Voice of America sparked outrage Tuesday night with a tweet lauding Vice President Mike Pence, drawing comparisons to “state propaganda.” The organization said in a statement to TheWrap the tweet was released “prematurely” and with regrettable language, but this is just the latest shock to observers since a conservative appointee of President Donald Trump was made CEO of the government agency that oversees the broadcaster, which airs U.S. news across the world.
“U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has weathered storms that have shaken the Trump White House, standing by the president through an impeachment trial and many Cabinet reshuffles,” wrote the organization, linking to a video about Pence working for a “demanding boss.” The tweet came just after presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced his own vice presidential pick, Sen. Kamala Harris.
“What the hell is this?” demanded Columbia Journalism Review’s Mathew Ingram. “State propaganda?”
TheWrap’s founder and CEO Sharon Waxman called the content “repulsive”: “VOA was once a news organization I was happy to work for, even though funded by the government. We did, um, NEWS.”
Numerous observers labeled the tweet and its accompanying story “horrific” and accused Trump of ruining and hijacking the organization and its mission. Other journalists pointed out that VOA’s content — including that which promotes a particular party or figure — is paid for by American tax dollars. A representative for the agency did not immediately return a request for comment.
VOA, overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media, has a mission of delivering objective news and information to those without a free press, “telling America’s story,” and laying out America’s government and policies to the world.
“The profile of Vice President Mike Pence published on Tuesday was assigned and prepared with the intention it would be released together with a comparable profile of the Democratic vice presidential nominee. It was inadvertently released prematurely,” a VOA spokesperson told TheWrap. “Unfortunately, the tweet introducing the profile does not fully reflect the tone and information within the story to which it links. We regret the wording did not call attention to the story’s implicit balance.”
The statement went on, “The full TV report on the vice president’s record adheres to the highest professional journalism standards, recaps the Pence vice presidency, including his actions and the views of critics. It also places the current vice president’s approach in the historical context of recent vice presidencies.“
Voice of America’s director and deputy director both resigned in June after the congressional confirmation of conservative filmmaker Michael Pack to oversee the government broadcast agency. Pack is a close ally of former campaign strategist and White House adviser Stephen Bannon. Pack was approved after a push from President Donald Trump’s administration and his promotion was widely opposed by Democratic leaders.
In a memo to VOA staffers, director Amanda Bennett wrote on behalf of herself and deputy director Sandra Sugawara, “Nothing about you, your passion, your mission or your integrity changes. Michael Pack swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees VOA’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust our audiences around the world have in us. We know that each one of you will offer him all of your skills, your professionalism, your dedication to mission, your journalistic integrity and your personal hard work to guarantee that promise is fulfilled.”