Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A reporter from the Voice of America during a rally by Iranian dissidents in New York City. (Photo: Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images)

'Wednesday Night Massacre': Trump's New Right-Wing Propaganda Chief Initiates Purge of US-Funded Media Outlets

"The Breitbart crowd may be getting a taxpayer-funded global platform."

Julia Conley

President Donald Trump's newly-appointed head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media was criticized Thursday for enacting what one former employee called a "Wednesday night massacre"—firing several career officials at the agency which oversees government-funded news broadcasters around the world, including Voice of America.

Days after being confirmed to his position in a party-line vote, Michael Pack dismissed Bay Fang of Radio Free Asia; Jamie Fly of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Alberto M. Fernandez of Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Emilio Vazquez of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting; and Libby Liu of the Open Technology Fund. 

"Trump wants a ministry of information that will spew out the party line. It's a dangerous moment for democracy."
—Brett Bruen, former White House director of global engagement

Liu was fired despite the fact that she had earlier announced her resignation, effective in July. The director and deputy director of Voice of America, Amanda Bennett and Sandra Sugawara, also resigned after Pack was confirmed.

Pack has already replaced several of the officials with Trump allies and political appointees, and is expected to name former Breitbart News writer Jeffrey Shapiro as the head of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. 

Both Shapiro and Pack are close allies of Steve Bannon, Trump's former advisor who formerly worked as the executive chairman of Breitbart News. Pack, a right-wing filmmaker, made two documentary films with Bannon about nuclear power and the Iraq War. 

Shapiro reportedly said in 2017 that he aimed to one day remake the USAGM as a "Bannon legacy," and in 2016 wrote an op-ed denying claims that Bannon is a white nationalist.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted that Pack's actions in his first days at the helm of the USAGM was "alarming."

"The Breitbart crowd may be getting a taxpayer-funded global platform," wrote Shaub.

The "Wednesday night massacre" came on the heels of numerous attacks from the president of Voice of America (VOA), which he claims broadcasted Iranian and Chinese propaganda, particularly regarding the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Trump said delays in Pack's confirmation hearings were preventing the administration from "managing" VOA.

Progressive critics have long considered VOA a vehicle for U.S. government propaganda overseas, promoting American-friendly coverage of world events while masquerading as an independent "voice." Still, the overt takeover by a Trump sycophant and political supporter has raised particular alarm.

As Jon Allsop wrote at Columbia Journalism Review on Wednesday, VOA and the other news organizations operating under the USAGM do not operate entirely independently of the federal government's interests. 

"While VOA is mandated by Congress to do independent journalism and its leaders have sometimes sought to style it as a normal news organization, there's no getting around the fact that it was founded, during the Second World War, as a vehicle for American soft power, and never really abandoned that role," Allsop wrote.

However, he added, "Trump's very public attitude toward VOA is ample cause for concern," as the president could be aiming to use the broadcaster as a tool in his "fitful, moral-free approach to US foreign policy."

Nina Jankowicz of the nonpartisan Wilson Center expressed concern that as "cut-and-dry administration mouthpieces" VOA and its partner broadcasters will disappear as sources of news in parts of the world "where there otherwise might not be one."

Pack's dismissal of the longtime officials—and his demand Wednesday to staffers that "Until further notice, no actions are to be taken, and no external communications are to be made, without explicit approval" of the new executives—could also eventually endanger people working for USAGM around the world.

"Trump wants a ministry of information that will spew out the party line," Brett Bruen, director of global engagement under former President Barack Obama, told Asia Times. "It's a dangerous moment for democracy."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

With Covax Out of Cash, Inadequacy of Vaccine Charity Model Further Exposed

"Share the technology NOW," demanded Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves.

Jake Johnson ·


Court Strikes Down Alabama GOP's Racist Congressional Map

"We deserve to be heard in our electoral process, rather than have our votes diluted using a map that purposefully cracks and packs Black communities," said a plaintiff in the case.

Jake Johnson ·


One Year In, Biden Fails to Boost C- Grade on Environment

The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund assessment indicates the administration's action to deliver on environmental promises "desperately needs improvement."

Jessica Corbett ·


'A No-Brainer': Lawmakers Urge Pelosi to Hold Vote on Stock Trading Ban

"Perhaps this means some of our colleagues will miss out on lucrative investment opportunities," said House members in a bipartisan letter. "We don't care."

Jessica Corbett ·


Virginia Schools Sue Youngkin Mandate Making Masks Optional

The Republican governor wants to allow parents to decide whether their children should wear masks to school to mitigate Covid-19 transmission—guidance at least 58 school districts have no plans to follow.

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo