Now That's What We Call A Purge
Just shy of three weeks ago, Senate Republicans confirmed Trump loyalist Michael Pack to head up the Agency for Global Media — the outfit that runs US government broadcasting outfits like Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and other networks that operate all over the globe.
Last week, Pack fired the heads of all the networks run by the agency, as well as many of the networks' top staff, in an unprecedented purge that appears aimed at getting rid of all that silly "professionalism" and "nonpartisan" coverage that had made the networks famous, and more trusted than the official media of many of the countries where VOA and other services were broadcast.
But that's fine, because now there's every indication that the agency will become the propaganda arm of the administration, without any of those troublesome moments like when Fox News publishes clearly fake poll results showing Trump behind Joe Biden.
As the Atlantic notes, the fired network heads were anything but liberal shills:
Jamie Fly, the ex-head of RFE/RL, is a former aide to Senator Marco Rubio; Alberto Fernandez, the ex-head of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, is a former career Foreign Service officer who has been praised by commentators on the right.
Others might be Democrats, but none is a partisan. Amanda Bennett, the ex-head of VOA, is a former editor in chief of The Philadelphia Inquirer and a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist; guessing what was coming, she resigned just before Pack's arrival. Steve Capus, a former president of NBC News who was acting as a senior adviser, was also told to leave the building; Steven Springer, the head of journalistic standards, was removed from his job and given a role as temporary advisor to the new management.
They were dedicated nonpartisan journalists, which means they were clearly disloyal, so they had to go.
To make matters worse, Pack also replaced all the networks' bipartisan boards with just six people, including himself. They all "appear to have been selected for no discernible reason beyond ideological purity." There's former Matt Bevin campaign spokesperson Rachel Semmel, who graduated from explaining that chicken fighting is a grand local tradition to a job at the Office of Management and Budget, where she expertly deflected questions about Trump's withholding of military aid to Ukraine. There's also
Bethany Kozma, who has brought her anti-abortion-rights activism to USAID; and Jonathan Alexandre, senior counsel for Liberty Counsel, an organization dedicated to "religious freedom" that once threatened legal action against a Jacksonville, Florida, library for holding a Harry Potter event, on the grounds that this constituted promotion of witchcraft.
The very best people, as ever. And no, not a one of them (Pack included) has a whit of experience in international broadcasting or in the parts of the world where the various networks operate. But they sure do like Donald Trump a lot!
One of the biggest losses in the purge is the firing of Libby Liu, who for 14 years headed Radio Free Asia, where she was a constant thorn in the side of the Chinese government. Not only did the network break news the Chinese Communist Party didn't like, such as reporting on the concentration camps for the Uighur minority, Liu's RFA created the "Open Technology Fund,"
a low-key but extraordinarily effective program that invents, distributes, and constantly updates technology that allows millions of people to read and listen to information that their governments seek to block, not just in China but around the world. Two-thirds of mobile devices around the world use some piece of OTF-supported technology; billions of people can share ideas in spaces safe from government surveillance.
So yes, she's gone too.
It's not entirely clear what Pack has in mind for the agency, but after a purge like that whatever's on tap doesn't look good. Steve Bannon may or may not be an offstage puppetmaster; he told Vox, "We are going hard on the charge. [...] Pack's over there to clean house." Hmm. "We"? Oh, also, wee little thing, but the scuttlebutt is that the world will be treated to Seb Gorka's dulcet tones as the shiny new head of Voice of America. What is more American, after all, than an immigrant escaping the horrors of fascism? Or escaping with the horrors of fascism, as the case may be.
Former Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub worries that the purge at all levels represents "the Breitbartization of U.S. government media," and in the push to confirm Pack, the White House complained that, in reporting Chinese statistics on the coronavirus outbreak in China, VOA had "amplified Beijing's propaganda" by "[calling] China's Wuhan lockdown a successful 'model' copied by much of the world" and — oh, the horror! — by tweeting "video of the Communist government's celebratory light show marking the quarantine's alleged end." How unthinkable! Oh, one itty-bitty problem with that critique, as Vox notes:
However, the story in question wasn't actually written by VOA — it was a piece from the Associated Press that VOA hosted on its site. Regardless, Trump soon after blasted VOA's coverage of China and the coronavirus: "What things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job."
So hooray, TrumpTV is finally on the way! And at such a low, low price: All Trump had to do was act like one of the totalitarian regimes Radio Free Europe used to broadcast to, subvert a previously independent broadcasting agency, and turn it into his own animal. Maybe it'll help him make great deals with our friends in Russia and China!
And if we want real news, we can be glad that so far, at least, the BBC World Service isn't being jammed in the US.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.