Washington: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo pressed the Voice of America to be less critical of the U.S., delivering a speech that appeared at odds with the news organization’s mandate to maintain editorial independence from the government.
Pompeo’s address Monday at the Voice of America headquarters in Washington — where he said VOA “isn’t the place to give authoritarian regimes in Beijing or Tehran a platform” — adds to efforts in the waning days of the Trump administration to rein in the government-funded broadcaster.
“It is not fake news for you to broadcast that this is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation this civilization has ever known,” Pompeo said. “I’m not saying ignore our faults. Indeed, just the opposite. It is to acknowledge them. But this isn’t the Vice of America, focusing on everything that’s wrong with our great nation. It’s the Voice of America.”
The top diplomat made no mention in his remarks at VOA of last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump’s false claims that he was robbed of re-election by fraud. Last week, Pompeo said on Twitter that action should be taken to “swiftly bring justice to the criminals who engaged in this rioting” without criticizing Trump for inciting supporters to march on the Capitol.
Pompeo’s speech had provoked controversy even before he gave it. Whistle-blowers at Voice of America had filed a complaint arguing that it put the agency’s staff at risk given the coronavirus pandemic. More broadly, the protesting staff members allege that Pompeo’s speech violates regulations guaranteeing VOA’s editorial independence, in part because it was broadcast live by the government-funded news organization.
“A broadcast speech by the outgoing Secretary of State on topics on which he has been widely covered should be seen for what it is: the use of VOA to disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration,” the Government Accountability Project wrote to the news outlet on behalf of the whistle-blowers on Jan. 8.
Rather than bowing to those critics, Pompeo cast the internal struggle at VOA and the criticism of his speech as an attempt to censor him, and indirectly linked it to conservative criticism of Twitter’s decision last week to permanently suspend accounts, including those held by Trump.
“Censorship, wokeness, political correctness, it all points in one direction – authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness,” Pompeo said. “It’s similar to what we’re seeing at Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple, and on too many university campuses.”
Answering questions after his speech, Pompeo said he hopes Trump’s policies on China and the Mideast will survive the end of his term. “It’s not 2015,” Pompeo said of the changed situation in relations with Iran and between Israel and its neighbors.
Critics and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have repeatedly lambasted Michael Pack, Trump’s appointed chief of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America, for purging senior leaders at VOA and other U.S.-funded news agencies. They say it’s a bid to turn the outlets into mouthpieces for the administration.
VOA’s congressional charter says that it should deliver independent editorial content to audiences overseas. In October, Pack swept aside a rule maintaining a firewall between the Agency for Global Media and its broadcasters such as the Voice of America and the Office of Cuban Broadcasting. He said it made the organization more difficult to manage and was “harmful to the agency and the U.S. national interest.”
In his comments Monday, Pompeo said VOA had lost its way after the Cold War, and its broadcasts “became less about telling the truth about America, and too often about demeaning America.” He cast his efforts not as an attempt to politicize VOA but to de-politicize it, and thanked Pack for his work.
Pack’s critics have included Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who tweeted in October that “it is unclear why CEO Pack is opposed to journalistic objectivity” at the agency and its networks.
After Pompeo’s remarks, he was scheduled to be interviewed by Robert Reilly, Pack’s choice to run VOA who has been criticized for holding anti-Muslim and anti-gay views, including in a book he wrote titled “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything.” – Bloomberg