White House accuses taxpayer-funded Voice of America of spreading Chinese propaganda

VOA chief fires back after official White House newsletter declares: "VOA too often speaks for America’s adversaries—not its citizens."

Published: April 9, 2020 9:06pm

Updated: April 9, 2020 10:23pm

The White House took the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking Voice of America, the government-funded media outlet with a wide foreign audience, accusing it of siding with the Chinese government over the coronavirus pandemic. 

The timing of the attack in an official White House newsletter coincides with the arrival of Mark Meadows, President Trump's new chief of staff who was famous for his political tactics as founder of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus and has already reshaped the White House communications team. 

"Voice of America spends your money to speak for authoritarian regimes," reads the headline of an item in Thursday's "1600 Daily," an online newsletter and email produced by the White House. "Voice of America is a global news network funded by American taxpayers. It spends about $200 million each year on its mission to 'tell America’s story' and 'present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively' to people around the globe. Today, however, VOA too often speaks for America’s adversaries—not its citizens."

Meadows has already swiftly moved to replace White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and bring in his own bench of communication advisers. The 1600 Daily article, which had no byline, said that VOA "amplified Beijing’s propaganda" by calling China’s Wuhan coronavirus lockdown "a successful 'model' copied by much of the world."

"Even worse, while much of the U.S. media takes its lead from China, VOA went one step further: It created graphics with Communist government statistics to compare China’s Coronavirus death toll to America’s," the blistering 1600 Daily article continues. "As intelligence experts point out, there is simply no way to verify the accuracy of China’s numbers."

The 1600 Daily article accused VOA of straying from its founding purpose during World War II: “'VOA will represent America,' its guiding Charter reads. And for years after its founding during World War II, VOA served that mission by promoting freedom and democracy across the world for audiences who longed for both. Today, VOA is promoting propaganda instead—and your tax dollars are paying for it."

Besides the 1600 Daily post, Dan Scavino, White House director of social media, tweeted out a VOA video he accused of amplifying "China’s very own propaganda" by showing a celebration of Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus, after that city ended a 76-day lockdown to slow the virus.

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VOA Director Amanda Bennett quickly responded to Scavino, posting a five-part thread on Twitter.

"Our team works hard to fact-check and hold authorities and leaders accountable for what they say. We have a whole department dedicated to this effort," Bennett tweeted. 

"And we call out China for hiding and obfuscating some facts and their lack of transparency in articles like this," Bennett wrote before linking to a VOA article accusing the Chinese government of lying about when its first coronavirus case was detected, saying that "Scientific reports have said the first cases of what turned out to be the novel coronavirus behind the disease COVID-19 were detected weeks earlier."

"We believe a healthy democracy means having an #Independent and #FreePress, so we love a good dialogue. Please read more about how we are totally independent here," Bennett also tweeted, while linking to an article from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors.

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 "All of the networks–Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV & Radio Sawa) – are considered vital, objective news sources and are frequently cited by major media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostThe Miami Herald, and CNN, for their high-quality reporting on topics ranging from the tragic self-immolations in Tibet to human rights issues in Iran," the article states. "This is testament to the quality and range of reporting that our journalists produce."

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