Jordan Michael Smith reports on the transformation of Voice of America Persian into a pro-Trump, hard-line propaganda outlet:
Since then, the network has become, as Sajjadi puts it, “a mouthpiece of Trump — only Trump and nothing but Trump.” Manzarpour describes the situation as “blatant propaganda.” He said, “There is no objectivity or factuality.”
For example, the MEK is covered heavily and favorably, despite having almost no support inside Iran, a history of terroristic violence, and a well-founded reputation as a cult. A VOA employee, who asked to speak anonymously for fear of reprisal, said, “VOA Persian, for the first time in decades, has been acting as media arm of MEK and is giving wall-to-wall live coverage of their gatherings and events.” [bold mine-DL] And VOA Persian published multiple articles by Heshmat Alavi, a pro-MEK persona exposed by The Intercept this June as having been the product of a multiperson propaganda outfit housed in an MEK compound in Albania. (VOA Persian later said it would remove the articles.)
The VOA has broadcast puff pieces on Reza Pahlavi, the son of the Shah, whom Iran hawks see as a viable opposition leader. Hard-line Iran hawks are frequent guests on the network, often on the receiving end of friendly interviews. These guests include current Trump administration officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an inveterate Iran hawk. Pundits like Michael Ledee have appeared, as have personnel from three heavily neoconservative Washington-based think tanks: the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Heritage Foundation, and the Hudson Institute.
The cheerleading for the MEK by a government-funded media outlet is very disturbing, and it shows that VOA Persian has abandoned real reporting and replaced it with pushing a regime change agenda. It is disgusting that a totalitarian cult that has American blood on its hands receives such glowing coverage from a network funded by our government. It is bad enough when some newspapers choose to publish pro-MEK “sponsored content,” but this is even worse. Our tax dollars are going towards the promotion of an awful organization that abuses its own members and was listed as a terrorist organization until just a few years ago.
This seems to be part of the broader effort to rehabilitate the cult as an “alternative” to the Iranian government despite its hideous record and lack of support inside Iran. Considering the support that the MEK has received in the past and continues to receive from some high-profile associates of the president, including the current National Security Advisor, it is unfortunately not that much of a surprise that VOA Persian has become increasingly pro-MEK at the same time that it has become pro-Trump. Insofar as the change at the network has been driven by the desire “to curry favor with the Trump administration,” they clearly think that boosting the MEK and promoting a regime change message are the way to win that favor.
Because it has become nothing more than a font of propaganda, it is failing in its basic mission of providing accurate and reliable information about the U.S. and U.S.-Iranian relations:
Azadeh Moaveni, an Iran expert at the Crisis Group, says that VOA’s decline worsens the possibilities for engagement between the U.S. and Iran. “It’s pro-Trump in a way that disregards the way Trump’s polices are hurting Iranians, whether through sanctions or anything else,” she told The Intercept. “To the extent that it might have served as a medium through which Iranians learned about the U.S. and better understood its policies, its present condition as a naked propaganda mouthpiece doesn’t help relations.”
The article also details how VOA Persian employees harass and smear journalists and activists online because they don’t fall in line behind administration Iran policy in a manner similar to the behavior of the now-defunct Iran Disinformation Project supported by the State Department:
The online tirade directed at Mortazavi is part of a pattern: Journalists at VOA Persian have been lashing out at Americans they deem unsupportive of President Donald Trump’s Iran policy, in apparent violation of VOA’s declared standards.
Journalists at VOA Persian have been lashing out at Americans they deem unsupportive of Trump’s Iran policy.
The public attacks are the most visible manifestation of a transformation that’s been underway since November 2016. VOA Persian and many of its staffers have become rabidly pro-Trump, abandoning their stated mission of providing balanced news to Iranians.
Smearing journalists and activists that prefer engagement to regime change and war has been the modus operandi of Iran hawks for a long while, but in the Trump era that has taken the form of conducting the smear campaign while receiving funds from the U.S. government. The people that are providing accurate reporting and analysis are coming under attack because they won’t recite the administration’s propaganda lines. At the same time, an outlet that is supposed to be providing accurate news has devolved into little more than a loudspeaker for a deranged cult.