President Donald Trump has not limited his assault on the free press to just domestic news outlets. He’s remaking America’s voice abroad in his own image, too.
Voice of America is part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The federal agency also operates Radio Free Europe, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and other international broadcasters. They all are supposed to be independent organizations that provide unbiased news and information around the globe. The idea is as simple as it is profound: Accurate, reliable and objective journalism embodies and showcases freedom and democracy.
In many places, local residents trust VOA and other American-sponsored reporting more than their own national news media. That sort of credibility has been hard won over decades.
Now the president risks that international goodwill for his own political ends. He has appointed Michael Pack to head the agency. Pack is a former colleague of Steve Bannon, Trump’s one-time chief strategist and head of Breitbart. After Pack’s confirmation, Bannon told a Vox reporter, “Pack’s over there to clean house.”
And clean house he has. Since taking over last month, Pack dissolved bipartisan advisory boards and fired top executives, including the heads of every one of the agency’s networks except Voice of America. The head of VOA had already resigned.
Pack then installed Trump loyalists and far-right ideologues like Rachel Semmel, a Trump apologist at the Office of Management and Budget, and Jonathan Alexandre, senior counsel at the religious conservative group Liberty Counsel.
This upending of independent American-funded international news organizations even has some conservatives upset. They have only themselves and their allies to blame, though. The Senate confirmed Pack on a party-line vote. Washington Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray voted against confirmation.
VOA must not become a Trump propaganda organ. It’s not too late to save Voice of America and the other international broadcasting outlets. Congress has the power to rein in Pack and reaffirm the value of independent, unbiased, ethical journalism organizations, not allow them to be the playthings of a wannabe authoritarian. Does it have the will?