USAGM Watch Commentary
On a Twitter account showing news from the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), a federal government employee who is a veteran Central English Newsroom VOA reporter posted a “@VOA” tweet which said in part in reference to the Covington Catholic High School students: “Every one of them should be outed on social media and face stern discipline by the school and Diocese. #NativeAmericans #IPM2019.” Even though these are technically personal Twitter accounts, for all practical purposes they serve as VOA accounts, include “@VOA” in their address, and are presented as a service by VOA reporters who are U.S. federal government employees.
Without checking on the accuracy of what turned out to be later erroneous, potentially libelous and partisan-driven biased news reports, the VOA reporter, whose affiliation with VOA and position title was prominently listed on the Twitter page also wrote: “This is a disgusting and mortifying display or privilege and disrespect by a group of students from the Covington Catholic Boys School in Kentucky.”
This was not the first time a VOA Central English Newsroom reporter has posted highly questionable tweets, both in terms of accuracy of information and journalistic bias.
The question to be asked is whether the reporter’s tweet was intended to threaten Americans with “outing” on social media in order to limit their constitutional right to peacefully express their support for President Donald Trump without a fear of reprisals.
We need to explain for our foreign readers, that “outing” on social media in the United States with true or even false accusations can severely limit an individual’s opportunities for obtaining later good education and good employment.
Except for the period of World War II, when pro-Soviet VOA officials and reporters, some of them communist sympathizers, practiced censorship to protect Stalin and advance Soviet propaganda, the Voice of America since then almost always stood for free speech, both in the United States and abroad.
At least two VOA Central English Newsroom reporters who had been exposed for posting what turned out to be erroneous news took personal action to ban some American journalists from seeing their tweets even though they post them on accounts associated with the Voice of America and often do it on government time in their official capacity as government employees.
In one case, a VOA reporter was forced to restore access to his VOA Twitter account after a protest was made to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which manages the Voice of America.
In another case, at least some American journalists and perhaps others are still unable to follow a “@VOA” Twitter account and therefore also unable to warn American and foreign audiences about any errors and bias being promoted by U.S. taxpayer-paid VOA journalists.
Much of the VOA online content in English is seen by Americans which allowed these U.S. federal employees to influence public discourse and voting in the United States.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, at least two of VOA’s foreign language services translated and posted in full anti-Trump campaign videos.
In one of them, Trump was called “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid.”
One of the videos was removed after several weeks in response to outside criticism. Another anti-Trump campaign video remained online on the VOA website much longer but was also eventually removed.
These videos could have affected voting in the United States by American citizens who view or read VOA content online.
The Voice of America, and another USAGM media outlet, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) were exposed recently by the New York Times and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives as engaging in targeting Americans with illegal Facebook ads. USAGM was forced to stop this illegal activity. This is one of many scandals the agency experienced under the current management team.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media and the Voice of America are still managed at the top by Obama administration appointees or managers selected by these appointees.
USAGM CEO John F. Lansing has been at the agency since 2015. VOA Director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara have been in charge of VOA since 2016. They all insist that they are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism.
In an email sent to staff in July 2016 during the U.S. presidential election campaign, Ms. Bennett quoted an illegal immigrant describing Donald Trump’s immigration plan as representing “hate and prejudice.”
She did not note that there were any challenges or any countervailing views from the Trump campaign staff in the VOA Spanish Service interview which she highlighted in her email. There were none.
Shortly before sending her email, Ms. Bennett had ordered anti-bias training for VOA reporters. According to Ms. Bennett’s official bio on the USAGM website, “Together with her husband, Donald Graham, she is a co-founder of TheDream.US, which provides college scholarships to the children of undocumented immigrants.”
In December 2016, Voice of America newsroom reporters, editors and managers, who are U.S. federal employees, collaborated on preparing a holiday skit, in which in a U.S. federal building and on government time they lampooned President-elect’s daughter Ivanka Trump, told a sex joke about Mrs. Trump, and said repeatedly that Donald Trump was “a joke.”
BBG CEO (the previous name of the agency was the Broadcasting Board of Governors) John Lansing told NPR in February 2017, “we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President.”
As CEO John Lansing was saying these words, there were multiple obscene anti-Trump social media comments and memes posted by VOA Central English Newsroom reporters, some of which remained online for many more months. They showed Trump with a Nazi swastika over his head and as a male sex organ.
When checked in November 2017, public social media posts of some VOA reporters included such descriptions of President Trump as “f*uck cheeto with hair” and “three cheers for f*cking Trumpy and his neo-Nazi crew.” Another VOA reporter referred to Donald Trump on social media as “F*ckface Von Clownstick.”
It seems that some Voice of America reporters like to engage on government time and at U.S. taxpayers’ expense in extreme anti-Trump speech, but when Americans who support Trump peacefully exercise their right to free speech, some of these VOA reporters want to out them on social media.
We would like to point out that the VOA reporter who tweeted about the Covington High School students was not, to our knowledge, one of those who had posted anti-Trump memes or called Trump obscene names in public although we are now not able to review the reporter’s Twitter account because our access has been blocked.
We did not name the reporter responsible for the Covington students tweets or other VOA reporters who had posted anti-Trump memes or called him obscene names on social media because the responsibility for what they do can be clearly attributed to the lack of effective leadership and guidance from John F. Lansing, Amanda Bennett and Sandy Sugawara.
There has always been some political bias in VOA reporting, mostly left-wing bias at the VOA Central Newsroom and sometimes right-wing bias among some VOA foreign language service reporters. However, none of the veteran VOA journalists who still want to uphold the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, can think of similar outrages against VOA’s objective, non-partisan journalism before Lansing, Bennett and Sugawara had joined the agency in 2015 and 2016.
These federal executives may protest that they are strongly against such bias and unprofessional behavior, but they have allowed it to happen over a period of now more than two years.
On January 20, the same VOA reporter tweeted:
1/2 It occurs to me that there may be a silver lining to the incident in DC in which Omaha citizen and US veteran Nathan Phillips was taunted by racist Catholic schoolboys – it has garnered national attention and outrage, reminding ppl about the racism #NativeAmericans have…
In another tweet on January 20, the VOA reporter said:
1/2 … endure since colonizers first landed here. It demonstrates that Native Americans are still here, they are resilient in spite of all efforts to break and remove them. Moving forward, I hope all Americans will remember we are guests in their home and behave accordingly.