WASHINGTON — A Voice of America reporter has been reassigned and taken off the White House beat after she tried to ask questions of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at an event at VOA headquarters, according to two fellow journalists at the organization.
Patsy Widakuswara, who has covered the White House for VOA since 2018, shouted questions at Pompeo after he gave a speech Monday and sat for a question and answer session carried out by VOA director Robert Reilly.
Reilly, a former VOA director and conservative commentator, was named last month to lead the broadcaster by Michael Pack, the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media that oversees VOA and other government-funded media outlets. Pack has presided over an upheaval at the agency, marked by firings of senior managers, court battles and bipartisan criticism from Congress and condemnation by press freedom groups.
Widakuswara could be heard trying to ask a question at the end of the live broadcast of Pompeo’s appearance, and she again tried to ask him questions as he left the VOA building in Washington.
In a video posted on her Twitter account, Widakuswara can be heard asking Pompeo what he is doing to repair the U.S. reputation after last week’s storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and if he regrets saying after the election that there would be a second Trump term.
Pompeo did not answer her questions as he walked out, according to the video..
Widakuswara was removed from her White House assignment later on Monday and was supposed to be the radio pool reporter on Air Force One for a scheduled trip Tuesday. VOA ordered her not to go on the trip, two journalists at VOA familiar with the matter told NBC News.
A VOA spokesperson said the broadcaster does not comment on internal personnel matters. Widakuswara did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her reassignment, which was first reported by NPR and the Washington Post.
VOA journalist Steve Herman, who also covers the White House, tweeted that he was dismayed at his colleague’s “demotion” merely for doing her job and said it amounted to political interference in the broadcaster’s newsroom in breach of the outlet’s editorial independence under its founding charter.
Pompeo had come to the defense of Pack in his speech on Monday, expressing gratitude for his leadership and saying VOA had lost its way by being overly critical in its coverage of America for foreign audiences.
“Its broadcasts became less about telling the truth about America, and too often about demeaning America,” Pompeo said in his speech, without offering examples.
“Voice of America has lost its voice, but it’s on the road back,” he said.
Members of Congress and current and former employees at VOA and other U.S-funded broadcasters, including Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, say Pack has launched investigations of journalists and sought to turn the outlets into a propaganda vehicle for Trump.
A federal judge ruled against Pack in November, effectively banning him from making personnel decisions at the media outlets or interfering in editorial operations. A Washington D.C. Superior Court judge in October ruled that Pack did not have the authority to oust the management of a U.S.-funded non-profit, the Open Technology Fund, that develops anti-censorship software and apps used by civil society groups and journalists in repressive countries.