What is Voice of America and Why Does Trump Suddenly Hate Them with the Heat of a Thousand Suns?


President Donald Trump went on a rant against Voice of America in which he called the outlet “disgusting toward our country,” and vowed to forcibly adjourn Congress so he could install his own nominee to head the agency in charge of VOA. So what is VOA?

Some Americans may have been perplexed Wednesday when Trump attacked VOA leadership as one of several excuses to forcibly recess Congress in order to facilitate the installation of recess appointments.

In separate rants, Trump told reporters that Michael Pack — his nominee for “CEO of the Broadcasking — Broadcasting Board of Governors” — is being blocked by Democrats, and said of VOA that “things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and he’d do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years.”

VOA noted in its report on Trump’s remarks that he “erroneously identified the body he would head as USAGM’s predecessor agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors.”

Later in the presser, when questioned about his threat to force recess appointments, Trump boasted that I have a very strong power” that he’d “rather not use,” but again complained of his inability to seat Pack.

“If you look at what they’re doing and what they’re saying about our country, it’s a disgrace — the people that are running that. We have somebody that’s really good, really talented, and that loves our country. And I want to get these people approved,” Trump said.

Trump’s animus for VOA also flared up at an April 1 briefing, when VOA correspondent Patsy Widakuswara tried to ask Trump a question about “waiving visa restrictions for immigrant doctors.”

Trump leaned forward and asked “Who are you with, by the way?”

“I am with Voice of America,” Widakuswara replied, then tried to ask her question again.

“Boy. Amazing,” Trump said sarcastically, then said “Okay. Who else, please?”

Trump also made reference to the outlet while attacking CNN’s international influence during an official event in October, where he remarked that “we used to have Radio Free — I think Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. And we did that to build up our country. And that’s not working out too well.”

VOA is an independent news agency funded by the U.S. government, and was founded in 1942 with a mission to, as VOA puts it, provide “comprehensive coverage of the news and telling audiences the truth.”

“Voice of America (VOA) is the largest U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 280 million people,” and the outlet’s mission statement says:

1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.

3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

The idea is to be a trusted news source around the world, including in places where the news might run afoul of the truth thanks to state run media. The agency has its critics on both sides of the aisle.

Pack’s nomination is, in fact, being held up by Republicans as well as Democrats, who fear that the explicitly partisan nominee will politicize VOA. Republicans control the U.S. Senate and all the committees therein.

So what are the sins of VOA that have Trump in such a lather?

In between that April 1 snub and Wednesday’s rant, The White House published a hit piece against VOA — because that’s a thing that happens now — claiming that it “too often speaks for America’s adversaries—not its citizens.”

The bulk of the piece criticized VOA over three examples of what the White House said were amplifications of “Beijing’s propaganda” — examples that were far less numerous and explicit than Trump’s own comments praising China over its response to the coronavirus. One of the “offenses” was that they tweeted video of a light show celebrating the end of the Wuhan lockdown — a thing that happened.

VOA responded to the White House attack with a statement defending its coverage, including a litany of examples in which the outlet debunked and fact-checked Chinese government claims. VOA Director Amanda Bennett told The Washington Post “I’m afraid I can’t tell you what prompted” the attack from the White House, and added that it “just came out of the blue.”

But nothing in the White House’s attack on VOA remotely resembles what Trump accused them of Wednesday when he said ” the things they say are disgusting toward our country” — all of it had to do with reporting on other countries’ governments. The same can be said of VOA’s other critics on the right, who feel the outlet goes too easy on China, not that they are anti-American. Neither Trump nor the White House has provided a basis for his claim.

Watch the clips above via The White House.

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