Some media outlets questioned the ongoing impartiality of Voice of America following a change in its organization at the start of the Trump administration, and expressed concern Trump would turn the government-funded news organization tasked with combating state propaganda abroad into his own personal propaganda tool. But their fears now look unfounded.
“Yes, Journalists already are asking questions about manipulation,” reported Callum Borchers in the Washington Post in January, just a week after Trump took office. “Had President Trump lost the election, he might have launched a media company. When he won, he didn’t have to — because he inherited one.”
Fast forward six months to a Borchers follow-up story, after he received word he didn’t expect.
“Honestly, there has been no change” since Trump assumed office, Voice of America’s director Amanda Bennet told Borchers Wednesday. “I find even my friends have a hard time dealing with this.”
Borchers commented that “Skeptical journalists do, too, largely because it is hard to believe Trump could resist the temptation to create a self-affirming propaganda machine.”
In that case, “skeptical journalists” have little knowledge of how the VOA is structured and its day to day operations.
A person with direct knowledge of VOA operations told TheDCNF that a large majority of the VOA is far left of center and many “absolutely hate Trump.” Even if Trump did want to influence the VOA, their largest audience is in “Africa and Indonesia.”
“Bottom line — in order to achieve the Politico wet dream of turning VOA into the Voice of Trump it would require a complete purge of the editorial staff in all of their various language services, which will never happen,” the source told TheDCNF. “The whole idea is rather silly.”
The establishment media has been digging into Voice of America (VOA), and the newly reformed Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), since Trump’s election victory. The impetus of the media’s speculation appears to be a distrust of Donald Trump more than any real or perceived hint of wrongdoing.
NPR reported in Dec. 2016 that “[a] new law is raising concern that the journalistic independence of Voice of America and other federal broadcasters could be compromised by a future White House eager to market itself abroad.”
The new law, backed by the Obama administration, reformed the bipartisan nine member panel of the BBG that served as an “integrity check” for Voice of America, and instead streamlined their decision making ability into one chief executive directly appointed by the president.
Immediately after the election, rumors that then President-elect Trump was interested in starting a media company reinforced those concerns. “Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year,” Politico reported in December.
The law “stok[ed] fears that Trump could wield a powerful propaganda arm” read the subheading of the report. The headline, however, was far more direct, saying “Trump Will Inherit State Run TV Network With Expanded Reach.”
Politico reported in June that “[Steve] Bannon ally” and friend Micheal Pack, CEO and president of the Claremont Institute, a California based Conservative think tank, is being considered for the chief executive of the BBG. Pack’s prior documentary work with Bannon, a senior advisor to the president, again stoked fears of a Trump take-over, turning Voice of America into Trump’s propaganda mill.
In the interim, two former Trump campaign aides Matthew Schuck and Matthew Ciepielowski are working with the incumbent chief executive John Lansing. The spokeswomen for the BBG told The Washington Post she “can emphasize that neither Matthew Ciepielowski nor Matthew Schuck have been involved in any editorial processes at VOA or any of our networks.”
The VOA source confirmed that two “Trump admin guys [Shuck and Ciepielowski]” are there “who have, as far as I can tell, done literally nothing since they arrived there in February.”
Matthew Schuck, the special communications advisor/White House liaison, who has a background in broadcast journalism, told TheDCNF the reason he’s at the VOA is “because I asked to be there, that’s it.”
“I selected the BBG as my first pick because my skills were most transferable to there than anywhere else, it literally was that simple not part of some nefarious plan to turn it into Trump TV,” he said.
Due to the “complexity” of the BBG, and the fact that it is not a regulatory agency dispensing policy, “it does not get a lot of face-time [in the administration] because most of the attention is diverted to the other bigger agencies, rightfully so.”
“Since I landed there in January, the transition has been incredibly smooth and the career staff has gone above and beyond to make sure they were properly supporting us while maintaining the agency’s goals. I’ve never felt like the odd guy out at that place” Schuck continued.
Schuck has received a lot attention in reports about a Trump take-over of the VOA from Politico and The Washington Post because of his role there. Schuck told TheDCNF none of the reporters have reached out to him for comment.
Borchers in his Washington Post piece Wednesday, accused the president of “suggesting” that NBC “owed him favorable coverage” because Trump cited the financial success of his NBC show “The Apprentice.”
Trump, however, was explicit when he said “we want to see a fair press.”
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