Born during the life and death struggle against Nazism, the Voice of America recently turned 75. During her long years of service, she provided a beacon of hope to captive nations in Europe, and helped keep that hope alive during decades of Soviet occupation.
More recently, the Voice has provided hope to freedom-seeking peoples in the Far East, Central Asia, Iran and Africa. Companion services managed by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors have provided surrogate broadcasting into Russia and other countries that lack a free press.
But lately, the venerable Voice has been behaving with an immaturity, lack of vision, and unprofessionalism that have dismayed many of her dedicated, long-serving employees, who regularly critique the agency on the BBG Watch blog, as well as her supporters on Capitol Hill.
From “fake news” to the glorification of terrorists, the Voice has lost her way.
VOA’s charter, writ into law under President Gerald Ford, could not be more clear. VOA is supposed to “represent America… [and] present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” Instead, the Voice has become an amateurish, partisan outset, which many recently-hired journalists and managers see as a taxpayer funded CNN.
The Voice of America – the same “Voice” that is supposed to hold high our nation as of the torchlight of freedom around the world – now compares America’s President to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
Open the VOA’s main website on virtually any day and you will find stories and headlines that wouldn’t pass muster in any freshman journalism class.
The lead story on Monday, March 27, carried the headline, “Trump to Roll Back Obama Era Environmental Rules.”
“White House officials say President Donald Trump will sign executive orders Tuesday that would effectively dismantle Obama era environmental regulations, rekindling the highly-charged partisan debate about how human activity affects the earth’s climate, and deepening concern decades of work on global climate treaties may be unraveling,” it began.
If that were followed by a detailed explanation of what the President planned to do, and what practical implications his executive orders would have, one might be able to excuse the shoddy left-wing slant of that opening graph.
Instead, the next sentence is a quote from a global warming alarmist saying the president’s policies “would be disastrous,” and many more paragraphs of overheated rhetoric, not journalism.
On the same day, VOA noted that the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would be testifying before the Senate intelligence committee. That certainly qualifies as news. But the VOA headline, “Senate Panel to Question Trump’s Son-in-law on Russia meetings,” suggests that Kushner was compelled to testify, an impression buttressed by the core of the article.
It turns out that Kushner volunteered to testify, a fact missing from the VOA story. Even CNN correctly acknowledged Kushner’s offer to the Senate committee in their lead paragraph.
This type of misrepresentation occurs every day in stories from the VOA Central newsroom, despite hype by VOA Director Amanda Bennett to have reformed and improved its operations.
Even worse are stories that glorify terrorists.
A March 25 story exalted the memory of a Pakistani man who was sentenced to death and executed for murdering a liberal politician who defended religious freedom.
The murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, “is now being hailed as a hero in Pakistan,” whereas the man he murdered was criticized for his “soft stand” on Asia Babi, a Christian woman who allegedly “blasphemed” Islam. “For his followers, Qadri [has become] no less than a saint,” the story gushed.
The day after Somali pirates hijacked a commercial vessel earlier this month, VOA’s Somali service ran an uncritical interview with one of the pirates, titled, “Desperate fishermen?”
VOA Director Bennett proudly posted the reporter’s words to Facebook as if they were her own. “One of the men who seized an oil tanker off the Somali coast this week tells VOA he’s not a pirate,” she wrote. VOA later corrected the headline and toned down the laudatory tone of the piece after criticized on BBG Watch.
In December, VOA ran a long profile of a Turkish-born ISIS fighter who joined the jihad and died in Syria. Clearly intended to be a piece of showcase journalism, it was nothing less than the glorification of a terrorist.
On any given day, you can go to VOA websites and find example after example of shoddy journalism, fake news, misleading headlines, and slanted reporting.
VOA editors appear not to understand or not to care about the VOA charter, which also requires them to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.” This mission has been dropped entirely.
U.S. taxpayers spend over $770 million/year on U.S. government broadcasting. This includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Marti, and other media outlets.
For most of her 75 years, the Voice of America has been a powerful tool in the war of ideas, showing by example the attractiveness of American openness, pluralism, compassion, and tolerance.
It’s time for President Trump to appoint new management, so she can be great again.