BBG Watch Commentary

Most of U.S. media, including The New York Times, are reporting today on Trevor Noah Twitter account posts “deemed to be offensive to women or Jews,” but international audiences would not have learned about it from an initial report by U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) which is charged under its VOA Charter to provide “accurate, objective, and comprehensive” news and “present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”

At the time VOA posted its initial report, international media were already reporting that Trevor Noah, chosen by Comedy Central to succeed Jon Stewart as anchor of “The Daily Show,” was “criticised for having made tasteless jokes about Jews and women.” The South African comedian is son of a Swiss-German father and half-Jewish South African mother.

The VOA report, “S. African Comic Has Chance to Change US Perspectives,” posted on March 31, 2015 at 9:42 AM ET does not mention the controversy surrounding Mr. Noah’s tweets. U.S. and international media were already reporting on the controversy. Where were Voice of America newsroom editors and why VOA has not done any updates to the story for many hours?

UPDATE: VOA posted an Associated Press news report with a 2:26 PM time stamp, “New ‘Daily Show’ Host’s Tweets Spur Criticism.”, but as of 4:00 PM ET VOA editors failed to make any updates to the earlier report.

Even the AP report as posted on the VOA website is already not up-to-date. It says that “Comedy Central did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” The New York Times and other media have already reported on a statement from Comedy Central in response to the controversy.

The otherwise interesting initial VOA report, written by an American of mixed race living in South Africa, focuses on mixed-race Americans and race relations in America. While the report offers a useful perspective and is definitely worth reading, should not this story be covered for international audiences primarily from the United States and be updated promptly as new information came to light?

The author asks “Is the United States – recently riven by race-related violence in Ferguson, Missouri and race scandals at top universities – ready to talk about race?”

But the author of the Voice of America report filed from South Africa does not mention that U.S. President Barack Obama is an American of mixed race and has been in office for a number of years.

Will international audiences now wonder whether there is a shortage of discussion of race issues in the United States?

Perhaps the author did not know about the controversy over Mr. Noah’s tweets when she wrote her report, but where were Voice of America Central English Newsroom editors when they posted the report online when it was already known that a controversy was brewing?

The New York Times reported that in reaction to some of Mr. Noah’s jokes, Jamie Weinstein, a senior editor for The Daily Caller, wrote that Mr. Noah’s tweet, “South Africans know how to recycle like israel knows how to be peaceful” “does seem to suggest that Noah believes Israel is an inherently belligerent country.”

Comedy Central offered its support to Mr. Noah in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, which also has not yet been reported by the Voice of America:

“Like many comedians, Trevor Noah pushes boundaries; he is provocative and spares no one, himself included,” the network said in its statement. The statement continued: “To judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes is unfair. Trevor is a talented comedian with a bright future at Comedy Central.”

VOA should have reported on the controversy as soon as it became a major news story Tuesday morning. VOA editors should have asked the VOA reporter in South Africa to update her report or they should have made updates to it themselves.

VOA cannot be seen internationally as a serious news organization if it cannot post and update news reports in a timely fashion.