USAGM Watch Commentary

Michael Pack, President Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) was sworn in and assumed his position as USAGM CEO after his nomination was confirmed last week by the U.S. Senate with all but one among Democratic senators who voted opposing his appointment. The final vote in favor of his confirmation was 53 to 39. The oath was administered earlier this week in a non-public setting, but a public ceremony may be held later. Pictures of USAGM Governors, who previously had an executive and oversight function, have been removed from the agency’s official “Who We Are” website page. With the Senate confirmation of the first USAGM CEO under legislation signed by President Obama, the Broad of Governors will only have an advisory role. The agency was previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Pack is expected to come to the agency headquarters building in Washington, DC this week.

One of the first actions Pack already took as USAGM CEO was to put a temporary freeze on new contracts and their extensions, as well as on personnel actions on hiring or promotions. Such a freeze is not unusual in government operations when a new agency head starts to review programs and priorities. He will have authority over several U.S. government-funded media outlets, including the Voice of America (VOA).

USAGM has seen in recent years multiple management and programming scandals, which were especially frequent and serious at the Voice of America under executives appointed during the Obama administration.  A key aide to former CEO who was appointed during the previous administration and resigned last year, was sent to prison for 3 months for stealing money from the agency. 

The current Voice of America management team under VOA Director Amanda Bennett’s leadership has alienated Iranian-American and Chinese-American communities by allowing VOA to repeat propaganda from authoritarian regimes in Iran and China. Bennett strongly denies these charges. President Trump spoke critically about VOA’s current management and the White House issued highly critical statements.

Ethnic-oriented U.S. media and conservative think tanks welcomed Pack’s confirmation while The Washington PostThe New York Times and friends and former associates of Amanda Bennett criticized Pack. Bennett has past links with The Washington Post and her husband is the paper’s former publisher. One of her husband’s companies has done educational business in China which benefits from good bilateral relations, educational exchanges and open travel.

SEE: Did Trump’s pick to lead the VOA misuse nonprofit funds? D.C.’s AG is on it. By Colbert I. King, The Washington Post, May 15, 2020.

SEE: Why are US taxpayers funding a ‘Voice of the Mullahs’ in Iran? By Brian Hook, New York Post, May 27, 2020.

SEE: A Loss for Anti-Trump Media Forces: Michael Pack Confirmed as Agency for Global Media Head. By Helle Dale, The Daily Signal, Heritage Foundation, June 8, 2020.

SEE: With New Leadership, Voice of America May Shed Beijing’s Influence. By Bonnie Evans, The Epoch Times, June 10, 2020

Meanwhile, Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett, appointed during the Obama administration, under whose tenure multiple scandals were reported at VOA, said in an email to staff on Wednesday that “VOA’s protest coverage has been nothing short of extraordinary.”

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