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Trumpism Threatens to Break the VOA



It is not unheard of for foreign leaders to complain to American officials about an unflattering story on the Voice of America or RFE/RL. To which that official will, in all likelihood, respond that the United States has a free press; that freedom extends to the VOA and the RFE/RL. Indeed, without that independence, these venerable institutions would be nothing more than propaganda—and no more trustworthy than RT, or even KCTV.

From the article:

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 arrival of the two aides – both political operatives from Trump’s campaign – comes after Voice of America received blowback over the weekend for sending out a series of tweets about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claims about inauguration crowd size that looked to some like an endorsement of his false statements. The news outlet later deleted one of the tweets.

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.

As POLITICO reported last month, that change – along with a prior shift that allows the network to legally reach a U.S. audience — had stoked fears among some agency officials that Voice of America could serve as an unfettered propaganda arm for the former reality TV star.

There are two separate concerns here. Obviously, the worst fear is that the VOA will function as a domestic propaganda outlet. But I believe that this is unlikely and, anyway, it wouldn’t matter that much. The VOA isn’t in a position to draw many Americans aways from existing television news outlets. The more pressing concern is that Trump’s interference—or even appearance of interference—compromises the reputation of the VOA. This would render it, in essence, a waste of resources. And once it’s broken in this way, it will be very hard to put it back together again.

I know it’s hard right now, because there’s an avalanche of awful. But this is something to watch and, if necessary, call your representatives about. I fear, unfortunately, that there’s little that we can do.

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