Michael Pack, a Trump appointee who sought to remake the Voice of America and other government-funded overseas news agencies, resigned on Wednesday, bringing an end to a short and tumultuous tenure.
Pack quit a few hours after President Biden took office and less than eight months into his three-year term as chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The government agency oversees VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and other networks that produce and distribute news to millions of people in countries whose governments suppress independent reporting.
He said that his resignation came at Biden’s request. During the president campaign, Biden’s staff had signaled that he would replace Pack if Biden won election.
Biden named Kelu Chao, a veteran VOA journalist, as Pack’s interim replacement later on Wednesday. A permanent successor must be confirmed by the Senate.
Pack, a former documentary filmmaker who has worked with former Trump adviser Steve K. Bannon, left a trail of controversies, lawsuits and general criticism inside and around the agencies he oversaw.
He characterized his efforts — which included replacing top managers and asserting the right to direct VOA’s newsgathering, despite a firewall of regulations intended to keep the news product independent — as an attempt to restore the venerable news agency’s tradition of nonpartisan reporting. Critics, however, saw his initiatives as an effort to turn VOA into a mouthpiece for the Trump administration.
“I firmly believe that — thanks to your support, patriotism, and understanding — a great amount of much-needed reform was achieved in the past eight months,” Pack wrote in a resignation letter to staff on Wednesday.
He added: “USAGM and the CEO position are meant to be non-partisan. As such, every single day, I was solely focused upon reorienting the agency toward its mission. I sought, above all, to help the agency share America’s story with the world objectively and without bias.”
Others inside USAGM and VOA strongly disagreed with that self-assessment.
One VOA journalist said Pack’s resignation triggered “sighs of relief and cheers” among employees.
“Most if not all of us are celebrating Pack’s resignation as the first step toward a return to normalcy,” the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she isn’t authorized to comment.
She said she was among a number of staff members who are hopeful that the director and deputy director appointed by Pack, Robert Reilly and Elizabeth Robbins, respectively, would soon follow Pack out the door. “They must be removed immediately or the damage to the credibility of the VOA brand will be permanent,” she said.
Pack swept aside top managers of USAGM and the directors of the agencies under his supervision, replacing them with a cadre of conservative appointees. Reilly and Robbins have been on the job for just the past month.
It’s not clear whether Pack’s appointees, including those on supervisory boards, will be replaced by Biden.
He also declined to renew the expiring visas of foreign journalists who work for VOA, saying that they had not been properly vetted and suggesting the agency was harboring foreign spies.
According to a whistleblower complaint filed Tuesday on behalf of former employees, Pack used about $2 million in taxpayer funds to hire a law firm to compile personnel dossiers on some of the managers he targeted for removal. The dossier were developed to support his decision to replace them, the complaint said.
Earlier this month, more than two dozen VOA employees objected to a directive, apparently from Pack, to broadcast a speech by Mike Pompeo, the outgoing secretary of state, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. The employees said the mandate to carry the speech from a political appointee amounted to government “propaganda” — the very thing VOA was established to counter in countries abroad. They demanded the resignations of Reilly and Robbins.
Reilly did not allow reporters to question Pompeo at the event. He later demoted the agency’s White House correspondent, Patsy Widakuswara, after as she fired questions at Pompeo as he was leaving the building.
Pack did not respond to a request for comment, continuing a practice he has observed since his appointment began. Since June, he has given interviews only to conservative media outlets and to USAGM-supervised agencies.
Courtesy – WashingtonPost