Reporter ‘reassigned’ from WH job after Pompeo & ‘woke’ media fight it out at Voice of America headquarters
Press freedom is a partisan issue in Washington. State Secretary Mike Pompeo wants reporters to drop the wokeness and focus on what makes America great, again, while journalists want to fight for their right to grandstand.
Voice Of America reporter Patsy Widakuswara has reportedly been pulled from her job covering the White House, NBC reported on Tuesday. Widakuswara has been reporting on the Trump administration for the state-funded broadcaster since 2018, and was due to travel to Alamo, Texas, on Air Force One on Tuesday, but was ordered by VOA higher-ups to remain at home, NBC continued.
The decision didn’t come out of nowhere. One day earlier, Widakuswara followed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo out of VOA’s Washington headquarters, shouting questions at the nation’s top diplomat. Widakuswara pressed Pompeo on what he was doing “to repair US reputation around the world” after last week’s Capitol Hill riot, and whether he regretted saying “there will be a second Trump administration.”
The nation's top diplomat @SecPompeo ignoring my questions about what he is doing to restore US reputation and whether he regrets saying there will be a second Trump administration. pic.twitter.com/8pcP9lRQ5a
— Patsy Widakuswara (@pwidakuswara) January 11, 2021
Pompeo ignored Widakuswara’s questioning and left the building.
Reporters often continue to ask politicians questions as they leave briefings and conferences, and many use the opportunity to heckle officials with politically loaded commentary. CNN’s Jim Acosta has made these outbursts his trademark, and has been publicly scolded by Donald Trump for them, with the president telling the confrontational newsman last February “you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
To Widakuswara, Pompeo’s refusal to respond was news in itself, and she posted a clip of the encounter on Twitter on Monday evening, castigating “the nation’s top diplomat” for “ignoring my questions.”
In the Widakuswara vs. Pompeo spat, both sides are unhappy with each other. Days earlier, VOA journalists protested the Secretary of State’s visit to their headquarters, accusing the network of “grossly misusing government resources and endangering public health and safety” by giving Pompeo a platform to speak for the Trump administration.
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Pompeo used his platform to criticize those exact stunts. After urging VOA to “broadcast that this is the greatest nation the world has ever known,” Pompeo pivoted to bashing the network’s journalists for attempting to stop his speech.
“Censorship, wokeness, political correctness, it all points in one direction – authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness,” he said. “It’s similar to what we’re seeing at Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple, and on too many university campuses.”
Both sides accuse each other of authoritarianism. While Pomepo sees the relentless wokeness of VOA and its ilk as undermining America’s image abroad and frustrating the Trump administration’s agenda, VOA staff see Pompeo as trying to exert undue control over the free press.
Pompeo’s allegations against VOA are “consistent with a larger assault on the press that we have long seen by this administration,” David Kligerman, general counsel at the US Agency for Global Media, VOA’s parent organization, told CNN on Tuesday. “It is a dangerous trope…to be broadcasting into those audiences in unfree countries, like China, Iran, and Russia, that we serve – that journalists should toe the party line.”
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While Pompeo and VOA differ on which image of America to broadcast to the world, the purpose of the network has always been to beam Washington’s views into foreign lands. Used during the Cold War to broadcast American propaganda beyond the Iron Curtain, its mission has since been less well defined. With the network generally critical of the Trump administration, the White House accused VOA last year of “spend[ing] your money to speak for authoritarian regimes.”
What image of America foreign audiences get from the likes of VOA will likely depend on who wins the battle of ideas back in Washington. President Trump has taken a dim view of the press’ woke ideology, and pushed back on several occasions. His announcement last year of the creation of a “1776 Commission” to promote “patriotic education,” for example, was a direct response to the New York Times’ ‘1619 Project,’ a reframing of US history as a tale of “white supremacy.”
For now, if Widakuswara’s removal from White House duties are anything to go by, it seems that at least some newsroom bosses are open to reporting the news through Pompeo’s red white and blue glasses.
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