Coronavirus In The United States: Amid The Pandemic, Donald Trump Aims Against The “WABNEWS”

Donald Trump has had many targets in his war against the press, and perhaps none more surprising than the WABNEWS, the venerable institution created during World War II to broadcast independent news and promote American values ​​in the world.

Trump and his supporters say the VOA’s news service, as it is known by its acronym in English, is “shameful” and are pressing to install someone adept at the head of the government agency that oversees the VOA and its affiliates. The battle is about to come to Congress.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to vote Thursday on the nomination of a new leader for the Global Media Agency, which manages the VOA and other media such as Radio Libre Asia, Radio Libre Europa / Radio Libertad and Radio Martí, which will focus on Cuba. The commission is controlled by Republicans and is expected to approve the figure nominated by Trump.

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Democrats fear the candidate, the filmmaker and former conservative professor Michael Pack, will turn the organization into a Trump advertising machine, paid for by more than $ 200 million from taxpayers. Trump does not hide his desire to have a media outlet in his favor. At confirmation hearings last September, Pack denied that he was going to allow the agency to become a government tool, but fear does not subside.

The future of the VOA alarms those who closely follow its international broadcasts, including some who believe that the agency should be reformed, especially given the changes that have occurred, allowing its next boss to make personnel and policy decisions. to follow without consulting the board of directors.

Chinese doctors prepare to take coronavirus samples at a Wuhan hospital. / AFP

“This is all a distraction from what I consider to be a legitimate debate about the role” of the agency, said Tom Kent, a former editor of the Associated Press who now runs Radio Libre Europa / Radio Libertad.

“It must be made clear whether the role of the VOA is to promote democracy and American values ​​in general or whether it should function as a public relations agency for the president and the State Department,” he said.

The White House did not respond to questions about Pack’s nomination or the debate surrounding the VOA.

Pandemic coverage

Democrats’ objections to Pack, who worked with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and at the conservative-leaning Claremont Institute, partly answer his refusal to answer questions about his financial management.

Conservatives are furious at VOA coverage of China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an issue of great importance to Trump, who does not miss an opportunity to criticize Chinese authorities for the outbreak and divert criticism of the response from his government at a time when the campaign for the November elections is heating up.

Trump and his allies are suspicious of the VOA and some of its affiliates. They see them as part of a “deep state” that tries to hinder their management. The hostilities openly came to light on April 9, when Trump communications adviser Dan Scavino reprinted a VOA article about China on his official Twitter account with the comment, “American taxpayers pay for Chinese propaganda through WABNEWS, which is government funded! A SHAME! “

A market, partially closed by the coronavirus in Wuhan, China. / AP

He was referring to an Associated Press article broadcast by VOA, but the next day an official White House publication accused VOA of using taxpayer money to “speak out on behalf of authoritarian regimes” because it had reported on the quarantine removal in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak arose. Days later, Trump said VOA coverage was “shameful” and demanded that the Senate confirm Pack.

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VOA Director Amanda Bennett responded with a statement on April 10, saying that “one of the big differences between independent publicly-funded media, such as the WABNEWS, and state-controlled media is that we have the freedom to present all aspects of a subject and, in fact, we have the mission to do so, by law, as the VOA letter says. “

Bennett sent a letter Monday to VOA staff urging him to maintain his professionalism amid what he described as “uncomfortable” scrutiny.

Former officials who are closely following the issue are alarmed.

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Matt Armstrong, a former Republican-appointed agency board member, said the Trump administration has shown “a profound misunderstanding of the agency’s mission” by criticizing the VOA. He also wondered why the government is taking advantage of the controversy to promote Pack’s candidacy when he could already have made personnel changes.

“I think they pretend to be upset about something that shouldn’t bother them,” he said. “The Trump administration’s tantrum over VOA is about something they could have resolved years ago. This episode merely confirms their inability to run the government they are in charge of.”

By Matthew Lee, Associated Press

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