Pompeo feud with US global media agency intensifies
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo exalted American exceptionalism and called for publishing truth about freedom and democracy in the U.S. during a speech that had earlier drawn criticism for politicizing the federal government’s flagship independent broadcast agency.
Pompeo gave his speech at the Voice of America (VOA), the flagship international broadcast network of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
It was the secretary’s first public speech since a mob egged on by President Trump attacked the Capitol, endangering lawmakers. A Capitol Police officer was among five casualties related to the incident, one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history.
Pompeo did not address the riot in Monday’s speech but said VOA’s mission is to promote America’s global support of freedom and democratic ideals abroad while acknowledging faults at home.
“We have always striven for a more perfect union. And goodness knows we don’t always get it right. Therefore, we need both pride and humility about our past and our present. We need the truth,” Pompeo said.
But Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal allies, also took aim at the organization, saying it was “demeaning America” in its broadcasts and issuing a stark warning that censorship, “wokeness” and “political correctness” were leading to “authoritarianism cloaked as moral justice.”
The speech, which was first announced last week, drew pushback from VOA employees who filed a whistleblower complaint saying the event “endangers public health and safety, violates law, rule and regulation and grossly wastes government resources,” according to a letter sent by the Government Accountability Project on behalf of the whistleblowers and reported by NPR.
It also criticized hosting Pompeo as violating the VOA firewall by using the broadcast to “disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration.”
Pompeo took aim at these critics in his speech, saying, “I read that some VOA employees didn’t want me to speak here today. I’m sure it was only a handful.”
The Trump administration’s actions at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the parent organization of VOA and its other international broadcasters, has come under further scrutiny with the appointment of Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker who was confirmed as CEO of the USAGM in June.
Pack has drawn intense criticism from bipartisan lawmakers for ignoring a subpoena to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee over several controversies, including the firing of the heads of the USAGM’s broadcast networks and the halting of funding for the U.S. Open Technology Fund, which helps secure internet freedoms in societies under censorship.
In July, Pack ordered an investigation into the posting of a video package featuring now President-elect Joe Biden on a VOA website, calling the segment “pro-Biden” and threatening disciplinary action against those responsible, The Associated Press reported.
In November, a federal judge in the District of Columbia barred Pack from making any more personnel changes and interfering in editorial processes in response to a lawsuit brought by five executives that Pack fired or suspended, the AP first reported.
Pack is also the subject of a lawsuit brought forth by the District of Columbia attorney general alleging that he illegally funneled millions of dollars from nonprofit endeavors to his for-profit company.
Pompeo praised Pack as being at the helm of a “new dawn” at the Voice of America.
As Pompeo was giving his remarks, Buzzfeed reported that a disgruntled State Department employee changed biography information for on the State Department’s website that the terms of President Trump and Vice President Pence ended on Jan. 11.
The page was taken down around 3:50 p.m. Buzzfeed reported that Pompeo had ordered an internal investigation into the matter beginning with interns and employees leaving the State Department this week and next ahead of the inauguration of Biden.