Some call it a VOA propaganda video from Russia.

USAGM Watch Commentary

Raw video footage from the reopening of an old McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow, packaged by the Voice of America into a Facebook post under the VOA logo without any context or balance, has upset many former VOA reporters and managers.

Voice of America VOA propaganda video from Russia on reopening of a former McDonald's restaurant, June 12 2022.
Voice of America VOA propaganda video from Russia on reopening of a former McDonald’s restaurant, June 12 2022.

After VOA posted a video of on Sunday, June 12, 2022 of a former McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow after it reopens with a new name, “Tasty and That’s it,” a former senior VOA English newsroom reporter wrote on the Voice of America Alumni Facebook Group:

How is this a VOA story? Life is back to normal, even better, in Russia? Barely a mention of the war? No quotes for context? 48-second video without commentary? The implication that Russia is passing the test of the sanctions? I rarely comment on what VOA is doing, but this is reprehensible. Who’s in charge over there?

Comments critical of the video were posted by former VOA reporters and managers, among whom there are Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.

A former award-winning VOA broadcaster commented:

Agreed. Obviously, this is an anonymous newsroom rewrite from a Russian news release using AFP B-roll video and a Reuters still shot in the VOA posted item. An embedded link to VOA’s previous story about the closing of the original McDonald’s refers to the invasion of Ukraine but that’s hardly the “context” needed for this update, which projects a disturbingly congratulatory tone.

A former senior VOA manager, who was in charge of successful VOA programs to the former USSR and is still interviewed by VOA as a Russia expert, posted a short comment:

Very weak program.

Another member of the Voice of America Alumni Group commented:

Nobody’s in charge…that’s why VOA is a nest of mediocrity quickly sliding into irrelevancy.

The Voice of America video from Russia seems to be getting a response from visitors to the VOA Facebook page that would make Vladimir Putin’s propagandists very happy. One VOA Facebook page visitor left this comment:

Truly sanctions from others make one country to progress and succeed in a shorter time, and the result is better than before!!! Yes Russia is excelling in excellent!!! I am very sure Russia will emerge mightier in economic and military power even before this war ends!!! ????????

Some fear that the possible return of a former Voice of America director, Amanda Bennett, as the new CEO of the $800-million U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) may help to perpetuate such VOA English newsroom practices, which began under her watch. Her old management team, which she highly praised, is still in charge of key VOA and USAGM operations.

During Bennett’s recent confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a few Democrats and Republicans seemed impressed by Amanda Bennett’s journalistic record, but the committee chairman, Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) was asking questions about her performance as the most senior manager in charge of the Voice of America

A former VOA manager, foreign language service chief, and reporter noted that such Voice of America videos have not been rare under the current management team.

When these managers were in charge under Amanda Bennett when she was the VOA director, she described them as exceptional.

She may be again running the U.S. government’s international media operations as the new CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media if the U.S. Senate confirms her nomination.

While most senators who showed up for her confirmation hearing last week praised her journalistic credentials, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), raised questions about her previous performance as a program manager at VOA.

As  the son of Cuban immigrants, Senator Menendez would have been disturbed by other types of one-sided Voice of America content that violates the VOA Charter. This special graphic to mourn the passing of Cuba’s Fidel Castro was produced in 2016 by the VOA Spanish Service when Bennett was VOA director.

Raw footage videos, similar to the Russia restaurant re-opening video, were produced by VOA before under Bennett’s watch. The VOA video showing the burnings of U.S. and Israeli flags was posted in 2017. Several similar, one-sided videos with no context, balancing quotes, or commentary were produced for VOA news websites and social media during her tenure at the Voice of America.

Six raw footage videos of burning U.S. and Israeli flags got 3,500,000 views on Voice of America platforms.

Current acting VOA director, Yolanda Lopez, and current acting USAGM CEO, Kelu Chao, were at that time among Bennett’s closest aides.

During the same period, VOA was also posting Chinese propaganda videos without any context or balance.

Bennett responded in a tweet to the criticism that the Wuhan VOA video was Chinese propaganda:

AMANDA BENNETT: At the @VOANews, we love facts. The fact is Wuhan has ended their lockdown and this video shows exactly that.

A Facebook post, which appeared under Bennett’s name in 2017, and was later removed, seemed to question whether requiring the Russian state propaganda channel RT to register in the U.S. as a foreign agent was a good idea.

During Bennett’s tenure as the VOA director, several former Russian state media broadcasters, including one that had done work for RT in Russian-occupied Ukraine, were employed by VOA. One TV anchor continued to work for VOA for many months after Bennett was warned that, prior to his VOA employment, he had produced anti-U.S. Russian propaganda videos with conspiracy and anti-Semitic themes.

One-sided, partisan U.S. election campaign videos appeared on Voice of America digital platforms and in VOA broadcasts in violation of the provisions of the VOA Charter for the first time when Bennett served as the VOA director.

In April 2017, the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC)was commissioned by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (the former name of the U.S. Agency for Global Media) to carry out an independent third-party review of programming on the Voice of America’s Persian Service and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda. The AFPC said that “the objective of the study was to examine relevant content for accuracy of reporting, institutional bias, and major flaws, with the goal of providing the BBG with an assessment of contemporary U.S. international broadcasting into Iran,” and concluded in its final report:

This dynamic, on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.

Asking questions about Amanda Bennett’s record at the Voice of America on broadcasting to Iran and on several other issues relating to her performance as a manager is the House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (Texas).

READ on USAGM Watch: Former Voice of America Reporters Shocked by VOA Propaganda Video from Russia