Making US Propaganda Exceptional Again: Mike Pompeo’s Voice of America Speech
This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.
During the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed his efforts to incite greater conflict between the United States and Iran. He also used Voice of America (VOA) to broadcast a speech that a group of whistleblowers described as “political propaganda.”
“I read that some VOA employees didn’t want me to speak here today. I’m sure it was only a handful,” Pompeo declared on January 11. “They didn’t want the voice of American diplomacy to be broadcast on the Voice of America. “Think about that for just a moment.”
Pompeo continued, “This kind of censorial instinct is dangerous. It’s morally wrong. Indeed, it’s against your statutory mandate here at VOA.”
The dictionary definition of propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” VOA is United States government media, and on some level, VOA and its affiliates throughout the world are always broadcasting or publishing propaganda—what is in the interest of U.S. foreign policy.
But in the case of VOA, which is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Pompeo’s speech was a particularly egregious example of propaganda.
On January 8, days before the scheduled speech, whistleblowers at VOA sent a letter [PDF] through the Government Accountability Project to Michael Pack, CEO of USAGM, and Robert Reilly, VOA director.
“A broadcast speech by the outgoing Secretary of State on topics on which he has been widely covered should be seen for what it is: the use of VOA to disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration. As proposed, the planned coverage by language services will be one-sided and lacking the necessary objectivity protected by the firewall. It is political meddling.”
The letter additionally argued the event was a “gross misuse of government resources.”
“We understand that currently 18 employees are working on event preparations. But for that assignment, they would not be producing editorial content for VOA services. On the day of the event, we further understand that eight employees have been assigned to work in the VOA auditorium and 10 elsewhere around VOA headquarters.”
According to the whistleblowers, “$4,000 in taxpayer funds” were spent on the event. It was “plainly a publicity stunt devoid of public interest.”
Pack was appointed by Trump and confirmed as CEO of the U.S. Agency of Global Media on June 4, 2020, despite concerns about the conservative documentary filmmaker.
As USAGM CEO, Pack accused VOA of “being rife with anti-Trump sentiment.” He fired several VOA employees for producing news segments he disliked.
NPR reported, “An editor was suspended.” Pack’s senior aides “pushed for the network’s White House bureau chief to be sidelined, alleging a tilt toward Democrats, despite policies barring USAGM executives from interfering in coverage.”
A lawsuit against Pack was filed by another group of whistleblowers on September 29. One whistleblowing employee, who was a deputy director for operations at USAGM, alleged Pack had claimed he and others were forced out because of Pack’s belief that they were part of the “deep state.” He maintained they had delayed his confirmation to run the agency.
“We’re all parts of institutions with duties and responsibilities higher and bigger and more important than any one of us individually, but this kind of censorial instinct is dangerous. It’s morally wrong,” Pompeo stated, as he addressed the whistleblowers who opposed his speech.
“Censorship, wokeness, political correctness, it all points in one direction—authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness. It’s similar to what we’re seeing at Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple, and on too many university campuses today.”
“It’s not who we are. It’s not who we are as Americans, and it’s not what Voice of America should be. It’s time that we simply put woke-ism to sleep,” Pompeo concluded.
When Pompeo was CIA director, he was at the forefront of the demonization of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, which ultimately laid the groundwork for indicting a publisher under the U.S. Espionage Act.
In 2017, he delivered a speech in his first days as CIA director that was authoritarianism cloaked with moral righteousness. In fact, nearly every speech from Pompeo is authoritarianism cloaked with moral righteousness.
“The false narratives that increasingly define our public discourse cannot be ignored. There are fictions out there that demean and distort the work and achievements of CIA and of the broader intelligence community,” Pompeo said while attacking Assange and WikiLeaks.
“And in the absence of a vocal rebuttal, these voices—ones that proclaim treason to be public advocacy—gain a gravity they do not deserve. It is time to call these voices out. The men and women of CIA deserve a real defense.”
Furthermore, “social distancing requirements” were invoked to prohibit outside media from attending the Pompeo speech.
“Given the closure of the event to outside media – ostensibly “due to social distancing requirements” – your decision to stage the speech before a live audience of VOA employees is especially brazen,” the whistleblowers complained. “It is also disingenuous. You cannot use the COVID-19 pandemic’s public health risks to outside reporters as an excuse for excluding them and then ‘invite’ your employees to attend.”
One reporter, Patsy Widakuswara, who was a White House reporter for VOA, attempted to question Pompeo after his speech. She was later removed from her beat in retaliation.
She tried to ask what he was doing to repair the country’s reputation after what happened with the mob on Capitol Hill on January 6. And added, “Do you regret saying there will be a second Trump administration?”
Given what unfolded with a mob descending upon Capitol Hill on January 6, no establishment media outlet would give a Trump official a platform to spread their message without facing questions.
“I tell audiences about American exceptionalism wherever and whenever I can. Because it’s true and because it’s important,” Pompeo proclaimed.
“America is good and great, and everyone who truly grabs our founding understands this.”
Naturally, Pompeo, who still stands with Trump, turned to U.S. government-funded media for a safe space. In doing so, he completed VOA’s transformation into the kind of state media, which elites like Pompeo typically love to condemn because it makes them feel morally and politically righteous.