Administration Officials (Again) Break The Law By Investigating Voice Of America Journalist For 'Anti-Trump Bias'

from the who-needs-the-law-when-you-have-power dept

The President’s promise he would “drain the swamp” has gradually materialized over the past four years. The swamp has been drained. And it has been replaced by Trump Swamp™, the finest in DC-area “swamp experiences.”

“Draining the swamp” has meant little more than undoing work his predecessor did and stocking his cabinet with a blend of toadies and grifters. The man who appears to believe being elected meant being crowned king has continuously swapped out admin staff when staff members haven’t been sufficiently sycophantic.

This new rot is everywhere. And Trump’s antagonistic attitude towards any journalism that doesn’t skew right has trickled down to the US government’s own journalistic outfit, the Voice of America. Late last month, a complaint filed by the agency that oversees VOA — the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) — alleged officials at USAGM were retaliated against for expressing their concerns about the new leadership appointed by President Trump. This complaint suggested Trump’s Administration was willing to break the law to root out critics and non-fans of the new boss.

In perhaps the complaint’s most explosive allegation, its authors say one of them was told the media group’s CEO Michael Pack or one of his aides ordered a senior USAGM official to conduct research on the voting history of at least one employee at the media agency — a violation of laws protecting civil servants from undue political influence or reprisal.

“[T]he research was to be utilized in evaluating career civil servants’ abilities to carry out the duties of their positions,” the complaint reads.

The hits just keep on coming. More allegations are being made about USAGM officials appointed by Trump, who appear to be hunting down journalists Trump doesn’t like. David Folkenflik has the details for NPR:

Two political appointees at the federal agency that oversees the Voice of America recently investigated one of its most prominent journalists to make the case he was biased against President Trump.

NPR has learned the appointees compiled an extensive report deemed “confidential” on VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman, claiming that in his reporting and tweets that Herman had been unfair to Trump and had broken the broadcaster’s standards and social media policies. They repeatedly cited a “conflict of interest,” based on their conclusions from Herman’s social media postings, including his own tweets and his “likes,” according to materials reviewed by NPR.

Not only does this seem wrong, but it’s actually wrong… as in “against the law.” To keep the VOA from becoming a tool for government propaganda, laws were passed to insulate the federally-funded news agency from federal government interference. There’s a codified “firewall” that’s supposed to prevent VOA from being turned into a federal government propaganda machine by forbidding “any US government official” from interfering with newsgathering or reporting. Targeting a journalist because he has reported unfavorable news about President Trump and Vice President Pence would appear to be a breach of this “firewall.”

Questions about this troubling development appear to have resulted in a USAGM scramble, led by none other than CEO Mike Pack, a Trump appointee.

A half hour after NPR sent its request for comment to Pack and his press aides on Sunday afternoon, the CEO issued a new memo to all staff and broadcasters titled “Guidance on Conflicts of Interest” that appears aimed at least in part at Herman. It was dated Friday, Oct. 2, and cited social media posts as one central source of concern “that can only be remedied by recusal.” And it offered this example: “[A] journalist who on Facebook ‘likes’ a comment or political cartoon that aggressively attacks or disparages the President must recuse themselves from covering the President.”

Pack appears to be “draining the swamp,” much like the President has “drained” his. As NPR reports, under Pack’s stated premise of “draining the swamp,” he shut down work visas for foreign VOA staffers and began claiming too many VOA journalists were “unfair to conservatives.” The targeting of Steve Herman began with stories Pack and his adviser — former right-wing talk show host and conspiracy theorist Frank Wuco — appear to have felt just weren’t flattering enough.

The investigation of Herman focused in part on two stories from early September. One was headlined Trump Defies North Carolina COVID Guidelines With Large Outdoor Rally. The other, titled ‘I Didn’t Lie,’ Trump Asserts About Seriousness of Coronavirus, followed the president’s reactions to audiotapes released by author Bob Woodward’s of their conversations from early this year. Both stories closely resembled accounts from other news outlets on the events.

The USAGM may oversee VOA, but its officials are not allowed to breach the “firewall.” If there are questions about a journalist’s objectivity, it’s supposed to be handled in-house by VOA editors and any outside journalists/experts the VOA asks to help ensure its review is handled just as objectively. What isn’t supposed to happen is what’s happening here: the direct involvement of USAGM’s CEO in the investigation of a journalist the Trump appointee thinks isn’t sufficiently “objective.” And it’s just another bit of law-breaking by the “rule of law” administration.

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Comments on “Administration Officials (Again) Break The Law By Investigating Voice Of America Journalist For 'Anti-Trump Bias'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

" the US government’s own journalistic outfit, the Voice of America "
is not some sacred vessel of "journalism" — it is and always has been a political propaganda tool since WWII.

VOA is run by political appointees who got their jobs by political means and respond to political influences of the current Administrations. This is how government bureaucracies operate and your personal political views determine if you like or dislike whatever trivial insider-politics occur at the moment.

Government-Journalism is an oxymoron.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Who did not read the article:-

The USAGM may oversee VOA, but its officials are not allowed to breach the "firewall." If there are questions about a journalist’s objectivity, it’s supposed to be handled in-house by VOA editors and any outside journalists/experts the VOA asks to help ensure its review is handled just as objectively.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

very naive

The supposed impregnable firewall (originating with 1976 VOA Charter revision) is an illusory fig leaf; somebody ultimately calls the overall shots on what VOA transmits — and those fundamental calls are always subjective and political.

Journalism is not some pure and noble objective science.
Do you also somehow believe the major civilian journalism outlets (LATimes, NYTimes,WashPost, AP, etc) are free of political influence/bias in their daily news output?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Whether VOA is “political” is irrelevant — it is meant to be a journalistic outlet that remains largely independent of the political machinations of a given presidential administration. Any breach of that firewall risks turning VOA into a straight-up tool of propaganda. (And yes, I’m aware of such criticisms already being a thing.) I’d rather not see that happen, and I want to hope that you wouldn’t want it to happen.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Do you also somehow believe the major civilian journalism outlets (LATimes, NYTimes,WashPost, AP, etc) are free of political influence/bias in their daily news output?"

Wrong question. The question is do you believe that the government should be dictating their political output? Apparently in this case, your answer is yes…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Asking the wrong questions can be due to two things:

  • You don’t understand the issue, ie ignorance.
  • You intentionally use the wrong questions to make attacks on something look credible, ie you have an agenda that has little to do with facts and truth.
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"When will disagreeing with Trump become a crime?"

Right after the election when Dear Leader decides the vote was rigged and the people too indoctrinated by the malicious forces of the murky evildoer known only as "But Obama!" to properly safeguard their own interests.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
arp2 (profile) says:

Projection and Bias

Re: voting records and liking posts.

It seems when conservatives don’t have a good argument, they go with the "they’re biased." Reporter reports that Trump didn’t follow mask guidelines in NC? They’re liberal, so that can’t be correct. It’s a variant of the- If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, claim bias.”

I’m somehow able to do my job everyday without my (liberal) political views influencing my performance or judgement. I don’t think- "How am I going to force everyone to give up their property rights, today?" I wonder if this is a form of projection, where their conservative views (or at least the psychology that causes them to be conservatives- reacts to fear and anger, more subservient to authority) does influence their everyday life and so they can’t imagine a world where it doesn’t.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
DannyB (profile) says:

Obey the law? Oh my.

Why oh why would I expect Administration Officials to obey they law (or the constitution) when they cannot obey even simple debate rules — which they agreed to! Let alone swear to hold up and infect. Even second graders know to stop speaking when their turn is over.

Why again would I expect them to obey the law — especially if it is malicious prosecution for vindictive petty political purposes?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Obey the law? Oh my.

"And I should certainly hope that this behavior will rather get pulled from circulation than getting standardised, due to not meeting basic requirements of usefulness."

I’ll bet, against any odds, that right now the inner circle of the GOP is saying shit like "Imagine what a more pliable sock puppet could pull off, using these tactics! Trump has been through shit that would have sunk Tricky Dick ten times over!"

Those standards of behavior are also, bluntly put, the only strategy the party of "No we can’t" have left. Sure, I would also certainly hope that they’d try to grasp for honesty, personal accountability, evidence-based policies, humanitarian principles, and constitutional ideals.
But what their base wants is religious zealotry, bigotry, racism, and ideals founded so deeply in hatred as long as the core goal is "Fuck Liberals!" they don’t care what happens to themselves.

I don’t expect to see these standards going away. I expect to see them sharpened and weaponized to be used by whatever presidential candidate emerges from the GOP voter base once Hindenburg…err, Biden…has had his turn trying to fix a fraction of the shit Trump broke.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

You don't get the deep state, do you?

"Draining the swamp" has meant little more than undoing work his predecessor did and stocking his cabinet with a blend of toadies and grifters. The man who appears to believe being elected meant being crowned king has continuously swapped out admin staff when staff members haven’t been sufficiently sycophantic.

Both swamp and deep state refer to structures that are largely out of direct access and control of the currently elected ruling president and party.

In other words, structures providing a bulwark against irreversible populist power grabs. In yet other words, inaccessible corners of the cookie jar.

That poses both assurances and securities. The overall balance tends to be determined by the founders and maintainers of a political system.

And act of "maintenance" easing access to the cookie jar was the removal of the filibuster in the Senate for the admission of judges, done after Senate Republicans in the Obama area deadlocked even the nomination of moderate compromise candidates.

The more the "swamp gets drained" and "deep state gets dissolved", the more a ruling president and party can bend the political system to do their bidding within one legislation period. The resilience against a populist takeover ending in a dictatorship is weakened with the state becoming more shallow and becoming more a tool of the ruling party than of the people.

Of course, the relative independence of some state actors and institutions can lead to waste, particularly when viewed under the lens of the priorities of the currently ruling party that are also supposed to reflect a significant part of the current priorities of the populace.

Every tradeoff has a price.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'They're there to serve the country, which is to say ME.'

Disgusting, but not at all surprising at this point, as from the start it’s been pretty clear that in Trump’s mind ‘president’ is no different than ‘CEO'(his version of that anyway), meaning that the ‘company’ is there to serve him, and any ’employee’ who steps out of line deserves to be sacked.

As for the law, well, as Trump’s GOP have shown time and time again they are firmly of the belief that ‘laws are for the little people’, entirely optional for those with power.

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David says:

Re: 'They're there to serve the country, which is to say ME.'

Disgusting, but not at all surprising at this point, as from the start it’s been pretty clear that in Trump’s mind ‘president’ is no different than ‘CEO'(his version of that anyway), meaning that the ‘company’ is there to serve him,

Well, that’s how he has run multiple companies in the ground. The company is there to serve its owners, often shareholders. The CEO is indeed acting as sort of a president, calling the shots. One difference is that a company usually attempts to be somewhat nimble and thus has comparatively slow-acting checks and balances on the actions of the CEO. But then the typical CEO is not also commander of armed forces.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

These sorts of things happen no matter who is in power, we shouldn’t pretend it never does.
The issue is for once they are doing it openly…

Its like when Pharma Bro jacked up the price, smugly admitted to it, and threatened to raise it higher. Hes in jail for ripping off other rich people, but not people who needed the medication. This stunt has been pulled by a majority of drug companies, but after Pharma Bro was in jail we stopped looking at the fact this is wide spread & harms people & society as a whole.

Maybe we should blame the player AND the game & demand the rules be printed so we can all read them & suggest edits.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
crade (profile) says:

Saying these outlets that are pro trump are "skewing right" is basically saying that you can’t skew right without lying and denying reality. It’s not possible to consistently support trump with integrity but you can certainly skew right with integrity.

It’s not about skewing right or left, trump doesn’t even consistently skew right himself it’s just whether the outlet is willing to lie and mislead to cover for trump’s bullshit or not

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

Re: Re:

It’s not possible to consistently support trump with integrity but you can certainly skew right with integrity.

Well, sure. The problem is that there is no organised representation of the right (well, from my European perspective the Democratic Party would qualify) that does not come with the onus of supporting Trump and with a very dim view of catering for the rights and interests of minorities.

Basically, the Republican Party has become "Republican in name only" and actually has, in adopting first the Southern Strategy and now Trump, reverted to be the Whig Party since clearly the ideals underlying abolition, once having caused the Republican Party to split off the Whig Party, have clearly been abandoned.

So "right, but not shamefully sacrificing every principle in order to stay in power" just is lacking political representation these days.

I think the "first across the gate" principle that does not actively proscribe a party system but essentially does not allow for much more than two parties fighting for the upper hand in order to be the only represented interest was working more or less when the represented electorate were white males of either urban or rural location (the chambers of the Senate are divided to represent one or the other predominantly).

So lots of people fall out of representation unless one of the major parties offers them some consolation price.

The whole system is spinning out of control into oscillating partisanship. To fix it would require representation for minority parties that can then work on growing their influence, cater competently for their main votership, and work towards coalitions or at least getting heard in Congress.

Without a system allowing to have representation of minorities with their own political organisations, the two-party system will oscillate until it becomes a one-party system due to voters just sticking with one party, or by the party currently in power no longer relinquishing it for fear they will never get it back.

So what considers itself the political right is currently losing non-grotesque representation because they are afraid they won’t be able to regrab power in future unless they destroy democratic institutions while they can.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

a system allowing to have representation of minorities with their own political organisations

But we have that system. How else do you think Republicans keep getting into office? It ain’t because their policies are widely popular — it’s because they’ve rigged the system for minority rule.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But we have that system. How else do you think Republicans keep getting into office? It ain’t because their policies are widely popular — it’s because they’ve rigged the system for minority rule.

And they needed to rig the system since otherwise they’d have lost representation. Give minorities representation, and they don’t need to take the system down with them to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

they needed to rig the system since otherwise they’d have lost representation

If their political ideology/agenda is so unpopular that they have little-to-no representation in government after free and fair elections, they shouldn’t be able to rig the system so they can have the representation needed for pushing through their agenda.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

You have it backwards, they didn’t get voted in for this ideology they developed it in office. The politicians got voted in for other reasons, but the thing is that the population has been trending away from them so inevitably the ones who weren’t willing to rig the system die (politically speaking) and to survive they must rig the system, so it’s political evolution that they move more and more in that direction.

The republican vote counts for more than the democrats, but that gap has to keep getting bigger and bigger over time for the republicans to stay in power

David says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

But pushing the Republican party out and replacing the current political system effectively with a single-party system cannot be a sensible solution if you actually care about democracy. If we have, say, the Democratic party, the Green party, a party taking it upon themselves to give BLM a refined political voice and a liberal party, the only party that is going to end up with representation is the Democratic party. Which is not overly democratic.

Now if the Democratic party develops into a semi-permanent power holder, it would be in a position to propose Constitutional Amendments moving towards more pluralistic political structures, and the then "smaller" parties would be fools to refuse.

But whether the Democratic party has the moral and intellectual fortitude to work out a scheme for fairly sharing the cookie jar of power in relation to the parts of the populace represented by different actors, at a time where they appear to have it for themselves: that is a very big question. And Biden is not really one for leading such an effort.

So this fundamental deficiency of the U.S. political system to reflect U.S. society is going to continue festering for a while to come.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you want a real laugh just shift the actions back a single president and imagine the howls of outrage that would have echoed from the same people currently cheering Trump on at the very idea that government agencies should focus on being pro-Obama, and that being critical of him at all should be grounds for dismissal.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Obama had a Kenyan immigration background, Trump has a German one. Asking someone for fealty to a black-faced presidency-usurper is completely different from asking for fealty to the greatest orange-faced president of all history possibly excepting Lincoln. Well ok, Lincoln had this infatuation with abolition but otherwise he was almost as great as Honest Donald. Though who knows what skin color he was trying to hide under that beard.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"I’d have hoped that even a Trump cultist would have choked on "Honest Donald"."

Sadly no. It’s a religious belief with most of Trump’s cult that The Donald is always right. Bear in mind this is the crowd which ate up The Donald’s idiocy about "alternative facts" (I.e. untruth) and now believe reality is an optional extra which has no bearing on what you believe or feel.

And the cult members which do not believe this don’t give a rat’s ass if he can’t tell the truth about what time it is as long as he’s offering them a sequel to the civil war.

dickeyrat says:

"Laws"?? Keep in mind, "laws" just don’t apply to Right-Wing "patriots" in Trump’s Neue Amerikan Reich. "Laws" are in place so Trump can order DOJ officials to "go get" his political opponents, just like any fine, model third-world banana-dictatorship. And any such dictatorship certainly feels more secure having its own government-sponsored propaganda machine in place. We can only be grateful that the VOA has shut down and actually demolished many of its original shortwave broadcasting stations, notably two in California and one in Mason, Ohio. The VOA had two transmitting stations near Greenville, NC; only one remains today. Some overseas-based relay facilities have disappeared as well, for example in Liberia and in the Philippines, among others. However the production and development infrastructure remains in place for the VOA, and can easily be cranked up to whatever capacity the Trump regime sees fit. GET OUT AND VOTE in this election! This VOA adventure is just the latest proof that, four more years of Trump will mean eight, or even twelve more years of Trump, replete with his Fascist minions. After that period of time, we will most certainly see Amerikan "re-education camps", and will probably have lampshades made from (dark, or foreign-made) human skin out in the marketplace.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"After that period of time, we will most certainly see Amerikan "re-education camps", and will probably have lampshades made from (dark, or foreign-made) human skin out in the marketplace."

I doubt it’ll go that far. The cult of trump won’t suffer kenyan lampshades, after all.

They’ll be all in for nice white liberal lampshades.

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