Capturing News, Capturing Democracy: Trump and the Voice of America

Kate Wright, Martin Scott, Mel Bunce

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

The Voice of America (VOA) is the oldest and largest U.S. government-funded international media organization. In 2020, Donald Trump nominated Michael Pack, a right-wing documentarian and close friend of Steve Bannon, to lead the organization and curb what Trump saw as the network's overly negative reporting on the U.S. During the seven months that Pack oversaw the agency, more than 30 whistleblowers filed complaints against him, a judge ruled that he had infringed journalists' constitutional right to freedom of speech, and he refused to respond to a subpoena issued by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. How did such a major international public service media network become intensely politicized by government allies in such a short time, despite having its editorial independence protected by law? What were the effects on news output? And what can we learn from this situation about how to protect media freedom in the future?

Capturing News, Capturing Democracy puts these events in historical and international context--and develops a new analytical framework for understanding government capture and its connection to broader processes of democratic backsliding. Drawing from in-depth interviews with network managers and journalists, and analysis of private correspondence and internal documents, Wright, Scott, and Bunce analyze how political appointees, White House officials, and right-wing media influenced VOA changing its reporting of the Black Lives Matter movement, the presidential election, and its contested aftermath. The authors stress that leaving the VOA unprotected opens it and other public media to targeting by authoritarian leadership and poses serious risks to US democracy. Further, they offer practical recommendations for how to protect the network and other international public service media better in the future.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages272
ISBN (Print)9780197768488
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Keywords

  • Media capture
  • Democracy

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