Trump's surprising goal in the media war: Voice of America

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump 'has had many goals in his war on the media, but perhaps none is more surprising than the Voice of America, the venerable United States-funded institution created during World War II to broadcast independent news. and promote American values ​​for the world.

Trump and his supporters have accused the output of `` shameful '' reports and are now pressing to install their choice to manage the government agency that oversees VOA and its affiliates. That battle is about to come to Congress, where partisan lines have been drawn in the middle of a debate that could have a significant impact on the future of the world station.

On Democrats' objections, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans on Thursday to vote on Trump's nominee to head the United States Agency for Global Broadcasting, which runs VOA and its sister media like Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe./Radio Liberty and the center of Cuba. Radio Martí. The Republican-controlled committee is expected to vote on party lines to advance the nomination.

Democrats fear the candidate, conservative filmmaker and former educator, could turn the organization into a Trump propaganda machine financed with more than $ 200 million a year in taxpayer money. Trump has reflected on his desire to control the media. At his confirmation hearing last September, Pack dismissed concerns that he would allow that to happen, but the recent fury has rekindled those concerns.

The dispute has shocked many who look closely at US international broadcasts. The US, including some who believe that the USAGM and VOA need reform, particularly because changes in the agency's governance rules mean that its next boss will be able to bypass its board for personal and policy decisions.

`` This is all a distraction from what I think is a legitimate debate about what his role should be, '' said Tom Kent, a former Associated Press editor who headed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. `` It should be clear whether the role of the VOA is to advocate for democracy and American values ​​in general or if it is supposed to be a public relations agent for the president and the State Department on current issues. ''

The White House did not respond to questions about Pack's nomination or the VOA controversy.

Democrats' stated objections to Pack, a former associate of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon who used to work for the conservative Claremont Institute in California, focus in part on his refusal to answer questions about his past business.

However, the uproar among conservatives over Voice of America and their recent coverage of China's handling of the pandemic are likely to stand out in the Republican Party's support for Pack's confirmation. It has become a touchstone in the Trump administration's efforts to criticize Chinese authorities for the outbreak and deflect criticism of the U.S. response as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

Trump and his allies have long viewed VOA and some of its affiliates with suspicion, regarding them as elements of a `` deep state '' that is trying to thwart its policies. But hostility erupted openly on April 9 when Trump communications adviser Dan Scavino posted a VOA story about China on his official Twitter account with the comment, `` American taxpayers paying for China's own propaganda, through of the Voice of America funded by the US government. ! MISFORTUNE!!''

The story VOA published was actually an Associated Press report, but the next day, an official White House publication accused VOA of using taxpayer money `` to speak on behalf of authoritarian regimes '' because it had covered the removal of the running of the bulls in the Chinese city. from Wuhan, where the new coronavirus emerged. Trump intervened days later, calling the VOA coverage `` disgusting '' and demanding that the Senate confirm Pack.

VOA Director Amanda Bennett responded. `` One of the big differences between publicly-funded independent media, such as the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of a problem and are actually required to do so by law. as set forth in the VOA Charter, '' he said in a statement on April 10.

But the VOA supervisors remained silent.

A State Department representative, who sits on the USAGM board, advised the agency to avoid doing something that appears to support Bennett's response, which he did, according to three people familiar with the matter. And, a virtual April 14 meeting of the USAGM board came to no conclusion on how, or whether to respond, according to those people who were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

`` All USAGM networks, including VOA, know they have the full support of the agency, '' the agency's current CEO Grant Turner said in an email statement provided to AP. `` We have served and will continue to serve the American public by staying true to our mission: to inform, engage, and connect our public in support of freedom and democracy. ''

Meanwhile, Bennett sent a note of encouragement to VOA employees on Monday, urging them to remain professional amid what he called `` uncomfortable '' scrutiny.

`` This type of scrutiny, as uncomfortable as it may be, is also a great opportunity for us, '' he wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The AP. `` Difficult times require us to be the best of ourselves _ to redouble our commitment to being the ethical and professional journalists we know we all are. ''

Watching from the wings, former officials following the matter are concerned.

Matt Armstrong, a former Republican appointed to the board of USAGM's predecessor, the Board of Governors of Broadcasting, said the Trump administration had shown a `` serious misunderstanding of the agency's mission '' in attacking VOA. He also questioned why the administration was using the controversy to push for the Pack nomination when it could have already made changes to the staff.

`` I think they are snowflakes, pretending to be upset about something they shouldn't be, '' he said. The Trump administration's tantrum over VOA is huffing and puffing over something they could have done years ago. This episode further reveals their inability to administer the government they are in charge of.