BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary
The U.S. taxpayer-funded and U.S. government-managed Voice of America (VOA) English-language news website (VOANews.com) has failed to report on the recent settlement in which CNN agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of money to Nick Sandmann, the teen Covington High School student from Kentucky. He had sued CNN and other news media outlets accusing them of defaming him by spreading false news about his behavior at the annual March for Life rally on January 18, 2019. For more details on the confrontation see WIKIPEDIA entry, “January 2019 Lincoln Memorial confrontation,” which provides an overall objective presentation of facts and analysis and includes references to multiple media reports on this story.
VOA reporter called them “racist Catholic schoolboys” without sufficient checking
The Voice of America also initially spread false news about Nick Sandmann and other Covington students, with one VOA senior reporter calling them in a tweet “racist Catholic schoolboys.” [Emphasis added.]
In addition to VOA News reports on the incident posted on VOA websites and VOA social media accounts, the same senior VOA reporter tweeted on January 19, 2019 that “Every one of them should be outed on social media and face stern discipline.” [Emphasis added.]
The VOA reporter did not mention Sandmann by name or used names of any other students.
In addition to this and other tweets by the VOA reporter, the Voice of America also posted a video on its official Facebook account for VOA English News.
Some of those who commented on the video posted by VOA News on Facebook on January 20, 2019 that by then VOA editors should have known that the video and the report shown by VOA were misleading and defamatory and should have not posted it and that they should have apologized for posting it. Several commented that VOA was posting “fake news.”
The video posted on Facebook by the Voice of America elicited such comments to VOA as:
“This is fake news and needs to be retracted with an apology to the young students.”
“This whole thing was mess and created by people with alternative objectives. These kids really got caught in something that was totally unfair. I hope they sue everyone involved with this smear campaign.”
“This is not true VOA.”
“Goodbye VOA. I can get fake news on my tv.”
“My screen shows it was posted 19 hours ago. I thought it had been debunked by then.”
“VOA is propagating fake news.”
“Shame on you for publishing this when it was debunked hours ago. I thought VOA was better than this!”
“VOA, you seem to regurgitate what the American media say, no original reporting. If you’d looked harder, perhaps even watched at least 30 minutes of the video, this story should be reported differently.”
“Why is this post still up? It needs to be retracted and an apology issued.”
“Stop it VOA YOU Are Spewing Hate. Watch the unedited video. That young man was awesome. Showed emince self control. A role model.”
“Hope, you get sued, too-VOA!!!”
Only very few comments on the VOA News Facebook page showed any kind of approval for VOA’s reporting. Almost all of the comments appear to be from Americans, which shows that any biased or partisan Voice of America reporting in English is having a largely domestic impact and may affect outcomes of U.S. elections, perhaps even to the same or greater degree than Russian propaganda and disinformation. Biased VOA reporting in foreign languages may also have an impact on some ethnic voters in the United States. In 2016, a VOA foreign language service posted on Facebook a completely one-sided political campaign video in which a Hollywood actor called Donald Trump “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid” and said that he would like to smack him in the face. It was the first instance in VOA’s history of condoning violence against any American or foreign political figure.
Will VOA be sued for defamation?
In addition to the CNN lawsuit, Sandmann filed defamation lawsuits against other media outlets, including The Washington Post and NBCUniversal. Part but not all of the lawsuit against The Washington Post was dismissed by a judge.
According to news reports, Sandmann’s attorneys are still considering more such legal actions against other news organizations.
Last December, many Facebook users posted comments under the VOA video on the Covington students incident, expressing their support for them and urging them to sue VOA for defamation. One Twitter user also asked in a tweet whether the Covington students were planning to sue the Voice of America:
Hi #Covington kids.
Are you also suing VOA News for their continued libel of you?
Students in MAGA Hats Mock Native American After Rally
— Chicago News Bench™ (@ChiNewsBench) December 12, 2019
Back in January 2019, a VOA reporter said in one of the “@voa” tweets posted on a work-relater Twitter account on January 19 and January 20, 2019 that the behavior of the students was “a disgusting and mortifying display or [sic] privilege and disrespect by a group of students from the Covington Catholic Boys School in Kentucky.” [Emphasis added.]
VOA News ignoring CNN-Covington student settlement
The recent CNN-Covington student settlement was widely reported by most mainstream U.S. media. It was not reported, however, by VOA News based on several searches of the VOA English News website, as well as Google searches of the internet.
Back in January 2019, VOA News was quick to post on one of its mobile websites an AP report with false accusations against the Covington students without checking all the facts. It was a violation of the VOA Charter which requires all VOA news to be “accurate, balanced and comprehensive.” The VOA Charter is U.S. law.
VOA also posted on January 19 the same AP report under the headline, “Students in MAGA Hats Mock Native American After Rally,” on its main news website, but this time without attributing it to AP. News seekers could have assumed that it was a VOA-originated, U.S. government-paid report, which for all practical purposes it was since it appeared on the official U.S. government-funded VOA website.
The news report on the VOA mobile site had a photo which originally was captioned “YouTube,” but on the main VOA site, the same report now appears with a “VOA” caption, no attribution to AP and a description: “This image, taken from YouTube, shows a youth in a MAGA hat staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum, at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, Jan. 18, 2019.” [Emphasis added.] The letters “VOA” are clearly visible in the bottom right corner of the photo.
one Twitter user was already asking whether the Covington students were going to sue the Voice of America
“@voa” Twitter account deleted
The current failure of VOA News to report on the CNN-Sandmann settlement is even more glaring since at the time of the incident a year ago a senior VOA News reporter called in an “@voa” tweet for punishment for the Covington students.
It is not known whether federal government officials in charge of of the Voice of America in the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) or the VOA News reporter have apologized to the Covington High School students. Most of VOA and USAGM senior officials, including VOA Director Amanda Bennett, were appointed during the Obama administration or selected by senior agency officials appointed during the previous administration.
After BBG – USAGM Watch published a commentary on the false accusations in the news report about the Covington students incident posted on the VOA website and in VOA reporter’s tweets, the entire Twitter account of the VOA reporter, in which these tweets appeared and which had “@voa” in their address, was deleted.
While these tweeted were not on the official VOA News Twitter account, the removal of the VOA reporter’s own Twitter news feed raises another question of how U.S. federal government records of VOA employees are preserved. The Twitter account where the Covington tweets were posted was established as an account and news feed of a VOA reporter. It listed the VOA News affiliation and title of the VOA News reporter. It had links to multiple VOA programs and VOA News reports, and appeared to have been used frequently on government time.
Anything U.S. federal employees produce on government time must by U.S. law be preserved as a government record and remain in the public domain.
Partisan or ideological bias?
Outside media experts speculate that CNN might have won the defamation case on the First Amendment grounds if it chose to go to trial. What CNN probably feared, in their view, was that journalistic bias of its reporters, editors and executives could have been further disclosed to American public through the trial discovery process.
The same problem exists to a much greater extent at the federal Voice of America. According to independent media reports, several VOA editors and reporters have been posting over the last few years on their personal but publicly accessible social media accounts highly partisan and often obscene comments and memes about Donald Trump, raising concerns about their journalistic objectivity and effectiveness of VOA’s senior managers in assuring that the VOA Charter and the VOA Journalistic Code are uniformly observed.
Serious breeches of journalistic objectivity in reporting on U.S. politics were not noted at VOA with anything approaching the current level before the selection in 2016 of Amanda Bennett to be the VOA director. The selection was made by former USAGM CEO John Lansing (appointed in 2015).
Lansing resigned from USAGM last year and is now in charge of the National Public Radio (NPR).
Lansing said in an NPR interview in 2017 that the agency, which was then called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), has the highest respect for the President of the United States even though VOA reporters had earlier posted a meme showing Trump as a male sex organ, made multiple insulting comments, and streamed on Facebook a sex joke about Trump’s wife, Melania Trump.
In the last four years, Amanda Bennett made several appeals to VOA journalists to remain objective and ordered journalistic training for some reporters and editors, but the violations of rules of objective news reporting, although less frequent now than in 2016 and 2017, have continued under her watch. According to reports, one of the repeated violators of social media policy was an editor highly praised and promoted by the VOA director. The tweets about the Covington students, however, were originated by another agency employee who is a senior VOA News reporter. Bennett has encouraged VOA staff to do investigative reporting.
The Voice of America reporter tweeted on January 19, 2019:
This is a disgusting and mortifying display or privilege and disrespect by a group of students from the Covington Catholic Boys School in Kentucky. Every one of them should be outed on social media and face stern discipline by the school and Diocese. #NativeAmericans #IPM2019
On January 20, the same VOA reporter tweeted:
1/2 It occurs to me that there may be a silver lining to the incident in DC in which Omaha citizen and US veteran Nathan Phillips was taunted by racist Catholic schoolboys – it has garnered national attention and outrage, reminding ppl about the racism #NativeAmericans have…
In another tweet on January 20, the VOA reporter said:
1/2 … endure since colonizers first landed here. It demonstrates that Native Americans are still here, they are resilient in spite of all efforts to break and remove them. Moving forward, I hope all Americans will remember we are guests in their home and behave accordingly.
VOICE OF AMERICA
This image, taken from YouTube, shows a youth in a MAGA hat staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum, at the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, Jan. 18, 2019.
January 19, 2019 09:00 PM
A diocese in Kentucky apologized Saturday after videos emerged showing students from a Catholic boys high school mocking Native Americans outside the Lincoln Memorial after a rally in Washington.
The Indigenous Peoples March in Washington on Friday coincided with the March for Life, which drew thousands of anti-abortion protesters, including a group from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills.
Videos circulating online show a youth staring at and standing extremely close to Nathan Phillips, a 64-year-old Native American man singing and playing a drum.
Other students, some wearing Covington clothing and many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and sweatshirts, surrounded them, chanting, laughing and jeering.
A few days later, VOA News tried lamely to back paddle on its original reporting without admitting its own mistakes and false accusations. Again, VOA used an AP report, but on its main website the AP attribution was missing.
VOICE OF AMERICA
January 21, 2019 11:04 PM
At first the focus was on a short video showing one of the high school students, Nick Sandmann, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and appearing to smirk while a crowd of other teens laughed derisively behind him as a 64-year-old Native American, Nathan Phillips, played a traditional chant on a drum.
Pull back further and a different view emerged, however, in a separate video showing members of a group calling itself the Black Hebrew Israelites taunting everyone on the mall that day, calling the Native Americans who had gathered there for the Indigenous Peoples March “Uncle Tomahawks” and “$5 Indians” and the high school students “crackers” and worse.