Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted “wokeness” during a Monday speech in which he defended recent changes at government-funded international broadcaster Voice of America, where a Trump-backed overhaul has drawn criticism in recent months.
Pompeo’s address to VOA staff was broadcast live on the network, despite the objections of some staff members, who penned a letter to VOA head Michael Peck arguing the speech at the broadcaster’s headquarters would amount to “propaganda” and endanger those who attended during the coronavirus pandemic.
In his remarks, Pompeo said the VOA had “lost its commitment to its founding mission” under past administrations and shifted toward broadcasts that were “too often about demeaning America.” He also addressed criticism from VOA employees, arguing that those who sought to block his speech from being broadcast live had a “dangerous” instinct toward censorship.
“Censorship, wokeness, political correctness, it all points in one direction – authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness,” Pompeo said. “It’s similar to what we’re seeing at Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple, and on too many university campuses. This is not who we are, as Americans. It’s not what Voice of America should be. It’s time to put woke-ism to sleep.”
The Trump administration has faced bipartisan criticism in recent months for changes instituted by Michael Pack, a right-leaning documentarian appointed as head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the parent of VOA.
Critics say Pack has replaced top officials with Trump loyalists and forced a shift toward the promotion of U.S. foreign policy rather than independent journalism. In November, a federal judge ordered Pack to halt further personnel changes and attempts to intercede on editorial operations.
Pompeo argued that about 40 percent of VOA’s workforce had been “improperly vetted” prior to Pack’s tenure, and that the Trump administration was “reorienting VOA back to its mission of truth and unbiased reporting.”
“The Trump Administration isn’t trying to politicize these institutions,” Pompeo said. “We’re trying to de-politicize them.”
President-elect Joe Biden has committed to review Pack’s changes to the agency once he takes office.
Pompeo’s speech marked his first public remarks since pro-Trump protestors stormed the Capitol in response to the effort by lawmakers to certify Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of instigating the riot.
Pompeo did not address the riot during his speech. In a statement last week, the secretary of state called for authorities to “swiftly bring justice” to individuals who participated in the riot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.