BBG Watch Commentary

Director of U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) Amanda Bennett has a post on her “Director at Voice of America – VOA” Facebook page linking to a VOA news report with the following introduction:

“As the Trump Administration escalates raids in Los Angeles, immigrant communities remain afraid but determined to know what they can do to prepare themselves for the worst. Voice of America – VOA’s Mike O’Sullivan explains.”

After one day, as of 4:30 PM ET, February 27, 2018, Bennett’s Facebook post showed only three “Likes,” one “Share” and zero “Comments.” These are low numbers for the director of a major U.S. government-funded media outlet.

The actual report on the VOA website, posted February 25, 2018 3:26 PM, shows only nine “Comments,” as of as of 4:30 PM ET, February 27, 2018. However, almost all of them appear to be from Americans, even though under U.S. law VOA’s audience should be abroad.

Among those who have commented, several individuals had serious issues with what they saw was a one-sided nature of the VOA report, which VOA director Amanda Bennett apparently did not see as she chose to highlight the report on her Facebook page. This encourages other VOA reporters to write similar news stories in a similar fashion.

A few others who appear to be Americans and who saw or read the report on the VOA website posted comments highly critical of the Trump administration.

The VOA Charter, a U.S. law passed by Congress in 1976 and signed by President Ford, specifically says:

“1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”

It further says:

“2. 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.”

It also has the following requirement:

“3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350)”

Under Amanda Bennett’s directorship, a position she was appointed to during the Obama administration and which she still holds today, VOA has devoted hundreds of reports to the immigration issue in the United States, far more than to any truly serious human rights violations in any foreign country. To many foreign VOA audiences, if there are such for VOA English-language content, it would seem that immigration is dominating U.S. politics in a major way.

Amanda Bennett’s official bio posted on the VOA website says that “Together with her husband, Donald Graham, she was a co-founder of TheDream.US, which provides college scholarships to the children of undocumented immigrants.”

Past VOA directors generally did not publicize their personal political views on divisive U.S. domestic political issues, such as abortion or immigration. Amanda Bennett may have a serious conflict of interest on this issue and should not be commenting publicly on it to VOA reporters.

In one of her early emails to VOA staff, Bennett quoted a statement made by a young illegal immigrant who described the then presidential candidate Donald Trump as a man of “hate and prejudice.” Her email to staff did not present any countervailing view.

Since about that time, there have been a number of public social media posts by some VOA reporters describing Trump using negative and sometimes obscene comments and memes. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, the VOA Ukrainian Service posted a video on the official VOA Facebook account in which Donald Trump was called “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid,” without any balance and response. That video was eventually removed. Some of the public comments and memes posted on Facebook by VOA reporters include such descriptions of President Trump as “f*uck cheeto with hair” and “three cheers for f*cking Trumpy and his neo-Nazi crew.” One VOA reporter referred to Donald Trump as “F*ckface Von Clownstick.” Bennett issued much later a warning against such unprofessional behavior by VOA journalists. “Voice of America has zero tolerance for public or personal racist, sexist, or politically biased social media communications. Our policies make it very clear that such behavior is prohibited. We are investigating these reports as quickly as possible and will respond accordingly,” Bennett said. Bennett also promised to carry out anti-bias training for VOA journalists in the wake of criticism from Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s supporters that some of the VOA reporting and commentary during the primaries amounted to “state media” bias against their favored candidates. However, there was no break to advocacy and partisan reporting by some VOA reporters, some of whom received high praise from the VOA director. Bennett also said that “Like all American media, VOA is trying hard to cover the candidates and issues appropriately — neither pulling punches, nor exhibiting bias.”

Since Bennet became VOA director in 2016, the number of VOA reports on immigration issues in the U.S., which generally present now illegal immigrants as victims of the Trump administration, has increased dramatically. Most of these VOA reports do not discuss, or only in passing, any negative aspects of illegal immigration, such as its impact on employment on the most disadvantaged Americans, including African Americans and U.S. citizens with Latin American and other recent foreign backgrounds. Most of these reports can be described as advocacy journalism in support of open immigration. Advocacy journalism has its legitimate place in domestic U.S. media, but under the VOA Charter it has no place in VOA content which is paid for by all American taxpayers. To meet the rigorous VOA Charter requirements, VOA reports must be to the largest degree possible comprehensive and comparative for a foreign audience, not for any partisan U.S. audience. Very few VOA reports on immigration in the last two years reflected the entire spectrum on American opinions on the issue or presented them in a comparative context.

There is almost never any discussion in these one-sided VOA reports about rule of law issues or comparisons to how other countries treat their illegal immigrants, which is far worse than what the U.S. has done, considering that there are millions of illegal immigrants living and working in America. There is usually no mention in these VOA reports that U.S. immigration laws which illegal immigrants violate were passed by both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress. There is also usually no mention that these laws have been enforced by both Republican and Democratic presidents and administrations, including President Obama’s administration which conducted similar arrests of some illegal immigrants.

“The lack of balance in these pieces is atrocious,” was a comment made by one of many former and current VOA journalists who are critical of how Amanda Bennett and her boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing, have managed the organization for the past two years.

One current BBG employee observed: “VOA…[is] loosing focus on its primary role of explaining to the world the various policies of the U.S., not to mention misusing appropriated funds to cover domestic [U.S.] politics in a partisan fashion.”

We are not saying that VOA should not cover the immigration issue or that it should not interview critics of the Trump administration. Far from it. What we are saying is that in reporting on the immigration issue, VOA should present various opinions and should not avoid such topics as the impact on illegal immigration on American citizens of disadvantaged backgrounds.

We repost here a selection of comments which appear under the VOA report highlighted by VOA director Amanda Bennett in her Facebook post. With a few exceptions, they show that some Americans reading these reports (one should ask where are foreign readers are) find them to be journalistically deficient and biased.

February 26, 2018 1:39 PM
Why does VOA continue to NOT explain the difference between legal immigrants and ILLEGAL immigrants? This is activism, not journalism.

February 25, 2018 9:47 PM
“Crackdown Sparks Fear in LA Immigrant Communities”

Surgeons step up their effort in a difficult surgery case, one does not say the doctors crack down …
The lawyers try their hardest to win a case , one does not say they crack down..
The immigration agents just doing their jobs, why couldn’t we say ” the ICE agents step up their effort to enforce the law”

“The immigrant communities” does not portrait the correct situation, if one legally immigrated to the US , one has nothing to fear. If one entered the country illegally , purposely in contempt of the law of the country one should be called an illegal alien .

No country accepts this situation, no country allows peoples to stay in the country without proper approval , why couldn’t the US enforces its law ?
Perhaps the US should revise its law and not grant citizenship to peoples who are born in the country while the parents are in the country illegally , there will be no tearing families apart, everyone will be deported together.

Legal immigrant
February 25, 2018 4:45 PM
I think it should say “sparks fear among illegal lawbreaking aliens”. Not a single legal immigrant fears Trump policies. My family immigrated legally in the US and now they totally support president Donald Trump. Those who want chaos, crime and illegal immigrants to come in America because want to get votes are Democrats. We legal immigrants “In Trump we trust”!

Cindy M.
February 26, 2018 11:22 AM
California is a Fascist-free state and we will always hate Trump for the totally unnecessary anxiety and fear he brings our people.

B. Rudge.
February 26, 2018 11:18 AM
California should outlaw and toss the Trump ICE thugs out of the state completely.

February 26, 2018 0:41 AM
That would be great if Trump pulled ICE out of California. We can handle our own just fine. We don’t need ICE messing everything up and creating so much confusion and fear.

The actual Facebook post on the story, as opposed to VOA director Amanda Bennett’s repost, had only 232 “Likes” and only 10 “Shares” and three “Comments,” after one day, as of 5:00 PM ET, February 27, 2018.

All three comments also appear to be from Americans, which suggests that VOA reporting is having some minimal impact in the U.S. but not necessarily abroad. All three individuals found the VOA report to be biased and one-sided, which did not prevent VOA director Amanda Bennett from highlighting it on her Facebook page.

Trang Adsit Can you please distinguish between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigrants. If someone is here LEGALLY there shouldn’t be any fear. Your headliner clump all immigrants together and it’s misleading.

The above comment, which may have come from a legal immigrant in the United States, received four “Likes”

Bill Fairweather Legal immigrant versus illegal alien.

Ronnie Doran Se[e] how they always leave out the “Illegal Immigrant” part???

The same VOA video report posted on YouTube on February 25, 2018, was showing only 638 “Views,” seven “Likes” and 12 comments, as of 5:00 PM ET, February 27, 2018.

Again, most of the substantive comments were critical of the VOA report as being biased, and most appear to be from Americans, which is another indication that these one-sided VOA reports, paid for by all U.S. taxpayers, are having a domestic political impact, which is against the intent of Congress.

2 days ago
What a joke. Their countries were that way 40 years ago. Its a way to jam your foot into the doorway before the door closes. Nobody’s country is war torn anymore.

2 days ago
Show the foreigners trying to immigrate legally being cut in line by illegals.

2 days ago
Report all illegal aliens to ICE, the sooner we fix this problem with people breaking the law, the sooner we will have a better healthy society. What part of illegal/temporary don’t people understand? It’s not mean or racist to ask all people to come here legally.

2 days ago
DEPORT ALL. Save the country before it’s too late.

Jervis Bowles
1 day ago
You don’t break our laws, And then, Get to play the crying victim.



Crackdown Sparks Fear in LA Immigrant Communities


February 25, 2018

3:26 PM

Mike O’Sullivan

Crackdown Sparks Fear in Immigrant Communities

As immigration agents step up raids in California, fear is widespread in the immigrant community.

Federal authorities rounded up more than 200 people in 122 workplace raids in Los Angeles last Friday, part of a nationwide effort by the Trump administration to target so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

California became a sanctuary state January 1, barring police in most cases from asking people about their immigration status. President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal safety grants from sanctuary cities, and on Thursday he suggested withdrawing immigration enforcement agents from California to leave the state on its own in fighting criminal aliens.

[AP Photo Not Reposted]

FILE – President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state and local officials to discuss school safety, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Feb. 22, 2018, in Washington.

“If we ever pulled our ICE out, and we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what? I’m thinking about doing it,” he said at the White House during a meeting on gun safety.

Withdrawing ICE runs counter to the strategy Trump’s administration has been pursuing since he took office. Last Friday’s raids followed earlier ones in northern California.

Immigration enforcement officers say more than half of those arrested in Los Angeles had felony convictions for serious offenses or for multiple misdemeanors.

Climate of fear

The raids are compounding a climate of fear say immigration attorneys who offer free services at a weekly legal clinic at Dolores Mission Catholic Church in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.This community takes its name from an Irish settler and has been home to immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe, Russians and Japanese and now Central Americans.

Yanira Lemus, supervising attorney for the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic, says immigrants need to consult a lawyer to learn their rights. (M. O’Sullivan/VOA)

“I think it’s important for people to inform themselves of their immigration eligibility, if there is any, of possible defenses if they are placed in removal proceedings, and we encourage obtaining this information from an immigration attorney,” said Yanira Lemus, supervising attorney with the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic of Loyola Law School that offers the weekly legal clinics.

One of those waiting to see a lawyer, Jorge Ramirez, came to the United States at 19 from Guatemala. “It was going to be one or two years,” he recalls. “And then one or two years became three years, and now it’s been 20 years.”

Jorge Ramirez, 39, came to the United States 20 years ago from Guatemala and hopes to make permanent his temporary immigration status. (M. O’Sullivan/VOA)

He has temporary legal status and hopes to make it permanent. “This is a land of opportunity,” he said. “You can get anything you want, but you have to work really hard, study, do the right thing.”

Others in this immigrant community worry about the upcoming end of temporary protected status for some immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan, which had been granted for those from countries experiencing conflict or disaster.

“There is a different range of emotions, from fear and anxiety and concern.Also a sense of resilience,” said Ellie Hidalgo, a pastoral associate at Dolores Mission Church and School.

Ellie Hidalgo, pastoral associate at Dolores Mission Catholic Church and School, says immigration raids are dividing immigrant families. (M. O’Sullivan/VOA)

She says many families have mixed status with U.S.-citizen children but parents or grandparents who are undocumented. Many of the families, she says, have known no home outside of the United States for several years or several decades.

For the Trump administration, immigration roundups fulfill promises to remove criminal aliens and enhance the nation’s security.

Immigrant advocate Hidalgo says, “These measures… at a very literal level are tearing families apart.”



Many other VOA reports also focus on presenting immigrant communities in the U.S. as being gripped by fear.

This recent VOA report on illegal Irish immigrants (VOA generally does not use the term “illegal,” opting instead for “undocumented”) was not specifically highlighted by the VOA director. Illegal Irish immigrants presented in this VOA report did not claim that they came to the U.S. as children with their parents or that they were fleeing political persecution or dire economic conditions. As fluent English speakers, they are obviously taking some of the better-paying jobs from American citizens and legal residents. None of these points were made in the VOA report. The position of the Trump administration on these issues was also not presented.

The VOA report posted on YouTube on February 23, 2018, showed only 455 “Views,” 14 “Likes” and just four “Comments,” as of 5:00 PM ET, February 27, 2018. Again, all of the comments appeared to be from Americans.