The US Doesn’t Have to Lose the Information War in Iran

Why President Trump should immediately change the leadership of the Voice of America.

U.S. government broadcasting is a powerful tool that can be used to promote freedom and bolster anti-regime protestors in Iran. After all, that’s why Congress has appropriated some $740 million per year to finance it. Promoting freedom and waging an information war on America’s enemies is in our national interest.

But led by a stable of Obama appointees, the Voice of America and the Persian language service at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Radio Farda) are being used to support the Iranian regime and denigrate the leadership of President Trump.

While the Persian language services, after much public criticism, are now posting cellphone videos of the protests on their social media accounts, their on-air coverage has been tepid, with regular hosts “balancing” coverage of the protestors with coverage of the regime’s lies.

The VOA Central news bureau has been even worse. In a lead on-air “package” on the fourth day of protests, it regurgitated Iranian state media and statements from Iranian regime leaders, putting President Trump’s tweet of support for protestors in the 16th graph.

This was not an isolated example. The next day, VOA central news again parroted the Iranian government line and slammed President Trump:

Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Support for Iranian Protesters 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says U.S. President Donald Trump has no right to express sympathy for the Iranian people after referring to them as terrorists. Trump has praised protesters in Iran for rallying against the government’s economic policy…

As noted by former VOA broadcaster Ted Lipien, who runs the independent BBGWatch,  the message was devastating: “Voice of America to Iranians: Government wants you to behave.”

We are in the midst of an anti-regime uprising all across Iran, and U.S. government broadcasting is essentially supporting the dictators, not the people. It’s an absolute disgrace.

VOA Director Amanda Bennett, who is married to the former owner of the Washington Post, clearly lives in a bubble, filled with the voices of Ben Rhodes, John Kerry, and Susan Rice, who have urged the Trump administration to keep quiet, just as Obama did the last time the Iranian people took to the streets en masse.

In a self-congratulatory Facebook post, Ms. Bennett (aka Mrs. Don Graham) said that VOA had launched a “live blog (on New Year’s Eve!) and filled it with original reporting from Iran… Considering that this all happened on a major holiday when we were working with a skeleton staff, I think we’re doing pretty good.”

That was the third day of the protests, which had spread to more than 40 cities. Up until then, there was very little on VOA. 

As for all that “original reporting,” you can judge for yourself. Here is a sample of the type of “balanced” reporting that makes Voice of America meaningless:

12/31/17 5:45 p.m. -- Iranian callers to the Sunday edition of VOA Persian's Straight Talk program disagreed about whether foreign intervention in the protests is desirable: 

A caller named Farhad from Tehran said, "Right now, we are on the streets for a revolution. (President) Trump -- you pledged to help us -- please do so."

But the next caller, named Siamak and also from Tehran, said Farhad was mistaken. "We should take care of our own business," he said.

There can be no equivalence between supporters of freedom, and the representatives of a repressive regime. When the battle is between tyranny and freedom, America must take sides.

And yet, for the confused souls running VOA’s news coverage of the Iran protests, a tweet or a statement from President Trump must be “balanced” by driven from Ayatollah Khamenei or his puppet, President Rouhani.

Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, now the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, understands where America stands. She became (once again) a Trump administration rock star on Tuesday, when she gave a knock-out performance at the United Nations to support the struggle for freedom now underway in Iran.

“It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when that government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth,” she began. “The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause."

But then, she did the unspeakable. She actually spoke on behalf of the Iranian people themselves, repeating to the world the slogans they have been chanting on the streets of dozens of cities across the country. 

“Political prisoners must be freed.”

“Independence, freedom, Iranian republic.”

“Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon. My life only for Iran.”

And referring to Khamenei, the so-called Supreme Leader: “Feel some shame. Let go of the country.”

It was an amazing performance. Nikki Haley is a one-woman Voice of America. Except that you won’t hear her or see that video on the voice of America.

And, just an hour or so later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders added her voice and the President’s to blast Obama for his silence during the 2009 protests, and pledging that the United States would not repeat that mistake. Another “non-story” for the VOA.

When VOA finally posted a story to its Central news webpage hours later, it included no video of either woman, not even a picture. But it did include a photo of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, and nearly as many quotes from Iranian government officials blasting the U.S.

This is not why U.S. taxpayers are spending $740 million/year on U.S. government broadcasting. Voice of America has become a disgrace.

Iranians and oppressed peoples around the world actually look up to the Voice of America and to our freedom radios. When these voices support the dictators, the flag of freedom droops, and the spark of freedom dies out.

The White House needs to step in to turn this around. Besides sending to the Senate the administration’s pick to lead the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which probably won’t happen until June, here are a few things that can be accomplished tomorrow, if the White House puts its shoulder to the plough:

  1. VOA must stop broadcasting Iranian regime statements uncritically as if they were true.
  2. VOA and Radio Farda should put POTUS and other administration statements on the Iran protests front and center, not relegate them to the bottom of “balanced” news coverage.
  3. VOA and Radio Farda should put on air credible opposition voices such as Mansour Osanloo, former head of the Tehran bus driver’s union, who is very highly respected. He is currently being boycotted by both services.

Clearly, the current VOA and Radio Farda leadership will not do these things or live up to their mission statement if left to their own resources, as they have been until now. VOA and Radio Farda should be treated as federal disaster zones, and emergency management teams brought in immediately.

The White House has the authority to temporarily appoint a team of former VOA broadcasters and others who understand the situation in Iran and have contact with respected leaders of the pro-freedom movement. This team needs to be given authority to direct the coverage of Iran in the VOA Central News bureau, as well as the Persian language services of VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

That can happen within 24 hours. 

We are living a historic moment, and our U.S. government broadcasting services are sitting on the sidelines, helping the dictators. Instead, they should be holding high the flag of freedom.

That’s what we do. We are, after all, the United States of America.

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