Radio Edit: How the Voice of America was nearly squelched

With Donald Trump's constant attacks on the media in the four years he served as president, it wasn't too surprising that he often tried to influence the media to praise him instead of criticize him.

In the last year of his presidency, he was in the process of doing just that, with American shortwave and internet broadcaster, Voice of America.

Voice of America (VoA) was created during World War II as an international shortwave broadcaster and was designed to provide news coverage to countries without strong journalistic standards, or with repressive regimes that crack down on the free press. It also modelled to listeners what a free, democratic and fair press looked like.

Michael Pack, the chief of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees VoA and its sister services, was appointed by Trump in the spring of 2020. Pack had been found to be undermining the freedom of expression and reporting standards of VoA. A judge ruled that Pack had broken the law and violated the constitution by interfering with new reporting and undermining free speech.

Pack and VoA's head, Robert Reilly, had sought to turn VoA into a propaganda media source that was pro-Trump. Pack had been actively working to root out reporters inside VoA who were anti-Trump, and replaced the boards of the broadcasting wings of the VoA with pro-Trump appointees. Under Pack and Reilly's watch, VoA reporters were slow to report on stories and reluctant to follow leads on important stories, particularly on politically sensitive topics.

Reilly came under fire after being criticized by VoA reporter Patsy Widakuswara, who asked him why he wasn't pressing then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on issues surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Building by pro-Trump protestors.

Reilly told her, “You obviously don't know how to behave.”

Widakuswara had been demoted twice in 24 hours after asking questions to Pompeo about his stance on the validity of the latest presidential election.

Pack resigned in early January 2021 while Reilly resigned the day of Joe Biden's inauguration, after being pressured to leave the job by Biden's incoming team.

Biden has already replaced Pack and Reilly, but getting the Boards of Directors back from Pack's appointed members will be much more difficult. Biden will need congressional action to remove some appointees, and his transition team is looking into laws to be amended to bring the VoA back to a democratic and unbiased approach to news gathering.

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