Dan Robinson comments on NPR report about VOA


NPR conveniently makes it quite difficult to post comments on its audio pieces. In fact, you can’t — you have to send a comment or email directly to the show involved.

NPR has unfortunately jumped on the same bandwagon as some other media since Trump was elected, suggesting that Trump somehow thinks he needs VOA and other USAGM outlets as his mouthpiece. That’s absurd — he already has Twitter and regular non-government coverage.

VOA is not “independent”. It and other broadcasters under USAGM are federal agencies. Some are designated as “grantees” but they’re all taxpayer funded and subject to direction and coordination of approach and content from higher levels in the U.S. foreign policy and national security structure.

Every president has had authority to make changes in federal agencies. Reagan did so, and ended up infusing VOA with large budget increases. Post-9/11, President George W. Bush did so. President Obama pushed the agency (and VOA) to step up their role in “countering” Russian disinformation and CVE (Counter Violent Extremism).

Obama-era appointees Amanda Bennett and John Lansing now resist Trump, and during their presence VOA reporting has been shown to contain unprecedented bias (see articles in https://bbgwatch.com/ which is the only independent watchdog monitoring issues at the agency).

Bennett had to order reporters to take journalism training, and special training in avoiding political bias amid example after example of VOA “journalists” conducting advocacy journalism and using their social media channels to openly mock Trump.

USAGM also has a record of inflating audience claims — recently claiming to have increased 67 million from 2017 to 2018, and in 2016 by 50 million). As one former VOA reporter recently observed: “The numbers just keep on going up and up — doesn’t anyone question this?”

Just-published results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) show USAGM still at or near the bottom of all federal agencies. The past few years have seen scandal after scandal.

Members of Congress called for an investigation into management’s suspension of Chinese broadcasters (one was recently fired but is pursuing legal action) involving a program with a Chinese dissident that VOA’s own managers cut short.

Another involves a program for Cuba that treated George Soros unfairly, forcing the USAGM CEO Lansing, who allegedly didn’t find out about the issue until months after the fact, to issue an apology to Soros.

VOA had to dismiss Hausa-speaking staff accused of accepting bribes from a Nigerian official.

Legislation added as a rider to the defense authorization bill by Senators Menendez and Corker aims to block Trump’s nominee (Pack).

Bennett and Lansing, who would love to just remain indefinitely in their jobs, and hope Trump just leaves them and the agency alone.

NPR obviously has time constraints in presenting stories, but there is much more to this story than you provided to listeners.

Daniel Robinson
Former VOA chief White House correspondent,
foreign correspondent, and congressional correspondent
Potomac, MD