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What The Heck Is Going On At Voice Of America?

This Week in the Swamp: A weekly dive into the muck of the Trump administration.
UNITED STATES - JULY 13: The Voice of America building is pictured in Washington on Monday, July 13, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
October 15, 2020 7:16 p.m.

What the heck is going on at Voice of America?

According to a lawsuit filed Friday by five suspended employees of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the parent company of VOA and its sister networks worldwide — a whole lot of Trumpy shenanigans.

Ever since Michael Pack took over at USAGM in June, the plaintiffs said, he’s interfered in editorial coverage and punished reporters for content he didn’t like. (Pack has denied any wrongdoing.)

Among other things, according to the suit, Pack and other top officials “have interrogated numerous reporters and copy editors about a single line in a profile of First Lady Melania Trump that stated that President Trump ‘has disparaged immigrants and regularly attacks perceived adversaries on Twitter.'”

“If Voice of America and the other USAGM networks are to survive Defendants’ insidious stewardship, this Court must act,” the suit says. “It must enforce the firewall in the way Congress wrote it and the agency’s own regulation construes it.”

Pack’s background may offer some clues: He’s a conservative filmmaker and ally of Steve Bannon, and as the New York Times reported in May, his bid to join the federal government was backed by everyone from the Heritage Foundation to InfoWars guest Jerome Corsi.

Personnel became policy: Earlier this summer, 15 VOA journalists who aren’t U.S. citizens were forced to fly abroad from the United States because USAGM hadn’t renewed their visas.

Explaining the decision, Pack said: “To be a journalist is a great cover for a spy.”

Then, earlier this month, NPR reported on a memo from Pack, ordering that any journalist “who on Facebook ‘likes’ a comment or political cartoon that aggressively attacks or disparages the President must recuse themselves from covering the President.”

The memo, NPR reported, appeared aimed at VOA White House bureau chief Steve Herman, whose reporting and tweets had been deemed unfair to Trump.

Herman, you may recall, reported that Vice President Mike Pence had not worn a mask during a visit to the Mayo Clinic in April despite rules that Pence’s crew had been given, drawing the ire of Pence’s press staff. In other words: Good work, Steve.

And Herman, Friday’s lawsuit notes, also took the lead in authoring a letter to Pack condemning the “spy” comment.

Ever since that letter, according to the suit, the reporter has been under extra scrutiny from USAGM bosses, who “have been watching Herman’s private social media activity for any hint of bias.”

All of this, per the suit — the retaliatory investigations, the alleged retaliation, the memo on journalistic ethics from management — crossed a firewall: “That simply is not allowed.”

Here’s what else we were watching this week: 

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