Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday defended a controversial shock on Voice of America and other US-funded networks, praising a new CEO who has been reprimanded by judges and accused by lawmakers of trampling on journalistic independence.
In a speech to VOA staff, streamed live on the network, Pompeo said the station had lost touch with its original mission of telling America’s story to a foreign audience and instead vilified the US.
“His broadcasts were less about telling the truth about America and more about humiliating America,” Pompeo said, giving no examples.
“Voice of America lost its vote, but it’s on its way back,” he said.
Michael Pack, the CEO who was named by President Donald Trump last year to head the parent agency of VOA, the U.S. agency for global media, has been fierce by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over his extensive efforts to organize with freedom of the press Criticized groups warn that it endangers the editorial independence of broadcasters.
However, the Secretary of State thanked Pack, a Conservative filmmaker who had once worked with Trump’s former political adviser Stephen Bannon.
“Michael, thank you for leading these incredibly important institutions,” said Pompeo.
Members of Congress, as well as current and former employees of VOA and other US-funded broadcasters, including Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, say Pack opened an investigation into journalists and tried to turn the outlets into a propaganda vehicle for Trump close.
A federal judge ruled against Pack in November and effectively forbade him to make personnel decisions in the media or to interfere in editorial processes. A Washington, DC Supreme Court judge ruled in October that Pack had no power to oust the administration of a US-funded nonprofit, the Open Technology Fund, which develops anti-censorship software and apps created by civil society organizations Groups and journalists in Washington used repressive countries.
After his takeover in June, Pack sacked all heads of the four news outlets under his agency, as well as members of the non-partisan bodies that governed them. Pack largely replaced the boards with political representatives from the Trump administration and made himself chairman. He hired a standards editor at VOA and dismissed the editor-in-chief of Radio Free Asia.
Pompeo’s speech was his final defense of President Trump’s tenure and presented the overhaul at the U.S. Global Media Agency as long overdue.
While other cabinet members and senior officials have clashed with President Trump for the past four years and a number of top figures have resigned in recent days, accusing the president of causing supporters to storm the Capitol last Wednesday, Pompeo is Trump stayed loyal.
“The Trump administration is not trying to politicize these institutions. We are trying to turn politics off,” said Pompeo. “That’s a pretty good feature story for anyone who wants to write it down.”
Calling VOA “the tip of the spear of freedom,” Pompeo said the station should notice America’s shortcomings but not exaggerate them.
“It is not wrong news for you that this is the greatest nation the world has ever known,” said Pompeo.
“I’m not saying ignore our mistakes. Acknowledge them. But this is not the Vice of America focusing on everything that is wrong with our great nation.”
He added, “Your mission is to promote democracy, freedom and American values in the world.”
Days before Pompeo’s speech at the VOA headquarters in Washington DC, a formal complaint was filed by a group of staff who said the live broadcast was a propaganda exercise and endangered the health of staff attending the event in a closed auditorium and working coronavirus pandemic. External media were not given access to the event as officials cited public health concerns related to COVID-19.
“You cannot use the public health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for outside reporters to shut them out and then invite your staff to participate,” the staff’s complaint read.
The letter was sent to Pack, lawmakers on the House and Senate External Relations Committees, the State Department’s Inspectorate General, and the Office of Special Advisers, a federal guard.
“A radio speech by the outgoing Secretary of State on subjects he has extensively covered should be viewed for what it is: the use of VOA to disseminate political propaganda in the dwindling days of the Trump administration,” the letter said.
Pompeo dismissed the criticism, saying it was an attempt to censor the language and contradicted the station’s mission.
“They didn’t want the voice of American diplomacy to be broadcast … the voice of America. Think about it,” Pompeo said.
The former Kansas congressman compared the complaint to recent measures by social media and technology companies to lock President Trump in place after last week’s violent assault on the Capitol. The companies said Trump’s post could spark even more violence.
Pompeo portrayed the movements as part of a “lively” leftist policy that he viewed as an attempt to silence critics.
“This is not who we are as Americans. It’s not what Voice of America should be. It is time to fall asleep, “he said.
Abigail Williams contributed.