USAGM Watch Commentary
Tax-Funded Voice of America Gave U.S. Voters A Barrage of Russian-style Reporting on Trump and Kavanaugh Alleged Sex Scandals, Shows Almost No #MeToo Interest in Senator Joe Biden and Tara Reade
As of May 6, 2020
U.S. Tax-Funded VOANews.com
Voice of America (VOA) News Reports with Mentions
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD-KAVANAUGH
Much of U.S. tax-funded Voice of America (VOA) program content in English is not read abroad, where U.S. Congress and U.S. taxpayers want it to to go to countries without free media, but instead it is consumed on the Internet by social media users in the United States. This U.S. government-managed but not closely monitored VOA news service is beginning to have a propaganda impact on the American electorate, perhaps similar to or even greater than propaganda impact of Chinese and Russian trolls although no one has yet attempted to study and measure it statistically. Most Americans are probably not aware of VOA’s continued existence or the fact that they are paying for what is in part domestic political and social propaganda produced by U.S. government employees who cannot control their partisan bias.
One of the ways the Voice of America shows its partisan bias and misleads foreign and U.S. audiences is which news stories it chooses to cover and which to downplay or ignore. For example, the unproven sexual assault allegations against Senator Joe Biden who might become the next U.S. President got only four (4) reports from VOA English News in a 25 day period in April and early May 2020. However, similarly unproven sexual assault allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate, got 80 report mentions from VOA News in a 25 day period in September and October 2018.
This relatively new phenomenon of unprecedented partisan bias and both domestic and foreign propaganda in Voice of America news reporting is still unknown to most Americans, including many members of Congress, even though it appears to have a yet un-measured effect on U.S. politics. In 2016, the Voice of America posted on social media campaign videos attacking Trump with obscene names and was criticized even by supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders for siding against him with Hillary Clinton. Mainstream media paid no attention to these accusations, thus emboldening VOA to continue such activity which is illegal under U.S. laws.
Private American media can do whatever they want in reporting and commenting on U.S. politics, but American voters are being manipulated by partisan journalists who are U.S. government employees working for the U.S. government-run Voice of America in ways similar to how they are being manipulated by Russian and Chinese propagandists and their trolls.
For sure, politically biased VOA journalists do it for different reasons than the Russians or the Chinese. Some of these poorly-trained and poorly-managed VOA journalists are convinced that they are soldiers of the free press exposing alleged crimes and alleged incompetence of Donald Trump as well as alleged stupidities and ill-intentions of his American supporters.
Such journalistic activism is widely practiced in the United States by private media journalists on both sides of the political spectrum, with accusations going back and forth. When done by both sides in more or less equal measure, such media activity, although it often violates strict journalistic and reporting standards, may ultimately contribute to a healthy debate in a democracy. Taken to an extreme, it may harm it. There is a debate about this as well.
It is however, illegal when partisan politicking is conducted in a one-sided manner at U.S. taxpayers’ expense by Voice of America executives, managers, editors and reporters who are U.S. federal employees or contractors. It does not matter whether biased, one-sided reporting and commentary are done intentionally or not and whether they are encouraged by senior leaders or simply result from a lack of leadership and poor management oversight. If in the end the Voice of America content is partisan and lacks balance, the Voice of America is in violation of U.S. law and its own Charter.
The VOA Mission is drawn from The VOA Charter, which was signed into law by President Gerald R. Ford in July 12, 1976. The Charter protects the editorial independence and integrity of VOA programming.
The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts:
1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies. (Public Law 94-350), July 12, 1976.
Posting four (4) news reports in a 25 day period about a Democratic Party politician, a U.S. Senator now aspiring to hold the most important political office in the United States who is accused of allegedly committing a serious sexual attack years ago against a young woman in a professional setting — while posting 80 news reports in the same number of days earlier about a then university student accused of what appeared to be an alleged less serious sexual misconduct who years later was nominated by a Republican Party politician, i.e. President Trump, to serve on the Supreme Court — shows a tremendous difference in VOA’s interest in covering U.S. politics fairly, objectively and with appropriate balance.
Such disproportionate coverage also shows an astounding level of insensitivity toward all women who have been victims of sexual harassment, assaults and rapes, especially considering VOA’s earlier interest in #MeToo issues. This prior interest suddenly evaporated when a U.S. Senator Joe Biden who is the Democratic Party’s presumed presidential candidate in the 2020 elections became a target of still unproven sexual assault accusations.
In this respect, VOA News, with its four (4) Reade-Biden reports in the last 25 days is also far worse than all mainstream U.S. media, including some of the most liberal outlets. As of today, CNN shows 34 Reade-Biden reports, The New York Times 58. The Washington Post also has dozens of Reade-Biden news mentions. Fox News has many more. NPR shows 15, including an opinion piece by NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride, “NPR Was Too Slow On Tara Reade’s Story.” In her opinion article, she criticized NPR for being slow in reporting on the Reade-Biden story. VOA fared far worse in this respect than even NPR.
On March 25, a community radio station in New York aired segments of a one-hour podcast interview with Tara Reade, who told a story of being sexually assaulted in 1993 by then Sen. Joe Biden, whom she worked for in his Senate office.
Since then, many of the nation’s established newsrooms have come under criticism for being too slow to produce their own reporting on the allegation made against the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. The New York Times and The Washington Post both published stories on April 12, two-and-a-half weeks later.
The Voice of America waited until April 13 to post the first AP Reade-Biden report. A second Reade-Biden report was not posted by by VOA News until April 29. It was also an AP report.
VOA News did not originate its own report on the story until May 1. By that time, both The Washington Post and The New York Times had dozens of reports. The lack of desire and or courage by VOA executives, editors and reporters to pursue this story was more than apparent, as well as deplorable. When the Ford-Kavanaugh story broke in 2018, VOA News had dozens of original reports almost immediately. VOA News responded similarly to the Daniels-Trump story in 2018.
Perhaps some Voice of America editors and reporters are reluctant to post negative news reports about Senator Biden because some of the executives in charge of VOA who were appointed during the Obama administration openly show their partisan preferences. Some VOA English newsroom reporters and editors, however, are not reluctant to show their own partisan bias. Their desire to make partisan points is reflected in much of VOA’s English-language news coverage. It can be easily measured by doing simple searches of the VOA English news website to see the difference in negative and positive coverage of conservative versus liberal U.S. political figures, advocacy groups and causes.
Such deliberate bias in VOA news reporting is illegal under U.S. laws, as the VOA Charter, which is one of these laws, requires the Voice of America to be fair, balanced, nonpartisan and to reflect accurately responsible views of all segments of American society. Some VOA foreign language services still try to maintain this standard, but since all of them rely on central news programming in English for translations, no VOA service has been spared from partisan bias which became especially pronounced under the watch of current VOA director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara. They, of course, categorically deny that there is any partisan bias and express their support for the VOA Charter and the highest standards of journalism.
But whatever they do or fail to do, the bias in VOA coverage is so pronounced at this point against conservatives that it is bound through constant repetition to have an impact on at least some American voters. Constant repetition of a preferred narrative is the same tactic used by Russian trolls. Likewise, certain types of narratives are constantly promoted by the Voice of America while opposing viewpoints are rarely presented.
Daniels-Trump and Ford-Kavanaugh news stories have been in the news longer than the Reade-Biden story, but a reasonably accurate comparison can be made between VOA’s coverage of Ford-Kavanaugh and Reade-Biden stories over initial 25 day periods since VOA started to report on them (in the case of Reade-Biden story much later than U.S. and international media). Comparisons can also be made between VOA’s coverage of the Reade-Biden story and coverage in the same period by private U.S. media. VOA has shown far greater reluctance to cover a negative Joe Biden news story than even the most liberal U.S. media outlets. VOA was not lagging behind in covering negative and sex-related Donald Trump news stories, sometimes posting new or updated reports several times daily.
A search of the Voice of America main VOANews.com English website shows that it has, as of May 7, 2020 only four (4) reports which mention former Senate intern Tara Reade’s unproven sexual assault accusations against Democratic Party prospective candidate for U.S. presidency Senator Joe Biden. The period from April 13, 2020, when the first Reade-Biden report was posted by VOA News, to May 7, 2020, covers 25 days. VOA waited days before posting the first report on this story after it had been already reported by most other media in the U.S. and abroad. The first two Reade-Biden reports on the VOA website were not originated by VOA but were wire service reports. Altogether, there are only four (4) reports in 25 days.
The same VOANews.com English news website had altogether 94 reports which mentioned Christine Blasey Ford who alleged that President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her. Within the first 25 days of VOA’s coverage of the Ford- Kavanaugh news from September 16 to October 10, 2018, VOA had posted about 80 reports (compared to 4 reports on the Reade-Biden news within the first 25 days of VOA coverage). On some days in September and October 2018, VOA had more than four different original VOA news reports on the sexual accusations against Kavanaugh on a single day.
Porn star Stormy Daniels’ accusations against Donald Trump were not exactly in the same sexual assault category but there were other allegations of sexual nature involving the President of the United States. VOANews.com had 162 reports on the Daniels-Trump story. There are probably several hundred VOA news stories on the VOANews.com website and more on VOA social media pages and YouTube about Donald Trump and various accusations against him involving sex and women compared to only four (4) reports on the VOANews.com website about Tara Reade and Joe Biden.
We are not suggesting that these numbers should be equal. It all depends on the circumstances in each news story. But since Ford-Kavanaugh and Reade-Biden stories share many similar characteristics and since one could also argue that Senator Biden and accusations against him may be somewhat more newsworthy as he might become the next President of the United States, the astounding disproportion in VOA’s coverage of these two stories is a major violation of the VOA Charter, one of many under VOA Director Amanda Bennett’s inattentive watch.