Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Monday for Voice of America to promote "American exceptionalism," brushing aside complaints that the outgoing administration wants to turn the broadcaster into propaganda.
Pompeo delivered a live address at the headquarters of VOA, where President Donald Trump's administration has shaken up the leadership after saying that the taxpayer-funded outlet should promote its policies.
Pompeo charged that until Trump, VOA's broadcasts "have become less about telling the truth about America and too often about demeaning America."
"We want to depoliticize what takes place here. It's too important for the American people and for the world -- returning this organization to its charter and its charge to spread the message of freedom, democracy and American exceptionalism," Pompeo said.
Despite his call against politicization, he drew a parallel to Trump's complaints about being removed from Facebook and Twitter, which say he encouraged violence after a deadly rampage at the US Capitol by his supporters who sought to overturn his election defeat.
"It all points in one direction -- authoritarianism cloaked as moral righteousness," Pompeo said.
A VOA journalist attempted to ask a question at the end of his appearance but the broadcast was cut off.
This is video of the VOA reporter asking Pompeo a question. Hours later, she lost her position.— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) January 12, 2021
This is in America in 2021 pic.twitter.com/xMxRDFAkh0
Founded in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda, VOA operates in more than 40 languages and is guaranteed under US law the right to "objective, independent reporting" free of political interference.
A letter purported to be from VOA whistleblowers said that Pompeo's speech, broadcast live with no outside questions, amounted to a bid to "disseminate political propaganda in the waning days of the Trump administration."
"The event is plainly a publicity stunt devoid of public interest and thus constitutes a gross misuse of government resources."
Michael Pack, the Trump-appointed CEO who supervises VOA and other taxpayer-funded news outlets, in October said he was removing a firewall that prohibited him from editorial interference, but staff and lawmakers pushed back that he had no authority to do so.
Prosecutors last week charged that Pack, who welcomed Pompeo at VOA, illegally funneled more than $4 million from a non-profit organization to his company that has produced conservative-oriented films, including a documentary on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to fire Pack, who has raced to appoint like-minded people at the news outlets he supervises.
The White House has criticized VOA in particular over its coverage of China's efforts to curb Covid-19 as the administration seeks to blame the pandemic on Beijing.