Had President Trump lost the election, he might have launched a media company. When he won, he didn't have to — because he inherited one.
Trump now wields the power to appoint a new chief executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, a 1,000-person news operation with a taxpayer-funded annual budget of $218.5 million.
If you live in the United States, chances are you don't get your news from Voice of America; though it was created in 1942, its programming was not available on domestic airwaves until 2013. (It could be found online, however.)
Voice of America principally serves foreign audiences, and its radio and television broadcasts reach 236.6 million people worldwide, in 47 languages. They play a role in shaping impressions of the United States and its leaders in foreign countries — which is a polite way of saying that Voice of America could be used to disseminate propaganda.
In an interview with Politico, Voice of America director Amanda Bennett insisted that won't happen under Trump.
“I know that everyone is looking to say that we're being manipulated by the Trump administration,” Bennett said. “We're absolutely not.”
Trump has been president for less than a week but, yes, journalists already are asking questions about manipulation. The trigger was a pair of tweets that Voice of America sent on the day after Trump's inauguration that seemed to validate — or, at least, did not question — false statements White House press secretary Sean Spicer made about crowd size and media coverage.
Voice of America deleted one of the tweets, but it is, of course, preserved forever. Because the Internet.
— The Voice of America (@VOANews) January 21, 2017
Voice of America followed up by publishing an Associated Press fact check. And, it should be noted, Voice of America also tweeted extensively on Saturday about the Women's March on Washington — not exactly a news event that cast Trump in a favorable light.
What really bears watching is how Trump fills the chief executive's office and how his pick manages Voice of America. A provision tucked into a defense bill that passed in December essentially took that authority away from the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The power of the part-time, bipartisan body that was in charge of Voice of America (plus Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks) was consolidated in the role of a full-time chief executive.
For now, Trump has assigned two former campaign aides, New Hampshire state director Matthew Ciepielowski and Wisconsin communications director Matthew Schuck, to work with incumbent chief executive John F. Lansing on a temporary basis. Schuck is a former staff writer at the conservative website Daily Surge; Ciepielowski is a former field director at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative advocacy group founded by Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch.
Bennett told Politico that Schuck and Ciepielowski will not be involved in news decisions. If the same is true of the permanent chief executive, Voice of America probably won't change very much. But Trump's appointment will be worth monitoring.
Correction: An earlier version of this articled misstated the scope of the role held by Schuck and Ciepielowski. The Trump aides are working with the Broadcasting Board of Governors' current chief executive.