Not all that long ago, the media was shouting that Voice of America was about to be turned into Trump TV.
Not so much. Biden TV is another issue though.
The content at issue featured a video that can only be described as an apparent election advertisement for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, which appeared on VOA Urdu’s website as well as on its Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts. The video was branded with VOA logos for its duration.
This VOA-branded video promoted a voter mobilization campaign, “Million Muslim Votes,” and highlighted Biden making election promises to the Muslim-American community. Among other individuals, Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made appearances in the video.
There is significant concern that the VOA content targeted potential voters in the forthcoming U.S. presidential election. To this point, an English-language translation of the revised VOA Urdu content notes, “The number of Muslim voters in several key U.S. states could play a significant role in the upcoming presidential election. In the 2016 election, President Trump won Michigan with less than 11,000 votes. The number of Muslim voters in this state is 1.5 million.”
Peck’s press release, if anything, understates the case. While the media is fuming, as this Politico article shows, this was bad.
In the two-minute video, subtitled in Urdu and overlaid with music, Biden says: “Your voice is your vote, your vote is your voice. Muslim Americans’ voices matter. I’ll be a president that seeks out and incorporates and listens to the ideas and concerns of Muslim Americans on everyday issues that matter most to our communities. That will include having Muslim American voices as part of my administration.”
The footage, which also includes a brief shot of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), was clipped liberally from the livestream of Emgage Action’s Million Muslim Votes virtual conference earlier this month, for which Biden provided a video. Emgage Action is a left-leaning 501c(4) group that has endorsed Biden and “seeks to mobilize American Muslims to advocate for issues that define who American Muslims are by what they stand for,” according to its website.
One of those clips included audio from a voice-over narrator. “Make no mistake people, 2020 is our year. Let’s dive into it with 20/20 vision,” the narrator says in the video. “We can see clearly that America is fighting for its very soul.”
That’s a campaign ad. And an arm of the government should not be putting out partisan campaign ads.
The scrutiny of the Biden video has drawn top VOA officials into close handling of the matter. Officials in the outlet’s front office have told colleagues the Urdu video should have corrected Biden when he referred to the “Muslim ban” by saying President Trump’s 2017 immigration action didn’t ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., but only selected Muslim-majority countries, according to a person familiar with the internal discussions. The video also should have noted that the Trump campaign is doing its own outreach to Muslim voters and that some Muslim organizations support Trump’s reelection, they said.
That would be ethical journalism. And that’s deader than a dodo everywhere. Why should VOA be an exception?