of Steve Bannon quoted him as having said about VOA not airing his interview after many weeks have passed, “I need the entire thing broadcast or I’m going nuts.” They also quoted him as having said that he does not discuss Voice of America with Michael Pack who has been nominated by President Trump to be the CEO of VOA’s parent federal agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) but has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. Michael Pack is an award-winning film documentarian, former director of USIA Worldnet Television and former Corporation for Public Broadcasting executive. Until he is confirmed by the Senate, he has no role at the agency. He and Bannon collaborated once on producing two documentaries.
The anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-China relations was on December 15, 2018. The promised VOA documentary on the anniversary also has not aired. A VOA China Branch journalist pointed out to BBG – USAGM Watch that the federal government shutdown did not start until December 22, 2018 and cannot be blamed for the delay.
Steve Bannon e-mailed today the following answer in response to a media inquiry from a BBG – USAGM Watch reporter:
“The only reason I consented to the interview was they promised to air the ENTIRE [Emphasis in Bannon’s e-mail] thing– all of it.
Of course, they said they were also going to take segments and cut into the 40th anniversary special.”
United States Agency for Global Media CEO John F. Lansing, VOA Director Amanda Bennett and USAGM and VOA Public Relations Offices did not acknowledge a media inquiry sent to them about the Bannon interview and did not respond to a request for comments. Both Lansing and Bennett were appointed to their positions during the Obama administration. Some VOA reporters have been posting obscene anti-Trump memes on social media for many months in 2016 and 2017 and some VOA services posted online anti-Trump campaign videos in violation of the VOA Charter. Bennett and Lansing said repeatedly that they are opposed to such behavior but abuses continued.
In a recent television appearance with Chinese billionaire whistleblower Guo Wengui, Bannon accused Voice of America executives of censoring sensitive news about human rights violations in China and corruption within the Chinese communist leadership. He called VOA executives “cowards.”
Video clips of Bannon criticizing USAGM and VOA executives were posted on YouTube by Sasha Gong, former VOA Mandarin Service chief who was recently fired for alleged insubordination. She is appealing the decision. Gong argues that she was trying to prevent a major journalistic disaster when the senior management insisted on shortening the live Guo Wengui whistleblower interview in 2017 and she and other journalists in VOA Mandarin Service pointed out that it would undermine VOA’s credibility and expose it to accusations of caving in to pressure from the Chinese communist regime. Gong, a Harvard University PhD and best-selling author and journalist, has appeared previously in Steve Bannon’s television program as a China expert.
STEVE BANNON: “All of these people are putting their lives in danger, right, and yet the Voice of America, which the American taxpayers pay to tell the truth to the world about China–nothing. We do the entire press conference for hours [on the subject] of the five hundred people that are missing, imprisoned or murdered, Voice of America–nothing. Amanda Bennett, the woman who fired Sasha Gong. [Amanda Bennett] who tried to clear out all the truth-tellers in VOA Mandarin Service. I gave a one hour interview to the VOA Mandarin Service for the fortieth anniversary [of the normalization of U.S.-Sino relations] at my home on Capitol Hill. Here is how much they showed: zero. You know why? They said Mr. Bannon has too much hot talking about [Chinese communist leaders].”
Steve Bannon also called for an investigation of Amanda Bennett and reported business activities in China by a close family member.
Since neither USAGM CEO John Lansing or Amanda Bennett responded to a media inquiry about the issues raised by Steve Bannon, we can only show an older video of Amanda Bennett in which she denied last year that pressure from the Chinese communist government played any role in her decision to cut short the live interview with Chinese whistleblower businessman Guo Wengui on April 19, 2017. Her responses and even her Chinese New Year greeting video generated numerous extremely negative comments from Chinese social media users.
Voice of America (VOA) Director Amanda Bennett on Wednesday, April 25, 2018, denied there was pressure from the Chinese government on VOA to cancel or shorten the live Guo Wengui interview on April 19, 2017.
Bennett made the public denial at a panel discussion to mark the 2018 World Press Freedom Day. Her denial appears to run contrary to multiple media reports and accounts from VOA journalists and even some VOA managers who said that the Chinese government used heavy-handed pressure against VOA over the Guo Wengui interview.
Bennett’s denial came during the Q & A portion toward the end of the panel. Mr. Zhao Yan, former New York Times Beijing Bureau employee, a Chinese journalist and political commentator who spent three years as a political prisoner in China, took the floor and asked Bennett to explain why VOA management cut the Guo interview to one hour and eighteen minutes despite its earlier commitment to the audience that the interview would be broadcast live for three hours, one hour live on TV and two hours live on social media platforms. He also asked why the management intends to fire three Mandarin journalists who were involved in the interview.
AMANDA BENNETT: “I want to point out that there was no Chinese government pressure, there was no US government pressure. All the decisions made inside the Voices of America were made in the service of high journalistic integrity. And unfortunately I am sorry we can’t tell you anything because of privacy and labor issues, and we cannot tell you the reasons why things are happening, but I’d like to assure you that….first of all, talking about censorship, you just mentioned something that’s very important–an hour and 18 minutes. The Guo Wengui interview appeared on Voice of America for an hour and 18 minutes. Every decision that was made regarding that –every management decision that was made regarding that interview was made in the service of journalistic integrity.”
Current and former VOA China Branch journalists helped in writing this commentary.