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 And it has been replaced by Trump Swamp™, the finest in DC-area “swamp experiences.”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.