The True Voice of America

… if you go back and look at the very first transcript of our [Voice of America] broadcast back in 1942 during World War II, the famous quote is “The news may be good, the news may be bad, we shall tell you the truth.” 

Al Pessin, speaking to Catherine Jacobsen, Committee to Protect Journalists
Sandblast, Task Force Epsilon thriller

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists’ Katherine Jacobsen recently interviewed my friend, former VOA journalist Al Pessin (author of the Task Force Epsilon thriller series). Al is my contemporary, but his words harken back to my father’s Foreign Service career in the US Information Agency.

As I’ve written about before, President Eisenhower created USIA after WWII to tell America’s story to the world, a public affairs operation in tandem with the radio and print journalists of the Voice of America. USIA and the VOA fell under partisan attacks periodically and worked hard to earn the confidence of the Congress during my father’s career. Ultimately, USIA was absorbed into the Department of State, where Dad’s work in public diplomacy carries on in American embassies around the world.

The voa is under attack

Now, the VOA and other news outlets that helped the United States to win the Cold War are under partisan attack.

As Nick Schifrin recently reported on the PBS NewsHour, Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, ignored a congressional subpoena to appear before Congress over concerns he has politicized and mismanaged media outlets that helped the U.S. win the Cold War. One of those outlets is Voice of America.

Al Pessin joined his former VOA colleagues in signing a letter to the Acting Director of the VOA objecting to the wholesale firing of management and removal of boards of directors as a witch hunt reminiscent of the Red Scare of the 1950s. Even more damaging was the summary visa revocation of foreign journalists, many of whom may face persecution at home for having worked for the United States. VOA journalists — going against a reporter’s grain by becoming the news — put their careers on the line to object.

He has ordered the firing of contract journalists, with no valid reason, by cancelling their visas, forcing them back to home countries where the lives of some of them may be in jeopardy.

Voice of America journalists

Journalists are not spies

Most damaging of all is his public statement, on a podcast, that the VOA is great cover for our enemies.

A great place to put a foreign spy.

Michael Pack, CEO, US Agency for Global Media, speaking about the Voice of America

Pack’s tossed off remark was recorded in an interview with conservative and pro-Trump The Federalist.

It takes a long time to build the credibility of a news organization and just a brief moment to destroy it … It just shows a complete lack of understanding or disregard for the job that we have to do and potentially for the personal safety of the people trying to do it. 

Al Pessin, retired Voice of America journalist

Handing our enemies a win

Congressman Tom Malinowski, D- NJ, put it like this at the hearing Pack disregarded.

If China, Russia, North Korea, or any of our adversaries, had in fact infiltrated USAGM, they could have not possibly done more harm to America’s interests than Mr. Pack has in fact done on his own.

Congressman Tom Malinowski

With friends like Michael Pack — and presidents like Trump — damaging our democracy from the inside, who needs enemies?