Voice of America has concerns about Team Trump’s takeover
Image from entry, with caption: Microphones stand at the podium after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta addressed supporters at the election night rally in N.Y. on Nov. 9, 2016.
For much of 2016, when it wasn’t clear whether Donald Trump was serious about the presidency or what he intended to do after the election, therewasendlesschatterabout the Republican celebrity parlaying his candidacy into a new television network. If Trump didn’t really want to be president, the speculation went, maybe he wanted to head a network he could shape in his own image.
Soon after the election, a different fear came to the fore: perhaps, by winning the presidency, he could have his own network anyway.
About a month ago, Politicoreported that some officials at Voice of America were concerned that the former reality-show personality might try to turn VOA into “an unfettered propaganda arm.” Politico published a follow-up piece yesterday on the state of those fears as a pair of political operatives from Trump’s campaign showed up at the VOA offices.
President Donald Trump on Monday dispatched two aides to scope out the studios of Voice of America, heightening concerns among some longtime staffers that Trump may quickly put his stamp on the broadcasting arm that has long pushed U.S. democratic ideals across the world. […]
The concern among some staffers is especially acute because Trump’s administration is getting control over the broadcasting agency just weeks after Congress moved to eliminate the board of directors that had served as an integrity check on the organization, instead consolidating power with a CEO position appointed by the president.
The report added that the two Trump aides will take stock at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, “which has an annual budget of $800 million and includes Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.” Maybe everything will be fine. At the start of every administration, officials go to practically every agency to kick the tires, and it’s possible Team Trump will leave public-diplomacy programs like Voice of America to run independently, as the Obama administration did.
But the fears are understandable.
For one thing, the disbanding of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ part-time, bipartisan board is the source of considerable uncertainty. The new boss will be Trump’s choice, and he or she will have expanded authority now.
For another, remember what happened with this department the last time there was a Republican administration? Here’s a report the New York Times ran nearly 11 years ago.
State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a “horse racing operation” and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.
The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.
Tomlinson, who got the job after a controversial run at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had a problematic tenure overseeing the Broadcasting Board of Governors, where he was accused of “purging the bureaucracy of political enemies, zealously rooting out perceived ‘liberal bias,’ and generally politicizing institutions that have resisted ideological intrusions for decades.”
The goal was to use outlets like Voice of America to make the Bush White House look as good as possible. The New Republicreported at the time that the VOA “exists to make America’s case to the world. But, in the Tomlinson era, VOA management has focused far more intently on burnishing the image of the Bush administration and the Republican Party – a task that falls outside the organization’s ambit. Jackson, for instance, warned reporters not to dwell on ‘Bush-bashing’ at last summer’s Democratic National Convention. When a reporter produced a story on the diversity of Democratic delegates, the story was held. The reporter was told to wait until the Republican convention and write about both parties’ diversity efforts then.”
The way VOA was asked to cover the war in Iraq was even worse.
Now, it’s a brand new Republican administration, led by someone with a keen interest in media. What could possibly go wrong?
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."