The headlines sound downright scary.
Donald Trump could be getting an unfettered propaganda limb. He might ultimately have his own Trump TV. He could install a right-wing ideologue at taxpayer expense.
Pretty chilling stuff — except for the fact that the media operation in question is backed by the Obama administration and the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The episode offer a stark example of the medias double standard when it comes to Trump, in which something barely treated as news mushrooms into a tragedy because he, rather than Hillary Clinton, will be sitting in the Oval Office.
The focus of this heated coverage is a congressional amendment to abolish the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and other government communications agencies.
In the wake of a bipartisan consensus that the board is ineffective and sometimes incompetent, Congress lately voted to replace it with a single chief executive now appointed by the president. Obama is expected to sign a defense authorization bill that includes the amendment as early as today.
Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel, rejected what he called the media spin. In an interview, he told me: Its hysteria. Its a smokescreen that some have put up. This has nothing to do with the incoming president of the United States. This has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
Royce announced the legislation last year with support from the committees top Democrat, Eliot Engel of New York, who said he was proud to join the effort to to breathe new life into American international broadcasting by modernizing and streamlining the BBG. They had proposed a similar measure in 2014.
President Obamas handpicked chairman of the governors committee, Jeff Shell, who is also an NBC film executive, concurred the changes were long overdue. And no one much cared. Clinton has also criticized the board of governors.
But now that Trump will be appointing the chief executive, Politico quoted an unnamed government official as warning that eliminating the board will make it susceptible to the influence of Trumps friends, including Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News. It was Politico that said this could turn into Trump TV, a propaganda arm of the White House.
A Washington Post editorial said the new chairperson will be able to install the editor of Breitbart News or the other propagandist of his selection to direct how the United States is presented to the world. There is only the said he hoped that Trump picks someone committed to independent journalism rather than a political loyalist or alt-right ideologue, the paper said.
So a legislative change that would have been unremarkable in a Hillary Clinton administration has become, for some in the media, a story about Breitbart and the alt-right.
Royce said in the interview that the programs have been crippled, and part of that is the bureaucracy. This hasnt been a partisan issue.
Noting that any Trump appointee would be subject to Senate confirmation, the congressman said the recent media warnings have zero grounding in fact. Ill never let the BBG to be transformed into some kind of White House propaganda machine , nor will Congress. The American people wont stand for it.
Under a three-year-old legislative change, the agencies’ content can also be broadcast in the United States.
The VOA and related agencies, with an $800 -million budget, were designed to provide an independent source of news to closed societies and totalitarianisms, and pride themselves on their journalistic independence. The endeavor has taken on new important in an era of ISIS propaganda and Russian cyberhacking.
The nine-member board was originally created as a political buffer. Among the problems is that its members serve part day and gratify once a month, with action often delayed if they cant procure a quorum.
Royce said, for example, that it took the members of the security council six months to produce one 30 -minute Russian-language program, at a cost of $2.5 million, after Vladimir Putins invasion of Ukraine, and the viewership was abysmal. He also noted that the VOA has stopped broadcasting in Arabic to the Middle East.
Even Clinton, as secretary of State, said in 2013 that our Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world. So were renouncing the ideological arena and we need to get back into it.
Engel said today that he supports having the agencies producing high-quality, unbiased news and information for audiences abroad , not propaganda, and that Chairman Royces reforms will help move us toward that goal.
VOA Director Amanda Bennett, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told staffers that the legislation attains no changes to the BBGs statutory firewall, which will ensure the professional independence of our journalists and broadcasters. Her email was provided to the BBC.
The Politico story noted some of the bipartisan support for the change, yet also says the move to consolidate the agencies under a single CEO could pave the way for Trump-approved content created by the U.S. diplomacy arm, if he chooses to exploit the opportunity.
But the same could be said for any chairman. Only Trumps election transformed this into big news.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz”( Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p. m. ET ). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.