Top Voice of America Editors Resign

The top two editors at Voice of America resigned Monday, amid White House criticism of the government-funded but editorially independent news agency and as a new overseer loyal to President Trump was about to take office. (TWP)

The Washington Post

Top Voice of America editors resign amid strife with White House, arrival of new Trump-appointed director

The top two editors at Voice of America resigned Monday, amid White House criticism of the government-funded but editorially independent news agency and as a new overseer loyal to President Trump was about to take office.

It wasn’t immediately clear why VOA Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara submitted their resignations. In a memo to staff on Monday, they jointly wrote, “It is time for us to leave,” but cited no specific reason other than the arrival of Michael Pack, a Trump appointee who will head the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees VOA.

The agency’s relationship with the Trump administration was already fraught, but over the weekend, a new rift developed. After news emerged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had instructed its communications staff to deny interviews to VOA reporters — a policy prompted by the White House’s criticism of the agency — Bennett issued a strongly worded statement condemning the policy.

“Efforts such as those outlined in the CDC memo can result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism that we regularly see in the markets we broadcast to that have no free press,” Bennett wrote in response.

The White House in April launched an extraordinary public attack on the international news service in April, accusing VOA of promoting Chinese government propaganda in its reporting on the coronavirus outbreak. Bennett defended the agency’s independence then, citing numerous news reports that debunked the Chinese government’s claims about its handling of the virus outbreak and its false statements about American involvement.

According to documents obtained by the Knight First Amendment Institute, internal guidance at the CDC specifically cited VOA host Greta Van Susteren, the former cable news host. “NOTE: as a rule, do not send up requests for Greta Van [Susteren] or anyone affiliated with Voice of America,” the warning stated.

Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Pack, a conservative filmmaker and President Trump’s pick to run the agency that oversees VOA.

Trump has publicly praised Pack, but his nomination had been held up in the Senate for more than two years, with Democrats raising questions about alleged financial improprieties in his nonprofit film production company.

In addition to attacking the agency on the White House’s official blog, Trump, in a private lunch with Senate Republicans last month, pushed for lawmakers to advance Pack’s nomination, calling Voice of America the “voice of the Soviet Union” and “communists.”

People at VOA saw the White House’s attack on VOA as an effort to jump-start Pack’s nomination.

VOA, with 1,500 journalists, is one of the world’s largest news operations. It was chartered in 1943 to tell “America’s story,” particularly in countries where authoritarian governments suppress independent media. Although funded by Congress, it is officially independent of the U.S. government in its reporting.

Bennett is the former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Lexington Herald-Leader who shared in a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for her reporting at the Wall Street Journal. (She is married to Donald Graham, the former publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post.) Sugawara formerly worked as a reporter and editor at The Post. They began working at VOA in 2016, remaking the agency’s reporting operations and technology.


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