USAGM Watch Commentary

Whistleblowers at the U.S. government-funded and managed international media outlet Voice of America (VOA) have shared with outside news organizations, both liberal and conservative, a series of e-mails, in which VOA managers and some of their colleagues argued that the word “terrorists” should not be used in VOA news reports to describe Hamas attackers, who on October 7, targeted, murdered, and kidnapped defenseless Israeli civilians, as well as some American citizens and civilians of other nationalities, including women, children, and the elderly.

The VOA management in the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), led since 2022 by Amanda Bennett, who was VOA director from 2016 to 2020, when she praised and promoted some of the VOA managers and journalists who object to calling Hamas “terrorists,” issued a directive to VOA writers and editors that members of Hamas should be called instead “militants” or “fighters.” No explanation was given how someone who deliberately targets and kills women and children who cannot fight back can still be called a “fighter.”

National Review national security correspondent Jimmy Quinn published excerpts from some of the internal VOA e-mails shared between a senior VOA reporter, VOA managers, and VOA news writers and editors:


Date: October 20, 2023

Subject: Re: Reminders on fairness, neutrality and balance

We can do that. Per Hamas the aim of the attack was “to free Palestinian prisoners, stop Israeli aggression on al-Aqsa Mosque, and to break the siege on Gaza.”


Date: October 20, 2023

Subject: Re: Reminders on fairness, neutrality and balance

I would also add the importance of mentioning victims from both sides and giving historical context that the conflict did not start on Oct. 7.

As an example:

Israel has launched airstrikes on Gaza, killing 4000 and displacing more than a million people, mostly Palestinian Arabs. The strikes are in response to Hamas’ incursion on October 7th, that killed 1,400 people in Israel and took 200 captive. The militant group’s attack was done in retaliation for Israel’s decades-long occupation.


Date: Friday, October 20, 2023 2:18 PM

Subject: Reminders on fairness, neutrality and balance

Hi, all,

In covering the Israel-Gaza war — or any other conflict — we need to remember VOA’s commitment to fairness, neutrality and balance. We cannot favor one side over another or do anything that feeds even the perception of bias. This applies to all on-air and online coverage, including social media accounts (both personal and professional).

This means:

– You should not be present at any demonstration — supporting either Israelis or Palestinians or any other group — unless you’ve been assigned to cover it. As the VOA News Standards guide says: Avoid any action or statement that might give the appearance of partisanship. This includes the wearing of lapel pins, religious symbols, clothing designs or color schemes that appear to support one party or individual over another.

– Include perspectives from all key stakeholders. An individual, organization or government facing allegations must be given an opportunity to address those allegations. Allow as much time as possible for a response, and reach out on as many platforms as possible. Include the response in your coverage; if you get no response, say that. Ideally, you should specify the measures you took to get a response.

– Be especially careful with word choice in dealing with a conflict. Below, I’m resharing the language guidance initially sent out Oct. 10.


On “terror,” “terrorism” or “terrorist”

The Oct. 7 attacks on Israel may be described as terrorist attacks or acts of terror, but avoid calling Hamas and its members terrorists, except in quotes.

This practice conforms with the VOA News Standards & Best Practices guide and current usage by the wires and major U.S. news organizations, bearing in mind that the language including terrorism is often used to demonize individuals and groups with whom the speaker disagrees. Useful alternatives are militant group or militants or fighters. In this case, it would be the Hamas militant group or Hamas militants.


VOA’s coverage should describe the actions of the militants – and their adversary or adversaries – fully and accurately, without taking sides.


Is this a war?

VOA can report that Israel has declared war on Hamas. It can be referred to as the Israel-Hamas war. Other possible terms: conflict or hostilities, or something along those lines.


From the VOA News Standards guide:


Generally, terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” Terrorists use violence against (often innocent) individuals to advance their political or ideological agenda. “Terrorism” and “terrorist” carry a lot of weight, and they should be used with extreme care. It is up to editors to determine if they are most appropriate terms to use.

VOA will report the actions of terrorists (bombings, shootings, hostage takings) fully, accurately and without taking sides, as we would cover any other news story. Wherever possible, we should also provide appropriate coverage of the victims, their injuries and their families.

We will provide our audiences with informative analyses of terrorist organizations, their ideology and history, but at the same time VOA must never suggest that reporting the context in which terrorism takes place justifies terrorism in any way.


Statements from, interviews with, or video of terrorists, hostages or prisoners of war should be judged on their journalistic merits before making a decision on usage.

In December 2017, when current USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett served as Voice of America director, VOA posted online under the VOA logo several long raw footage videos showing anti-American protests and burnings of Israeli and U.S. flags. These videos were featured on VOA’s social media without providing any opposite points of view.


As reported by his U.S. Senate office, “Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development and a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, … led his colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Director Amanda Bennett expressing strong concerns over Voice of America (VOA)’s internal guidance not to refer to Hamas as terrorists.”

The letter, signed by seven Republican Senators was sent to USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett after the Voice of America removed the word “terrorist” from a VOA report about the October 7 Hamas attack on the music festival in Israel. The letter was signed by Republican Senators: Bill Hagerty, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Pete Ricketts, Lindsey Graham, Deb Fischer, and John Barrasso.

They protested against “an absurd and vacuous moral relativism that is specifically generous to Hamas’ genocidal objectives.”