News & Politics

A VOA Reporter Was Demoted After Asking About Trump’s Defeat. The White House Correspondents’ Association Condemned the Move.

America's international broadcaster once prided itself on independence. It's now run by presidential allies.

Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks

The White House Correspondents’ Association is calling the reassignment of a Voice of America reporter who attempted to question the Secretary of Sate “an assault on the First Amendment.”

The statement from WHCA president Zeke Miller came Tuesday morning, a day after Patsy Widakuswara, a White House reporter for the U.S.-funded international news outlet, attended a VOA-sponsored event featuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to The Washington Post, VOA reporters were not allowed to ask questions during the event. But when it was over, Widakuswara followed Pompeo as he made his way the building. The Post reported that she repeatedly asked him questions, such as: “Mr. Secretary, what are you doing to repair the U.S. reputation around the world? Mr. Secretary, do you regret saying there will be a second Trump administration?”

The VOA’s director, Robert Reilly, subsequently took Widakuswara off her beat in what The Post described as an apparent “punishment for seeking information from a prominent newsmaker.”

The development comes during a period of turmoil inside the VOA. The organization’s CEO, conservative filmmaker Michael Pack, was installed by Trump and has said he would be “draining the swamp” of VOA reporters he considers to be biased against the White House, NPR reported. Reilly, who was only installed as director earlier this year, is a right-wing writer who has spoken of a “globalist borg” and written a book condemning gay people. The new leadership has said VOA should serve America’s diplomatic goals rather than journalistic ones. VOA staff as well as members of Congress have complained that Pack is trying to turn the news organization into a pro-Trump propaganda machine, according to NBC news.

Here’s the full statement from WHCA president Zeke Miller:

“At a moment when the world already has watched an assault on our democratic institutions, the Trump administration has chosen to send another message – with an assault on the First Amendment. It did so at the Voice of America, a taxpayer-supported service tasked by Congress with broadcasting uncensored journalism to the world to demonstrate freedoms – particularly freedom of the press – that the United States hopes all nations will emulate. VOA’s reassignment of Patsy Widakuswara for doing her job, asking questions, is an affront to the very ideals Secretary of State Pompeo discussed in his speech Monday. The move, mere hours before Widakuswara was to fly with the president as a member of the travel pool on Air Force One, harms the interests of all Americans who depend on the free press to learn about the actions of their government and gives comfort to efforts to restrict press freedom around the world.”

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Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.