Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE, apparently furious at Fox News for not being sufficiently supportive, appears to have his sights on another propaganda vehicle: the Voice of America, with its long tradition presenting American values around the globe with journalistically responsible reporting.

Trump, who believes any news that isn't favorable is fake, has repeatedly attacked VOA, recklessly charging it's a mouthpiece for China and weirdly calling it "the voice of the Soviet Union." He is successfully pressuring Senate Republicans to approve conservative filmmaker Michael Pack as the global broadcasting CEO overseeing Voice of America, to do his bidding.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, under intense Trump lobbying, approved Pack on a party line vote. His nomination is the brainchild of right-wing provocateur Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonFBI investigating Chinese media tycoon linked to Bannon: report Mueller investigation witness George Nader sentenced to a decade in prison in child sex case Biden would fire Trump appointee leading US media agency for 'hijacking' outlet MORE, who has collaborated with Pack on films.


The president, who has his Roy Cohn as Attorney General in William BarrBill BarrWe haven't seen how low it can go Trump lashes out at Toomey, Romney after Roger Stone clemency criticism GOP senator says Trump commuting Stone was a 'mistake' MORE, now wants his Roger Ailes in what is formally called the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

The aim is to transform VOA with its tradition of being led by great journalists from Edward R. Murrow (he headed the U.S. Information Agency, the parent of VOA) to network news legend John Chancellor to today's Amanda Bennett, who was one of America's best newspaper editors.

This would be a seismic change, notes George Stevens Jr., a celebrated filmmaker who earlier went to work for Murrow in the Kennedy Administration: “Ed told me our mission was to tell the truth and there was no place for ideology.”

The credo is that telling the real American story — warts and all — is more effective in the long run than state-orchestrated propaganda.

Pack says he wants to lift morale at the VOA, and bring in some balance, but does not wish to politicize the place. He and his allies suggest it's guilt by association to oppose him because of Bannon, who calls Pack his “mentor.”


There are three issues as the Senate prepares to cave to Trump's pressure: the professional character of Pack, and of Bennett and the current charges against VOA's reporting.

Pack is prolific turning out numerous conservative-friendly documentaries, the most recent a tribute to Supreme Court Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Justices rule Manhattan prosecutor, but not Congress, can have Trump tax records OVERNIGHT ENERGY: WH pushed for 'correction' to Weather Service tweet contradicting Trump in 'Sharpiegate' incident, watchdog says | Supreme Court rules that large swath of Oklahoma belongs to Native American tribe Clarence Thomas's wife criticized her town's 'Black Lives Matter' banner: report MORE.

For several years he was program director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He unsuccessfully pushed a show to be hosted by Lynne Cheney, spouse of the Vice President, did bring in two right-leaning public affairs programs, one hosted by Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonJohns Hopkins doctor: Issuing 'ultimatum' for schools to reopen is 'wrong approach' Chris Wallace presses DeVos on threats to withhold funding from schools that don't reopen Tucker Carlson's top writer resigns amid allegations he posted racist, sexist remarks online MORE, the other by the Wall Street Journal editorial writers, not reporters. Neither lasted long.

Associates recall he was intent to replace what he considered a left-wing bias personified by Bill Moyers, ignoring that fabled conservative William F. Buckley had just completed a 28-year run on PBS. (Today, my wife anchors the PBS NewsHour; she was not there during the Pack tenure.)

Senate Democrats say he misled the committee about tax disputes and stonewalled turning over information about his business dealings. “I am very concerned about his false statements to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Delaware Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources MORE, a fair-minded Democrat.


On the other side, VOA critics charge that Bennett is a left-wing Washington insider. That will surprise anyone who has worked with her the last 40 years. She was with the Wall Street Journal for 23 years — working from five different bureaus, including a stint in Bejing. She then was managing editor of the Portland Oregonian, editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Before VOA, she was a top editor at Bloomberg News, where she directed an explosive expose of Xi Jingping's finances. (I worked with Amanda at the Journal and Bloomberg; I have enormous respect for her as a journalist and have no idea of her political views.)

At VOA, which broadcasts to 281 million listeners in 47 languages, she has weeded out corruption and continued the high standards. There was extensive coverage of COVID-19 and China, where the virus originated in Wuhan; some stories undoubtedly were better than others.

Trump should read the VOA stories on China peddling false propaganda, on how the Wuhan death totals are “far higher than official figures,” on the internal crackdowns and disregard for the feelings of Wuhan survivors at funeral homes.

The examples cited by critics are specious. When Wuhan opened after a 76-day shutdown, VOA reported on the big celebration. So did the American commercial networks. It was news. Likewise, they reported that the Wuhan lockdown offered a “model” for dealing with the pandemic. So did others. That was news.

Trump is demanding Senate Republicans approve Pack. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (R-Ohio), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderRepublicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report Sixth GOP senator unlikely to attend Republican convention Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Randi Weingarten MORE (R-Tenn.), Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Republicans considering an outdoor stadium for Florida convention: report MORE (R-Maine), among others, should take Pack at his word that he doesn't want to turn VOA into a Trump propaganda organ.

They should vote for him if he makes just one commitment: to keep Bennett in her post the next six months.

As Ronald Reagan would say: Trust, but verify.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.