The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Voice of America and other U.S. government media have always been trustworthy. But here comes Trump.

The Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

FOR DECADES, U.S. government-funded foreign broadcasting has distinguished itself from that of undemocratic nations with its commitment to quality journalism and editorial independence. Though the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets may not have had the resources of Russia’s RT or Qatar’s al Jazeera, foreign audiences often have turned to them for their independent reporting, both of news of the United States and that of their own countries.

Now that legacy may be in danger, thanks to President Trump’s newly installed chief executive at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker and associate of alt-right propagandist Stephen K. Bannon, kicked off his tenure this week by firing the chiefs of RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. The two top editors of Voice of America resigned days earlier.

Mr. Pack also dissolved the boards of the first three of those networks, which operate as grantees of the U.S. government; a bipartisan cast of luminaries including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former ambassador Ryan Crocker was replaced by low-level Trump political appointees from unrelated federal agencies, along with Mr. Pack and his chief of staff. The sole outside board member comes from the far-right Christian group Liberty Counsel Action, which is known for its militant anti-LGBTQ advocacy.

Mr. Pack offered no explanation for his actions, but issued a self-congratulatory news release quoting himself as saying that “every action I will carry out will be geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale and improving content.”

In fact, in a stroke, he has accomplished the opposite. Disheartened agency insiders tell us that the new CEO seems bent on carrying out a purge of what Mr. Bannon has described as an outpost of the “deep state” and converting it into another vehicle for promoting Mr. Trump.

The president has made no secret of his contempt for the “disgusting” VOA; in April, a White House statement falsely and ludicrously claimed its news reports had disseminated Chinese propaganda. After Mr. Trump bullied supine Senate Republicans into confirming Mr. Pack, despite unresolved ethical questions, it was a foregone conclusion that VOA’s top leadership, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett, would be forced out. But Mr. Pack’s purge also extended to respected RFE/RL head Jamie Fly, a former Republican Senate staffer, and Middle East Broadcasting Networks’ Alberto Fernandez, another Republican. Was it because they can’t be counted on to convert their organizations into Breitbart-like propaganda outlets?

That such manipulation of U.S. government media is even possible is due to a misguided reform Congress passed four years ago, which abolished the independent, bipartisan board that previously governed the broadcasters and provided a buffer from the White House. Congressional sponsors and Obama administration officials at the time brushed off our concerns that it could destroy the very qualities of independence and journalistic integrity that have distinguished U.S. government media. Mr. Pack appears on his way to demonstrating just how wrong they were.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: I worked at Voice of America. I mourn what’s happening to it now.

The Post’s View: No, Mr. Trump, VOA is not Chinese propaganda. Now don’t turn it into U.S. propaganda.

Kathleen Parker: Knowing Steve Bannon shouldn’t stop a qualified official from leading the VOA

Colbert I. King: Did Trump’s pick to lead the VOA misuse nonprofit funds? D.C.’s AG is on it.