BBG Watch Commentary

There have been more one-sided attacks on President Trump in recent Voice of America (VOA) news reports which extensively quote Trump’s critics without anyone from the administration or among Trump’s supporters being given an opportunity of responding and providing in these VOA news reports a counterbalancing defense of him as a person and defense of his policies. Two former VOA directors who had served during Republican administrations have criticized in recent op-eds, one of them published by The Wall Street Journal, the one-sided partisanship and lack of balance in the current VOA program content.

VOA is funded by all U.S. taxpayers. This is what a journalist, one of Bernie Sanders’ supporters, observed when during the 2016 U.S. primaries campaign some VOA editors, reporters and commentators were already electioneering for Hillary Clinton and posted an anti-Sanders hit piece in violation of the VOA Charter:

As broad as that mandate [VOA Charter] may seem, electioneering and hit pieces on US citizens obviously fall outside those parameters. VOA does not have the right to advocate for a particular candidate or even to attack one. That is not within its charter, nor should any US citizen have to subsidize their own defamation.

The journalist writing for the Shadowproof liberal website referred to U.S. tax-funded Voice of America, which is staffed by reporters who are federal government employees, collect federal salaries and benefits, and are managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a federal agency, as “state media”. He accused the Voice of America of “state media bias.” In fact, VOA can conceivably have an effect on U.S. elections, even despite its dismal web traffic and poor audience engagement figures overall. About half of VOA English news web traffic comes from the United States. Immigrant communities in the U.S. could also be influenced by biased VOA reporting paid for by all U.S. taxpayers.

Former Voice of America director David S. Jackson wrote recently in an article in the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy CPD Blog that U.S. taxpayer-funded international media outreach outlet currently managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) agency ($777 million in FY2017) “constantly violates” its VOA Charter, a law passed by Congress and signed by President Ford in 1976. The VOA Charter requires VOA news to be “accurate,” “objective,” and “comprehensive” and include a clear explanation of the policies of the United States, as well as balanced opinions about such policies.

During the 2016 presidential primaries and presidential election campaign, VOA had posted many anti-Trump hit pieces, some of them also in foreign languages. VOA management, some editors, and some reporters were so confident of Hillary Clinton’s victory that on the election night they had two pre-written “Hillary Wins” programs, and none for Trump. VOA had completely failed to prepare its international audiences for the possibility of Trump’s win, just as it fails now to clearly explain his policies.

One recent VOA report created a strong impression with the help of text and images that President Trump might be like Lenin, Stalin and other 20th century mass murderers because he said that biased “Fake Media” is “Enemy of the American people.” It was a poorly chosen phrase, but VOA failed to explain that Trump is not about to arrest and execute journalists and murder millions of other Americans and that this is not how the American democracy works whether under Trump or any other U.S. president. The VOA report was relentlessly pushing the Trump dictator and enemy of free media narrative to an audience that has a limited knowledge of America or may already be confused by anti-American propaganda. Later, VOA enthusiastically reported that a dictator in an Asian country mentioned Donald Trump’s criticism of the U.S. media to justify a further crackdown on the opposition in his country. What VOA did, however, was to inadvertently issue an indictment of its own work because the dictator cited VOA’s own misleading reporting on what President Trump said and what his words might really mean in the context of American democracy — something that VOA has spectacularly failed to explain in its effort to vilify Trump. The Asian dictator was not very bright or he would have asked himself how come VOA reporters who had so courageously presented Trump to the world as the enemy of free media are not themselves immediately facing Mao-like Trump execution squads. That is how misleading and dangerous such VOA reporting is in the international context.


Another recent VOA report sent a strong message that President Trump and his cabinet members are racists who do not believe in equal rights to education, equal rights in general, or in the rule of law. No one was interviewed by Voice of America reporters and given a chance to defend the Trump administration and express views in these same reports that about half of Americans holds without most of them being racists or against legal immigration.

UPDATE: The link to the original Justice Thurgood Marshall no longer works on the Voice of America website after it was exposed by BBG Watch as one-sided and violating the VOA Charter. (The original VOA story text can still be read further in our commentary.) VOA later issued an updated story, which is slightly more balanced but still lacks a full balance and a full presentation of issues from various sides.

Even the corrected VOA report still does mention current African American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. It took VOA three days to make this partial and still unsatisfactory change.

When reading VOA news reports online or viewing VOA broadcasts, international audiences should ask themselves that if Donald Trump is such a racist and villain that some of these VOA reports present him to be, why would millions of Americans, including a surprising number of women, African Americans, Latino Americans and legal immigrants who are citizens voted for this horrible man. Are they all stupid or racists? That is hardly the case.

And if he is such a horrible man, a racist and a danger to humanity, as some VOA programs try to portray him, why would the first African American U.S. President Barack Obama invite him to the White House to visit him and his family?

President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Why would now former First Lady Michelle Obama meet with Mrs. Trump if she is married to a racist?

Shouldn’t Mr. Trump’s immigrant wife immediately divorce the man who was described in one VOA Spanish Service interview as being driven by “hatred and prejudice” toward immigrants? VOA director Amanda Bennett strongly praised this program during the 2016 election campaign and her then email to staff as well as praise of the VOA management team may have opened the door to further violations of the VOA Charter.

Some VOA reporters, not the same as the authors of recent reports discussed here, went even as far as to call Donald Trump an “F-word” (the first in VOA’s history) and to make fun of his wife and daughter (again, the first in VOA’s 75-year history).

Donald Trump’s longstanding record of personal and business stands against racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism, his marriages to immigrants and multi-cultural and multi-religious families, his Jewish son-in-law and grandchildren are almost never mentioned in many of these VOA reports focusing almost entirely on his alleged totalitarian or racist miscreancies, presumably because a more balanced and more sober image of Trump, who admittedly is not perfect, would conflict with the image of Trump as a potential dictator, purveyor of “hate and prejudice” and promoter of racism in America and abroad. In addition to VOA posting one report after another vilifying Donald Trump, a few individual VOA reporters have posted obscene memes and comments about him on their social media pages.

Many of VOA reports read very much like partisan press releases. They violate the VOA Charter and VOA’s previous tradition of non-partisanship. Attacking President Trump with one-sided quotes while indirectly comparing him to historical villains such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao — or to highly revered figures such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall — has become a common technique among some VOA reporters and editors. In either case, Trump is made to look like an absolute villain with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He can’t win either way. One expert described these as Satan-Jesus or Hitler-Jesus match-ups, with Hitler being a modern equivalent of Satan. VOA reporters have not actually compared Trump to Satan, Hitler (one VOA reporter posted a Trump meme with a Nazi swastika over his head, and another meme with Trump as a sexual organ — these were not authors of most recent VOA reports discussed in this commentary) or Jesus, but the intent to make Donald Trump look bad without providing any voices in his defense is quite clear.

Senior VOA leaders were repeatedly alerted to these violations of the VOA Charter, which requires balance when someone is attacked. Many VOA reporters are afraid to speak up and be identified as being pro-Trump or being racists, but we were told that senior VOA executives were made aware of the most recent non-VOA Charter compliant use of one-sided interviews. They chose to do nothing even though the VOA Charter is U.S. law because some of these VOA reports are still online without any substantive corrections or additions. In any case, it would be far too late to issue corrections now. The damage has already been done. Some of these most recent VOA reports were written by VOA journalists described as senior reporters, presumably the best the Voice of America has to offer these days.

One such VOA news report, which was posted online on February 28, was not corrected and updated with balancing interviews and quotes as of late afternoon March 3. While ostensibly about former U.S. African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of the most revered Americans who fought as a lawyer for racial and social justice in the 20th century, the VOA report is mostly an unending, one-sided, unanswered attack on President Trump and his policies.

No one denies that there is racism, discrimination and other social problems in the United States. But it is a long way from Thurgood Marshall to the terrorism travel ban. Nevertheless, the VOA report managed to create a strong link. (If other media did that they might be accused of linking Marshall to terrorism!)

The VOA report is painfully one-sided. There is no mention of the fact that many African Americans and particularly immigrants who have young children are clamoring to get into charter schools and support school choice (including parochial schools and other alternatives to the failing public schools).

As hard as we looked, there is almost zero balance in this VOA report. There is no discussion of illegal immigrants displacing African American and legal immigrant workers. There is no discussion how illegal immigration may harm job opportunities and the standard of living of working class Americans, many of whom voted for Donald Trump. There is no mention either of the current African American Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, who if VOA had interviewed him for this report, would almost certainly disagree with many of the views expressed by Trump’s critics quoted in the Voice of America attacks on President Trump. Although former President Obama was mentioned briefly, the report does not note that since the time of Thurgood Marshall serving on the Supreme Court, the United States had its first African American President, the first African American Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the first African American woman as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

What we have in this and some other Voice of America reports is the obvious violation of this critical portion of the VOA Charter: “VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.”

Obviously, partisan views quoted in some of these VOA reports must be reported by VOA. They are American views. Some of these views are being pushed by partisan mainstream media, although often with slightly more balance than in VOA content. They cannot be reported by VOA without any balance, which is often the case these days.

These one-sided VOA reports are an embarrassing indictment of the quality of management at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America these days. Even though this is our commentary, for the sake of balance, we will report that BBG CEO John Lansing and VOA Director Amanda Bennett have to say on the subject of respect for the U.S. president and the subject of balance.

John Lansing recently told NPR that “It’s our job is to report all sides of a story and we have the greatest respect for whoever is the President, and their point of view is something that’s newsworthy and we report that.”

Amanda Bennett told Patt Morrison who writes for The Los Angeles Times: “You don’t do a story that doesn’t show the opposite viewpoint. If you’re making a criticism of somebody, you allow the person or the institution you’re criticizing to make a comment.”

How these BBG and VOA executives can say this and keep a straight face is, however, truly puzzling.

It is puzzling to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents among current and former VOA journalists, some of whom are critics of President Trump but who are writing for BBG Watch not as Democrats or Republicans or Independents but as Americans (including immigrants) because they want to defend non-partisan sober journalism at the Voice of America, want to protect the VOA Charter, and want to preserve taxpayer funding for VOA’s still much needed journalistic mission abroad in defense of media freedom.



UPDATE: The link to the original Justice Thurgood Marshall no longer works on the Voice of America website after it was exposed by BBG Watch as one-sided and violating the VOA Charter. (The original VOA story text can still be read below in our commentary.) VOA later issued an updated story, which is slightly more balanced but still lacks a full balance and a full presentation of issues from various sides.

Even the corrected VOA report still does mention current African American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It took VOA three days to make this partial and still unsatisfactory change.


Thurgood Marshall Remembered as First African-American Supreme Court Justice, Voice of America, February 28, 2017

[The link to the original VOA story no longer works on the VOA website. After three days without any change, the report was partially corrected but is still one-sided.]

February 28, 2017 5:00 PM


FILE – Fifty years ago, Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was 50 years ago when Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court as its 96th justice, and as the court’s first African-American justice.

As February’s Black History Month comes to a close, District of Columbia Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said no Supreme Court justice was better prepared than Marshall.

“Certainly none has ever argued a case like Brown v. Board of Education — a 1954 decision that changed the country” by ruling that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Norton said. As a lawyer, Marshall had argued the case to the high court.


FILE – Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., poses for a photograph in Cannon House Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 25, 2010.

Norton led a discussion Tuesday here at Howard University School of Law, from which Marshall graduated magna cum laude. She said, “With the current Supreme Court vacancy currently under debate, there is no better time to take a step back and examine the 50-year journey of civil and voting rights.”

Racially integrated schools

Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of the Howard law school, said Marshall would want people today to remember why racially integrated schools are so important.

“If we don’t have racially integrated schools, we have schools with concentrated poverty, and those schools with concentrated poverty get less resources and have less abilities to bring in teachers who have the ability to really sustain and open up our classrooms,” Holley-Walker said.

There is a need to “reaffirm that we value high-quality public schools for all students, regardless of their racial and socio-economic backgrounds,” she said, adding that was “one of the major causes of Thurgood Marshall’s life and something we need to desperately reclaim.”

The country has made progress in racial integration of public schools, but in many other areas, such as criminal justice reform, “we see ourselves in many ways going backwards,” Holley-Walker said.

But Todd Cox, director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, questioned the commitment of the Trump administration to public schools. New Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said she supports alternatives to traditional schools.


FILE – President Donald Trump accompanied by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, speaks during a meeting with parents and teachers, Feb. 14, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

“We now have a secretary of education whose commitment to education equality and education equity is questionable, not to mention her knowledge of many of the principles of federalism we rely on,” Cox said. “The fact that the federal government does have, quite frankly, a role in our educational system was unclear during her confirmation hearing.”

He also noted that in the past decades, “We fought very hard to make transformative change in this country, to ensure dignity, racial justice, and now we are in a situation where we are really facing a threat to our democracy from within.”

Trump travel ban

Of particular concern to the NAACP, Cox said, is President Donald Trump’s executive order that banned refugees and some travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the temporary travel ban. But when the executive order was signed at the end of January, it created chaos in airports around the world. Immigration officers were confused as to who could be allowed into the United States and who should be kept out, even though many travelers had visas.

A court order has blocked that order for now. Trump has said he would issue a new, more detailed travel ban soon, possibly this week.

“About 28 percent of American-born Muslims consider themselves black,” he said. “We stand with that community, not because they’re right on the law to do so, but because this is an important part of our constituency. We can no longer decide that it’s us versus them, their rights versus our rights. It turns out that their liberty is our liberty; we’re all under attack.”


FILE – Muslims and Yemenis gather with supporters on the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall during a protest against President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Feb. 2, 2017.

Cox said people need to be energized and vigilant by making sure “we are fighting hard for the rule of law and to make real and true of what the legacy of Justice Marshall has been and should continue to be: a nation founded on the rule of law, a nation that appreciates and cherishes the diversity that is representative of all its citizens, and [to] make sure that the government is held to account.”

Criminal justice reform, police neutrality

Angela Rye, CEO of IMPACT Strategies and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “When I think about honoring Marshall, I think we have to acknowledge where we are, and where we are is in a very tragic space.”

People around the country this week remembered Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black high school student who was shot and killed five years ago by a neighborhood watchman. That man, George Zimmerman, was later acquitted of second-degree murder charges.

Rye reminded the audience that Martin’s death, which sparked nationwide protests, was the reason for the founding of #BlackLivesMatter.

“When we think about the many things that [former] President [Barack] Obama did, even if we argue that it wasn’t enough to address criminal justice reform or police brutality and excessive violence-related concerns, we realize we have so far to go,” she said.

Rye said the African-American community has miles to go when it comes to dealing with voting rights challenges, housing policies designed to keep out African-Americans, and justice-reform initiatives to ensure equal treatment for “black and brown in this country.”

END VOA REPORT as copied on March 2, 2017

VOA REPORT ON VOA NEWS WEB PAGE (It may or may not include changes made later.): Thurgood Marshall Remembered as First African-American Supreme Court Justice, Voice of America, February 28, 2017, has been partially corrected after three days online. The original link no longer works.



Trump’s Attack on Media as ‘Enemy of the People’ Has Historic Echoes


Last Updated: February 18, 2017 0:09 AM


FILE – President Donald Trump looks at reporters during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 16, 2017.

President Donald Trump ramped up his criticism of the news coverage of his administration Friday, again taking to his favorite social media platform.

“The FAKE NEWS media,” Trump wrote on Twitter, “is the enemy of the American People!”

An initial tweet put only The New York Times, CNN and NBC News on his enemies list. That message was quickly deleted, however, and replaced by an almost identical note that added two more domestic television networks: ABC and CBS.

The social media attack, the latest in a long series of Trump broadsides against the news media, came after the president had left Washington for a visit to a Boeing aircraft plant in South Carolina. The president later headed to Florida, where he is to spend the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago complex.


President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up from the top of the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Feb. 17, 2017.

As the president arrived at the estate he has dubbed the Winter White House, social media and the networks crackled with debate about the significance of Trump calling some of the top American journalistic outlets enemies of the people, a phrase that goes back to ancient Rome and was used with chilling finality during the communist revolution in Russia a century ago.

U.S. diplomat recalls ‘petty tyrants’

“As an American diplomat, I stood up to petty tyrants who called journalists ‘enemies of the people,'” tweeted Tom Malinowski, former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. “Guess that’s not our policy anymore.”

“It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” said Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

The phrase has its roots in Latin, during the Roman Empire, but “enemies of the people” gained its most notorious associations during the 20th century, during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin that killed tens of millions of people.


FILE – Facemasks depicting former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and U.S President-elect Donald Trump hang on sale hours before Trump is to be sworn in as president of the United States, at a souvenir street shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 20, 2017.

An “enemy of the people” in the Soviet Union was not necessarily a criminal, but more often someone stigmatized by social origin or pre-revolutionary profession. The label alone was akin to a terminal illness, and merely being a friend of an enemy of the people was a certain cause for official suspicion.

“What it basically meant was a death sentence,” Orenstein told VOA.

Some see parallels in history

Stalin’s crimes were exposed to the world by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a shocking speech to the Communist Party Congress in 1956, 61 years ago next Saturday, February 25. The speech, secret at the time, was delivered to a huge audience of communist faithful who heard it in fearful silence, but Khrushchev’s words were leaked to Western reporters and broadcast around the world the next day.


FILE – Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev addresses a huge rally in the Lenin sports stadium in Moscow, April 10, 1958.

“For both Lenin and Stalin, journalists and intellectuals who didn’t share their point of view were among the most hated enemies. In attacking them, both appealed to the people,” said Serhiy Yekelchyk, an affiliate associate professor and Soviet studies specialist at the University of Washington.

“I am sure you will see in this description quite a few uncomfortable parallels,” Yekelchyk told VOA.

The principal founding father of the Soviet Union, communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, was fond of “the peoples’ enemies” as a label, and decades later, China’s dictator Mao Zedong denounced as “enemies of the people” those who criticized the Maoist policies and commands that led to the Great Famine and the death of tens of millions of Chinese.


FILE – Security cameras in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Nov. 11, 2012.

One would hope “American presidents would be educated enough to know something like that,” added Orenstein, who teaches one of the few courses on communism at an American university.

Trump defenders: ‘Things will adjust’

“He’s got his style,” Congressman Ted Yoho, a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on CNN when asked about the provocative “enemy of the people” phrase.

“Things will adjust,” Yoho predicted, brushing off the potential volatility of the tweet.

In a dispatch shortly after the second Trump tweet, the French news agency noted that while many U.S. presidents have criticized the press, “Trump’s language has more clearly echoed criticism leveled by authoritarian leaders around the world.”

Can radical language justify violence?

J.M. Berger, a fellow at the International Center for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague, is among those who agree with that characterization, calling Trump’s language “radical.”

Some of Trump’s supporters on the extremist fringe “may see language like ‘enemy of the American people’ as ratifying violence,” Berger told VOA.

The president’s tweets “could also incite others who are inclined toward violence, whether because of a political ideology or mental illness,” said Berger, author of several books and studies on extremist group’s use of social media.

VOA asked the White House for comment about the tweet, but there was no immediate response.