The media relations department at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told communications staff to ignore inquiries from journalists at Voice of America.
Michawn Rich, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson who was detailed to the CDC to help with coronavirus coverage, noted in an April 30 “rundown” email for a new employee that they don’t send media requests from “Greta Van Susteren or anyone affiliated with Voice of America” to the Department of Health and Human Services or Office of the Vice President.
“NOTE: as a rule, do not send up requests for Greta Van Susteren or anyone affiliated with Voice of America,” the email states.
The email also included a link to a story in the White House’s evening newsletter on April 10, accusing VOA, a U.S.-funded but independent news organization, of spending taxpayer dollars to “Promote Foreign Propaganda.”
“Voice of America is a global news network funded by American taxpayers. It spends about $200 million each year on its mission to ‘tell America’s story’ and “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively” to people around the globe,” the email said. “Today, however, VOA too often speaks for America’s adversaries — not its citizens. The Coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Secrecy from the Communist Party of China allowed the deadly virus to spread across the world.”
This email, along with three others, was released on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Knight Institute, an independent group dedicated to expanding freedom of the president.
Anna Diakun, staff attorney of the Knight First Amendment Institute, told VOA, “We brought this lawsuit because we were concerned about the politicization of public health messaging and we thought it was critical for the public to know if and how the administration was stage-managing CDC communications, so that the public was able to judge for themselves the accuracy of any statements.”
Van Susteren said her inclusion on the blacklist was “stunning,” given that no one at either the CDC or White House had complained about her reporting.
“The thing that’s stunning to me is that it’s VOA and I’m specifically named, and nobody at the CDC, or the White House, or anyplace else has ever said that my reporting on the coronavirus or anything else has been unfair or inaccurate,” Van Susteren told VOA, adding that it was “absurd to blackball a person.”
VOA Director Amanda Bennett also denounced the revealed policy saying that they were “shocked” and that it was “troubling.”
President Trump and the White House have criticized the outlet over its coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. The Senate confirmed conservative activist and filmmaker Michael Pack earlier this month to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees VOA.
The CDC and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.
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