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Government Vows to Investigate Anti-Soros Broadcasts Into Cuba as Senators Demand Answers

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), accompanied by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), gets on an elevator outside the Senate chamber on June 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Foreign Relations Committee senators on both sides of the aisle are questioning the use of taxpayer dollars on a Cuban broadcast that in a May segment made anti-Semitic comments about George Soros.

The lawmakers reached out to the director of the United States Agency for Global Media after Soros was one of the targets of a pipe bomb campaign, with one of the devices placed in his home mailbox and discovered by a caretaker.

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting runs Radio Television Marti, with the same premise and leadership as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, to air U.S.-government-friendly programming broadcast from Miami to Cuba. The segment called Soros a “multimillionaire Jew” and a “non-believing Jew of flexible morals,” said he was “the architect of the financial collapse of 2008,” and said the State Department is “occupied” by Soros, along with other accusations.

“A TV Marti program that was introduced with the phrase, ‘George Soros, a multimillionaire Jew,’ was paid for by the American taxpayer, and broadcast to Latin America last summer, in our name. This is taxpayer-funded anti-semitism,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted Saturday. “TV Marti director says its program on George Soros lacked ‘balance.’ Sorry, there is no balance that makes anti-Semitism right. BBG must investigate how such programming was produced and and why it aired.”

Flake sent a letter to USAGM CEO John Lansing on Monday about the “hateful, vitriolic rhetoric” in the programming. “At a time when hate-filled rhetoric is having a devastating impact inside the United States, it is irresponsible for any agency of the federal government to perpetuate unfounded conspiracy theories that, far from supporting U.S. policy goals, work against them,” Flake wrote, demanding more information on programming and calling for the dismissal of any employee who approved anti-Semitic content at the station.

“The rise of anti-Semitism inside the United States is bad enough,” he added. “American taxpayers should not be funding its dissemination.”

Lansing replied quickly in a statement that the Soros segment was “inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics” and “those deemed responsible for this production will be immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their apparent misconduct.”

He also ordered “an immediate, full content audit to identify any patterns of unethical reporting at the network” and said the Office of Cuba Broadcasting director would require “ethics and standards refresher training” for all journalists there.

Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) followed up today with a letter asking Lansing to report his office’s investigative findings to the committee.

“I was pleased to see you issue a statement and reaffirm that ‘USAGM networks’ content is required to adhere to the highest standards of professional journalism.’ It is an understatement to say that this particular segment, which includes no credible sourcing or standards of ethical journalism and occasionally cites only a fringe website, does not meet that standard,” Menendez wrote.

“The networks and grantees of the USAGM play a critical role in promoting freedom and democracy and bringing free, unbiased press to closed societies which otherwise have none,” he added. “I sincerely hope the USAGM will continue advancing this important mission, and makes certain that there are structures in place to ensure that all reporters and editors adhere to the highest standards.”