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Voice of America First?


I’ve mentioned the VOA before. Yesterday word leaked that the propagandist that Trump put in charge of the VOA plans to let the visas of foreign journalist lapse. In effect, this means that many face persecution, especially those who would have to return to countries like China as Cambodia. As James Palmer sums up:

This act of depraved indifference to both human beings and the American national interests is just one dimension of a broader pattern of neo-patrimonialism – one that’s become the hallmark of this administration.

The denial of visa renewals follows a purge of executives and senior journalists from VOA and other state-run broadcasters under the authority of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) by its new Trump-appointed CEO, Michael Pack.

Pack fired all the station directors who had not already resigned, and dissolved the bipartisan managing boards of the broadcasting organisations, replacing them with himself and five other Trump loyalists.

Steve Capus, a former head of NBC News, was fired from his position as USAGM adviser and Steven Springer, a veteran journalist who had been in charge of upholding journalistic practices at VOA, was transferred to another advisory job and his post left vacant.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Pack had fired the former head of Radio Free Asia (RFA), Bay Fang, a highly experienced journalist who he had previously demoted to an editor’s job.


At a time there was growing unease among journalists working for USAGM broadcasters among a looming political purge, a press release said that Pack’s initial email message to staff had received “an overwhelmingly positive response by staff and grantees, who personally reached out and candidly congratulated him”.

The press release quoted anonymous messages praising Pack, including one thanking him for having “emphasised that we all have a mission that unfortunately some have forgotten in recent and past years, to the disgrace of all.”

One of the journalists fired by Pack compared the new releases to official statements of the North Korean regime.

“It is a bit Dear Leader like, isn’t it?” the journalist said. “The one about him saying he’s been flooded with people welcoming him with open arms is just ludicrous – for him to say that he’s trying to improve morale and at the same time he’s sending Voice of America journalists back home to places like Thailand, or Cambodia or China. How in the world is that going to improve employee morale when you’re sending people home, perhaps to their deaths? And that’s not hyperbole.”

As I’ve noted before, it really is an open question whether international audiences will view Trump as an aberration or as definitive evidence that they cannot rely on the United States – that the country is always only one election away from trashing treaty commitments, deporting foreign nationals, and trying to extort allies.

Optimists might point to the Bush administration, and how many overseas leaders and publics – particularly among core democratic allies – were willing to go back to business as usual.

I’m less sanguine. By the time Obama was elected, the world had already seen, at least when it came to foreign policy, two years of relative sanity from the Bush administration. Nonetheless, many leaders never ‘got over’ the Bush administration’s aggressive, and often militarized, promotion of regime change. As Alex Cooley and I have argued in book and article form, this why the Bush administration was an important inflection point, one that saw the start of a major ‘turn’ against American-led liberal order by authoritarian and authoritarian states.

Moreover, as I’ve pointed out at LGM on numerous occasions, Bush forms an important backdrop for Trump; together, they provide good reason to assume that the U.S. political system will continue to produce disruptive administrations every few elections. And by ‘good reason’ I mean that this conclusion strikes me as clearly correct.

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