Trump Appointee Removes 'Firewall' Preventing Administration From Meddling In VOA Reporting

from the impossible-to-breach-a-firewall-that-no-longer-exists dept

Earlier this month, it was reported that the "rule of law" Trump administration was (yet again) violating the law. In this particular case, Trump appointee Michael Pack -- the CEO of the US Agency for Global Media -- was breaching a codified "firewall" to target Voice of America reporters he believed were too critical of Trump and his actions.

The "firewall" was erected to prevent exactly what Pack was doing. It was supposed to allow VOA reporters to act independently, rather than be subjected to the whims of presidential administrations. Breaching the firewall allowed Pack and the White House to control the narrative by sidelining or targeting journalists who expressed anti-administration sentiments elsewhere. Specifically cited were "retweets" and "likes" of social media posts criticizing Trump, as well as certain VOA pieces that highlighted the negative aspects of administration efforts.

Apparently, the problem was the law, not the lawbreaking. As NPR reports, Michael Pack has removed the law that prevented him from meddling in the day-to-day operation of Voice of America. It was done like most unseemly moves by governments are done: late in the day during a very busy news cycle.

A regulatory "firewall" intended to protect Voice of America and its affiliated newsrooms from political interference in their journalism was swept aside late Monday night by the chief executive of the federal agency which oversees the government's international broadcasters.

Michael Pack, a Trump appointee who assumed leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June, wrote that he acted to eliminate policies that were "harmful to the agency and the U.S. national interest." And Pack argued they had interfered with his mandate "to support the foreign policy of the United States."

[...]

Pack's bold move was taken in the dark of night — announced at 10:18 p.m. Eastern Time in a note to all of USAGM's several thousand employees, on the same night as the swearing-in of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice, and just eight days before Election Day.

Pack's late night memo says the law needed to go because it was preventing him from directly meddling in VOA affairs. According to Pack and his "extensive legal analysis," the VOA was always supposed to be a potential propaganda mouthpiece for sitting presidents and their administrations.

In its final hours of existence, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) issued a so-called “firewall rule,” instituting a significant misinterpretation of the 1994 International Broadcasting Act (IBA). I rescinded that rule based upon extensive legal analysis of the regulation and its conflict with Congress’s statutory mandate for USAGM – BBG’s successor – to support the foreign policy of the United States.

The “firewall rule” created a barrier between USAGM and the U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcasters and grantees under its management: the Voice of America, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Radio Free Asia, and the Open Technology Fund. The rule prohibited the CEO from engaging in managerial and editorial oversight, which Congress mandated the CEO to conduct to ensure that the agency carries out its proper governmental mission.

I'm sure the FOIA requests have been sent out for copies of the "extensive legal analysis" supporting Pack's unilateral removal of the firewall. And I'm sure no one will be seeing any responses any time soon, especially when it's certain the USAGM will claim it's a "deliberative" document that's also shielded by attorney-client privilege… even if it contains little more than Pack talking himself into doing something he was already doing.

No one who represents the Administration should be directly steering the editorial direction of the Voice of America, least of all this particular appointee.

[Pack] has embraced Trump's talk of a so-called "deep state" thwarting the president's priorities at USAGM, and Pack echoed White House immigration policies in denying visa extensions for foreign employees. Pack also instigated investigations of the Urdu language service, the French-to-Africa service and VOA's White House bureau chief over perceived anti-Trump bias in stories involving Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, or their wives, as NPR previously revealed.

Pack truly seems to believe Voice of America should be a cheerleader for the Administration. His own bio page links to a Washington Examiner article with the headline "New foreign broadcasting chief cleans house, pushes pro-America reporting." The article discusses Pack's firing of every VOA radio director and his feeling that VOA should be pushing "American ideals," along with "responsible criticism." This housecleaning -- and Pack's latest actions -- appear to be the end result of the Administration's criticism of VOA earlier this year, just as the pandemic was taking hold in the United States.

Now that the firewall is gone, so is the language on the USAGM's site touting the firewall's guarantee of journalistic independence. This part of the USAGM's "Myths and Untruths" FAQ has been memory-holed.

An essential guarantee of the journalistic credibility of U.S. global media content is the firewall enshrined in USAGM’s enabling legislation, the U.S. International Broadcasting Act.

The firewall prohibits interference by U.S. government officials, including the USAGM’s Chief Executive Officer, in the objective, independent reporting of news by USAGM networks (VOA, RFE/RL, RFA, MBN, and Radio and TV Martí), thereby safeguarding the ability of USAGM journalists to develop content that reflects the highest professional standards of journalism, free of political interference.

There won't be any more of this apparently useless "journalistic credibility," not with Pack in charge. The VOA belongs to the Administration now. And if Pack's rollback sticks, future presidential administrations will be able to steer the VOA towards more favorable reporting on their activities.

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Filed Under: journalism, michael pack, propaganda, usagm, voice of america
Companies: voice of america


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2020 @ 4:36am

    problem solved

    just abolish VOA and any problem about who controls its broadcast content disappars.
    VOA is an outdated relic of the Cold War and waste of taxpayer money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2020 @ 10:52pm

      Re: problem solved

      And no-one outside America with an IQ above that of a turnip believed it was impartial anyway. Just because it didn't get involved in American internal politics doesn't mean it isn't inherently a pro-american and pro-atlanticist propaganda agency.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 4:37am

    Republicans are basically spoiled, mean spirited children. Mum said no to cookies, dad said no too, they've gotten caught trying to raid the jar anyway and now they're throwing the jar onto the floor out of spite. America being the jar. They keep losing at the courts, in the court of public opinion, now they're in the stage of just wrecking things because they know whatever punishment they receive, it'll only be temporary and they're four to eight years away from being able to do it all over again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Oct 2020 @ 5:29am

      Re:

      The saving grace from having history repeat itself is that Trump is too old and unfocused to write the equivalent of "Mein Kampf" while serving jail time (unless his Supreme Court army allows him to pardon himself). He has peaked. Whether that means that the Trumpist kind of fascist reimagining of the Republican Party has peaked is a different question. After all, Hannity/Tucker will need a new focus group.

      If this one chapter of history can be closed after Tuesday.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2020 @ 4:39pm

        Re: Re:

        The president can only pardon federal-level crimes. State-level crimes, like he's being prosecuted for in New York, are outside his ability to pardon.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2020 @ 8:33am

      Re: it’s coming

      “In eight years they will do it again”

      In 8 years they will be gone. They can’t get over the fact the 80s are over and adapt and they can’t stop acting like dicks to everyone enough to stay popular to compensate.

      It’s not a question of if there will be consequences. It’s the timing. And when it happens they will not get back up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MathFox, 30 Oct 2020 @ 6:26am

    Pravda all over again

    With the fall of the Iron Curtain it seems that several ideas from the communist block made way into the west... Things like pervasive surveillance and now state controlled media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 8:01am

      Re: Pravda all over again

      It is consistent at least, given Trump's GOP has made it pretty clear that they think the government absolutely has the right to order companies to carry speech whether they like it or not, a position I'm sure they will defend to the death... right until someone tries to turn it on them at which point they will abruptly turn around and declare that a violation of their first amendment right.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MathFox, 30 Oct 2020 @ 11:14am

        Re: Re: Pravda all over again

        And that is because a free press is an important part of a democratic society. The voter has to form an opinion about the candidates that are up for election, but does not have the time to follow what they do or question them all directly. Here is where an unbiased press is helping voters to vote for the right candidate.

        Off course a narcissist like Trump thinks that there's only one right candidate and voters should to be guided to vote correctly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2020 @ 8:08am

    I am sure we are going to find out how legal it is for some rando appointee to abolish a law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 8:19am

    'Only laws that serve us count.'

    How very consistent and not at all surprising, the law and order party yet again treating laws as obstacles to be bypassed if not destroyed when said laws get in the way of what they want to to.

    Of course I'm sure Pack and others cheering the move to turn VOA into the president's personal propaganda source will absolutely keep that position should Biden be elected, and will definitely not hypocritically decry the idea that VOA is there to serve the president as their personal cheerleaders the second it's no longer their team in office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2020 @ 12:43pm

    What do you expect?

    I'm only surprised that it took this long.

    When I hear Trump speak, contradicting claims he's made before and generally having no regard to actual events, all I can think of is this:

    Trump - memory hole for a brain

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2020 @ 1:30pm

    You mean only chosen ones

    You mean future REPUBLICAN administrations will be able to control the VOA. Anyone else will have the laws changed so they can't do that like they've done before when Democrats are coming into power

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 2:10pm

    Why is trump creating MORE of a deep state?

    I get the idea that Running around the world claiming 'We are the best', is still in motion, even when we are falling behind everyone Else?
    Advancement for Money
    Tech for money
    Everything for money

    Supplying a $0.10 part to make something better will now cost you $100, to the consumer and everyone else, except THEM.

    This only leads to bad things. When you take the Jester out of the Kings court, all you get to hear is lies.

    When those that represent us, and are supposed to be fair and balanced, seem to LEAN 1 way or another, and FORCE it on everyone, without alternate opinions being considered. The Boat seems to be leaning to 1 side and may start to sink.

    Why does it seem that the ship is sinking. Esp when congress gets MORE money then we pay them? to do WHAT?
    Mess things up MORE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 3:08pm

      Re: Why is trump creating MORE of a deep state?

      Can it be that trump does NOT see what is and has been happening?
      Mostly because he is PART of the problem?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 10:08pm

    I recall hearing a bit of disinformation a while back of "Obama signed a law allowing government propaganda and making it legal for the media to purposely lie to the American people."†

    The saying that every accusation a Republican makes is a confession remains as valid as ever, it seems.

    † What the law actually did was modify the Smith-Mundt act to allow congent created by entities under the U.S. Agency for Global Media obtainable by Americans upon request. Previously, all such content was banned for dissemination in the US, even via FOIA. Government-funded media marketing targeted at US audiences remained illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 30 Oct 2020 @ 10:24pm

    Via Wikipedia:

    VOA cannot direct or intend its programs to be "for" Americans. George W. Bush-era State Department official James K. Glassman has called for directing VOA at American audiences.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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