Guest: Steve Herman, Voice of America's former WH Bureau Chief, now Chief Nat'l Correspondent, on pulling back 'The White House Curtain'; Also: Wildfires explode in CA; Israeli war cabinet falls apart...
By Brad Friedman on 6/17/2024, 6:36pm PT  

Hey, we beat COVID again over the weekend! So, we're back on today's BradCast and with a fearless in-studio guest for that matter! [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

Very quickly, at top of show, an update on our seemingly never-ending personal COVID nightmares. (Yup, I got it again last week, but kicked it by showtime today! And I ain't the only one.); A bit of breaking news on a spate of wildfires breaking out around Southern (and Northern) California; And some news on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wartime coalition "unity" cabinet falling apart, even as the military seems to turn on the PM, who has reportedly undermined ceasefire and hostage release negotiations "due to political considerations" and his need to stay in power to avoid pending criminal charges.

THEN, we are joined in-studio by veteran journalist STEVE HERMAN of the non-profit, non-partisan, independent, government-funded media outlet known as Voice of America. After spending nearly three decades as an overseas bureau chief for VOA, mostly in Asia, Herman moved back stateside to become White House Bureau Chief during the four years of the Trump Administration and first eight months of Biden's. Now, he has a brand new book detailing insider observations and lessons from those years, titled Behind the White House Curtain: A Senior Journalist's Story of Covering the President --- and Why It Matters.

While I just got over my latest bout with COVID this past weekend, I was somewhat concerned that Herman might not want to join me in person in a small radio studio for an hour. Then I remembered that he was among the very first civilians to enter the Fukushima Nuclear Plant after its 2011 meltdown and would later go on to serve in the cramped, poorly ventilated basement confines with the White House Press Corps during Trump's mishandling of the worse pandemic in 100 years. So, yeah, he doesn't seem easily shaken.

Among the many topics of my discussion with Herman today, based on details, stories and history lessons from his fascinating new book...

  • Details on working as a radio pool reporter during critical historic events during the Trump presidency.
  • That time Donald Trump tested positive for COVID, didn't tell the public (or the press corps working in close quarters with him) for four days, became gravely ill, and the White House lied about all of it.
  • Which was more unnerving? Walking into the nuclear plant at Fukushima just after a meltdown, or showing up each day in the White House during the worst of COVID, with a President who routinely violated WH safety protocols himself?
  • How --- and why --- the Trump Administration tried to capture VOA as a propaganda tool (the agency is prohibited, by law, from engaging in such practices and must remain independent), and how Herman was specifically targeted with a "dossier" compiled by Trump's henchmen at VOA's parent agency, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
  • Herman discusses that time he was banned from Mike Pence's Air Force Two after revealing that the Vice President was told in advance of his maskless visit to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that masking was mandatory under the legendary health facilities house rules.
  • The need for skepticism of government officials by journalists, and how should be the role of WH correspondents to not only report what officials say, but to report on when and how they are not telling the truth to the American public.
  • The differences in the pressures facing journalists at commercial news outlets reporting on the White House, versus that of non-commercial new organizations like VOA.

To give you a quick taste of the conversation today: On the Trump Administration's failed effort to capture Voice of America as a MAGA outlet, Herman tells me "...he was just looking for a head on a pike...And I would have been a good head on a pike. There was a perception that Voice of America was not stepping in line with the Trump Administration. That I and others were guilty of anti-Trump bias, allegedly. And anytime anyone has said that, whether they think I'm anti-Trump or anti-Biden or anti-whoever, go look at the stories we write, and show me where the bias is."

Of course, having the President of the United States himself furious at Voice of America for not being a propaganda outlet, kinda proves the point that, as Herman explains in his fascinating book, VOA, for some eight decades now has not served as a mouthpiece for any particular Presidential Administration. It has proven itself over and again to be a service that its stake holders --- the people of the U.S. whose Government funds it, even as VOA is barred from broadcasting here --- should be proud of. It has long served as a trusted source of news to uncountable millions across the globe in dozens of countries and languages where the service has played a critical role in countering disinformation --- either foreign or domestic --- since the outlets founding in 1942...


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