USAGM WATCH COMMENTARY
According to a White House announcement on February 25, 2020, President Trump has re-nominated Michael Pack to be “Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for the term of three years.” The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) is the new name of the agency which oversees five networks: two federal organizations — the Voice of America (VOA) and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which includes Radio and TV Martí — and three non-profit organizations — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN) — which receive grants from USAGM. Michael Pack has produced a documentary on African American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The film was released in theaters in the United States on January 31.
Pack was first nominated by President Trump for the BBG CEO position in 2018 and re-nominated in 2019, but the U.S. Senate took no final action to confirm his nomination despite numerous management and programming scandals at the agency under its current leadership, especially at the Voice of America where partisan bias and frequent violations of the VOA Charter have been reported.
As reported earlier by BBG – USAGM Watch, Pack’s nomination has been held up — notably by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). During a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2019, Menendez cited Pack’s association with ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon and asked how Pack could be expected to support independent journalism without political interference.
Menendez cited a 2017 article by Pack titled “Will Steve Bannon Help Break the Left’s Monopoly on Documentaries?”
In that article, Pack pointed to what he called “bad news for [the] documentary establishment. Trump, with Bannon’s help, campaigned against political correctness and self-dealing elites. And they won.”
Based on this, Menendez asked Pack “how can we expect someone who has publicly embraced his role as a conservative documentarian to steward an agency that is charged with supporting independent, politically unmotivated press?”
Pack pointed to his “track record” including his time at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he said he was required to assist programming and reflect the highest journalistic standards and a diversity of opinion.” At CPB, Pack said he did not try to impose his views on filmmakers.
If confirmed, Pack said his first goal would be to improve employee morale, noting that USAGM consistently ranks at or near the bottom in surveys of mid-sized Agencies in terms of morale and job satisfaction.
His second goal would be to address scandals at USAGM including “accusations of bribery, anti-Antisemitism, and malfeasance by a [former] senior official. I will make certain that the Agency is doing everything that it can to make sure such scandals cease and don’t occur in the future.”
These scandals played out under Obama-era appointee John Lansing, who resigned last year to head National Public Radio (NPR), and under VOA director Amanda Bennett.
Employees of VOA’s Hausa Service were found to have accepted bribes from a Nigerian official. VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) illegally targeted Americans with Facebook ads. At least one senior VOA reporter temporarily blocked American journalists from following his VOA tweets. Multiple VOA reporters posted highly partisan and sometimes offensive comments and memes on their personal Facebook pages.
READ MORE: USAGM CEO nominee Michael Pack pledges to protect journalistic integrity. By Dan Robinson, former Voice of America journalist, BBG – USAGM Watch, September 19, 2019
In 2016, a Shadowproof commentator reported that “For reasons still unknown, a United States government owned and operated media outlet, Voice of America, published a hit piece on Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders.”
One VOA foreign language service translated and uploaded a partisan election campaign video on its official VOA Facebook account in which Hollywood actor Robert De Niro called Trump “punk,” “dog,” “pig,” “con,” “buls**t artist,” “mutt,” “idiot,” “fool,” “bozo,” and “blatantly stupid” and said that he would like to punch him in the face.
Voice of America (VOA) Ukrainian Service Anti-Trump Robert De Niro video 2016 screenshot with De Niro’s “I wouldn’t mind smacking him in the face” comment translated into Ukrainian. This was possibly the first Voice of America produced report which condoned violence against an American political figure or any political figure in the world.
An independent study found that VOA and RFE/RL repeated propaganda from the Iranian regime, often without any challenge. Critics point to Russian propaganda themes sometimes being repeated by VOA without balance or counter.
READ MORE: U.S. Foreign Policy Council (USAGM), U.S. Persian Media Study, October 6, 2017.
Lansing ignored early warnings about illegal Facebook ads and partisan bias and VOA programs. His spokesperson refused to answer questions from American journalists whether the VOA Russian Service has hired a journalist who in his previous career in Russia produced anti-U.S. propaganda videos with anti-Semitic themes. Haroon Ullah, a former senior official and aide to Lansing, was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to a charge of stealing government funds.
READ MORE: Former top advisor to former U.S. media agency head reports to prison, BBG – USAGM Watch, January 23, 2018
Congress has never undertaken a thorough investigation of these and other scandals at the agency, which also include the controversy over the firing of employees in VOA’s Mandarin Service, and numerous technical breakdowns that impacted agency programs.
Trump first announced his intent to nominate Michael Pack to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors on June 1 June 2018.
Michael Pack of Maryland, to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term of three years.
Mr. Pack is the current President of Manifold Productions, Inc., where he has written, directed, and produced nationally broadcast documentaries and educational films. Previously, he served as President and CEO of the Claremont Institute, Senior Vice President for Television Programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Co-Chair of the International TV Council at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and as a member of National Council on the Humanities. Mr. Pack attended Yale College, the University of California at Berkeley, and studied film at New York University.