BBG Watch Commentary

Some Voice of America (VOA) reporters and editors are hard at work to prove to their international and U.S. domestic audiences (about half of VOA English online traffic is from the United States) that Donald Trump is a dictator-in-waiting who should be rightly compared to such 20th century mass murderers as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, or Mao. A few VOA journalists, whose salaries are paid by U.S. taxpayers, posted memes on their social media pages showing Trump with a Nazi swastika, Trump as a sex organ, Trump being ridiculed in an “Inauguration Bingo” game, and even being called an “F-word.” Some of them even lampooned his wife and daughter in a public event held at a government building. One reporter ridiculed Trump supporters in a public social media post.

But when President Trump used a poorly-chosen phrase “enemy of the American people” to complain about some real mainstream media bias against him, the Voice of America jumped right in, despite its earlier electioneering for Hillary Clinton, and did a one-sided analysis from which most audiences could draw only one conclusion: Donald Trump is a potential dictator like Joseph Stalin.

Since these Voice of America journalists and editors can’t prove that Trump is actually planning mass arrests of journalists and mass murder of American citizens, they tried to strengthen their argument with a cleverly chosen image of Trump and Stalin photos being sold side by side in Putin’s Russia.

One wishes that these VOA journalists knew history and the essential strengths and inner-workings of the American democracy just as much as they instinctively know how propaganda techniques can help them to present a false historical analogy to their audience. They, of course, do not believe that the analogy and their analysis are completely false when it comes to predicting what is likely to happen under President Trump. Some bad things could happen, or they may not. It is, however, not even remotely likely that Trump will order the arrest and execution of the VOA journalists — something that Stalin would have done. Yet, this is what some foreign audiences may think looking at some of the images and other content appearing on VOA websites in recent months.

Instead of explaining the checks and balances of the American constitutional system to foreign audiences, offering a sober image of President Trump, who admittedly has his faults but is not anything like Hitler or Stalin, and providing both criticism and defense of his policies, these U.S. government-employed journalists, perhaps unwittingly, are resorting to the worst kind of misleading propaganda that can harm the United States and put American lives in danger. This can happen when propaganda-fed extremists abroad and at home become convinced by such propaganda in Voice of America programs that Trump represents a mortal danger and that they would be justified taking radical and perhaps violent actions.

While resorting to partisan-driven propaganda journalism, including the use of insulting memes and images, these Voice of America reporters and editors do not understand propaganda’s power, especially abroad.

Of course, most of the blame lies with the senior leaders in charge of the Voice of America ($224 million in FY 2017) and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) ($777 million, VOA included). They are the ones who have failed to provide leadership, good management and enforcement of high standards of journalism as described in the VOA Charter.

We think that U.S. taxpayers, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or independents, generally agree that taxpayers’ money should not be used for partisan propaganda at home or abroad.