FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 13, 2021
Voice of America Whistleblowers Protest “Reassignment” of White House Correspondent After Questioning Secretary of State Pompeo During VOA Speech
WASHINGTON—Today, whistleblowers notified the political leadership of Voice of America (VOA) and its parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), that their summary removal of VOA White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara from her beat was illegal and constitutes gross mismanagement. The notice was provided in a letter to the political leadership – USAGM CEO Michael Pack, VOA Director Robert Reilly and VOA Deputy Director Elizabeth Robbins – from Government Accountability Project.
Ms. Widakusara was “reassigned” to a different position at VOA late in the evening on Monday, January 11, 2021, hours after she posed questions to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about critical current events, including the January 6 takeover of the Capitol. VOA invited Secretary Pompeo to speak to its employees at a live event held at VOA headquarters. VOA also broadcasted the speech live worldwide with outside media excluded. When the speech ended, Ms. Widakusara asked her questions, which were ignored by the secretary.
Seconds after Secretary Pompeo departed VOA headquarters, VOA Director Reilly – moderator of the speech – publicly berated Ms. Widakuswara. Ms. Widakuswara asked Mr. Reilly, “Mr. Director, why didn’t you ask any of the questions we wanted to know about?” Mr. Reilly told Ms. Widakuswara, “You don’t know how to behave … you are not authorized…” In response, Ms. Widakuswara said, “I know, but I am a journalist and I am paid to ask questions and none of those questions you asked.” Approximately seven hours later, Ms. Widakuswara was informed of her “reassignment.”
Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel David Seide wrote:
“Sadly, Ms. Widakuswara’s removal from the White House beat is another example of illegal political meddling. It is a clear violation of the firewall, which protects the editorial independence of VOA journalists. This sends a chilling message that journalists in authoritarian regimes are very familiar with: if you dare ask questions, you suffer the consequences.”
Government Accountability Project provided copies of the letter to Congress and the federal oversight who assist whistleblowers, the State Department Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
A copy of the letter can be found here.
Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.