Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara resigned on Monday, after defending the government-backed media outlet from withering attacks from the White House and President Donald Trump.
Their resignation comes as Michael Pack took leadership of the agency that oversees VOA, the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Pack, a conservative documentary filmmaker nominated by Trump, was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month.
In a note to staff on Monday morning, Bennett said that Pack has the right to replace them with his own VOA leadership.
Bennett also said that Pack “swore before Congress to respect and honor the firewall that guarantees VOA’s independence, which in turn plays the single most important role in the stunning trust VOA’s audiences around the world have in the organization,” a spokesperson for VOA said. “She remarked that she and Deputy Director Sugawara know that all VOA staff members will offer him all of their skills, their professionalism, their dedication to mission, their journalistic integrity and their personal hard work to guarantee that promise is fulfilled.”
Bennett had defended the agency after the White House attacked its coverage of the coronavirus crisis, claiming that it “amplified Beijing’s propaganda.”
“We are thoroughly covering China’s disinformation and misinformation in English and Mandarin and at the same time reporting factually –– as we always do in all 47 of our broadcast languages — on other events in China,” Bennett wrote in April.
But Trump’s attacks continued, as he called the outlet a “disgrace.”
Over the weekend, Bennett also weighed in after a report that the Centers for Disease Control had blacklisted VOA from interviews, including those coming from one of its on air personalities, Greta Van Susteren. The Knight First Amendment Institute published emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, showing that CDC public affairs staff told public affairs staff to ignore VOA media requests.
Bennett said in a statement that “efforts such as those outlined in the CDC memo can result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism that we regularly see in the markets we broadcast to that have no free press – including in China and Russia.”
A spokesperson for U.S. Agency for Global Media said that the agency “appreciates the service of VOA Director Amanda Bennett and VOA Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara and wishes them both the best in their future endeavors.” No successors have been named.
During Pack’s confirmation hearing, he faced questions from Senate Democrats over his ability to withstand pressure from the White House.
“The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say,” Pack said. “Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined.”