The Wednesday Night Massacre

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The cause of democracy and the free press took a major hit last Wednesday when the President’s recently confirmed nominee to head the US Agency for Global Media, Michael Pack, fired the leadership and much of the senior staff at all the Agency’s broadcast networks — Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Middle East Broadcasting Network — and the networks’ digital arm, the Open Technology Fund.  Days prior to the mass firing, the Pulitzer-prize winning head of the Agency’s other network, Voice of America, and her deputy director resigned, citing the appointment of Pack.  After the firings, Pack also dissolved the non-partisan boards that oversaw the networks and named an interim Board filled with religious and other ultra-conservatives.

Pack, a colleague of former Trump adviser and Breitbart News co-founder Steve Bannon, was nominated by Trump two years ago but only confirmed earlier this month after reported pressure on Senate Republicans by the President.

Last week’s purge hollows out one of our country’s most effective weapons against communism and authoritarianism around the globe.  Founded during the Cold War, the networks of the Agency for Global Media serve as a substitute for a free press in countries that do not have one.  The networks and their reporters deliver unbiased news reports to citizens of countries, like China, Russia and Cuba, with authoritarian rulers who restrict and censor the news.  The Voice of America, founded in 1946 during World War II, broadcasts digital, TV, and radio content in 47 languages which it distributes to affiliate stations around the globe.  Its mission is “To represent America, not any single segment of American society.”

That mission and the mission of the other networks to do real reporting and real journalism without propaganda in native languages is now in serious jeopardy.  This piece in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum provides an excellent overview of the role of these networks in promoting democracy around the globe and a frightening dissection of the President’s latest attempt to dismantle the institutions that have made this country what President Reagan once called “The Shining City on a Hill.”

It remains to be seen what will become of these networks: Will they become the America First propaganda arm of President Trump and allies like Steve Bannon and Steven Miller?  Will they be silenced, much to the delight of the autocrats that the President seems to admire?  Will they be used (illegally) to help the President’s re-election?  Will they be “monetized” somehow to feed corporate interests?

Sadly, the biggest question will be, how lasting and deep will the damage be to this global model of freedom and democracy?