|CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media|
June 5, 2020 – January 20, 2021
|Preceded by||Grant Turner (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||Kelu Chao (Acting)|
|Born||1954 (age 66–67)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Education||University of California, Berkeley (BA, JD)|
Michael Pack is an American documentary filmmaker who was CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) from June 2020 to January 2021. Pack was nominated by President Donald Trump and took office at USAGM in June 2020 after Senate confirmation. He resigned on January 20, 2021 at the request of President Joe Biden.
Pack founded Manifold Productions, a documentary film company, in 1977. He later served as an executive at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and as CEO of the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank.
Pack's short tenure as head of USAGM was characterized by NPR as a series of "crises." Pack fired the heads of the news outlets under USAGM's purview and installed Trump loyalists in the positions. He disbanded a bipartisan board that oversees the USAGM, and spent millions of taxpayer dollars on law firms to investigate journalists for purported bias against Trump. He rescinded rules at USAGM that protected journalists at Voice of America and other affiliates from political interference.
Early life and education
Pack was born in New York City. He attended Yale University before earning a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and Juris Doctor from the UC Berkeley School of Law.
Early in his career, Pack worked for Radiotelevisione Italiana and the U.S. Information Agency. He founded Manifold Productions, Inc., an independent film production company, in 1977. Through Manifold Productions, Pack has written, directed and produced 13 documentary films on a range of topics.
In 1993, Pack served as Co-Chair of the International TV Council at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 2002, President Bush nominated and the Senate confirmed Pack to serve on the National Council on the Humanities, which oversees the National Endowment for the Humanities. He served from July 2002 to February 2005. From 2003 to 2006, Pack served as Senior Vice President for Television Programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Pack has collaborated with Stephen Bannon, a former Trump advisor and co-founder of the conservative website Breitbart News. In 2019, Pack produced and directed a documentary about the Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.
In January 2021, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine sued Public Media Lab and Manifold Productions, alleging that they funneled $4.1 million in tax-protected nonprofit funds to Pack.
In 2016, President Barack Obama signed legislation abolishing the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent oversight board that had previously controlled several government-sponsored media agencies, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The role of the board was replaced by a single agency executive appointed by the White House augmented by advisory boards with no decision-making powers.
In June 2018, the White House announced that President Donald Trump intended to nominate Pack as the chief executive officer of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, making him the first CEO nominated to head the newly created USAGM since the 2016 reforms.
Pack's first confirmation hearing took place on September 19, 2019. On May 8, 2020, Senator Jim Risch moved to schedule a committee confirmation hearing for Pack for the following week. Pack's nomination was contentious, with critics arguing that the mission of VOA would be compromised by installing a CEO who they considered a conservative partisan.
On May 12, 2020, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez raised with District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine the question of whether Pack unlawfully directed funds from the non-profit charitable organization he ran — Public Media Lab — to his profit-making company Manifold Productions. According to CNBC, at least $1.6 million in donations received by the nonprofit had been sent to Manifold. In response, Racine indicated that he initiated an investigation. A request by Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to delay a vote until the investigation was complete was overruled by Risch, with the committee recommending Pack's nomination on a 12-10 party line vote.
Pack assumed office over a week after his confirmation partially so his office could be swept for covert listening devices. One of his first actions as USAGM CEO was to fire the heads of the outlets under his purview — among them Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), and the Open Technology Fund — including certain officials favored by conservatives. Pack also installed Trump loyalists in leadership positions within the organization and disbanded a bipartisan board that oversees the USAGM. He planned for editorials to be read and posted on the website in various languages that would present administration policy as set by the president.
Pack continued a purge of USAGM, firing at least seven longstanding agency officials, including chief financial officer Grant Turner and general counsel David Kligerman. Kligerman and Turner said that their removals were retaliation against CEO; Turner said that he had been removed for calling Pack and his team "to account for gross mismanagement of the agency" and Kligerman said, "There is no other conclusion to draw, except that it is in retaliation for attempting to do my job in an apolitical manner and to speak truth to power." Kligerman was fired days after questioning the legality of Pack's mass firings. Under Pack, USAGM hired Frank Wuco, a former conservative talk radio "shock jock" known for spreading conspiracy theories and calling President Barack Obama a "Kenyan." It was reported in July 2020 that the USAGM under Pack would not extend visas for foreign VOA journalists. In late July 2020, Pack announced an investigation of a VOA video that purportedly promoted Joe Biden's presidential campaign. In August 2020, USAGM required several of its outlets to return money allocated for internet freedom projects for the agency to reallocate for other internet freedom uses.
In August 2020, Pack suspended top executives at USAGM, reportedly angry at them for telling him that some of his plans might be illegal. In an apparent attempt to get the executives fired, he hired private law firm McGuireWoods to investigate them, though it found no malfeasance and the executives were later reinstated.
On October 26, 2020, Pack rescinded rules at USAGM that protected journalists at VOA and other affiliates from political interference. Career employees at Voice of America accused Pack of seeking influence over the outlet's reporting and filed suit in federal court, seeking injunctions that prevent Pack from making personnel decisions about journalists employed by the agency, directly communicating with them and conducting any investigations into editorial content or individual journalists. On November 20, 2020, Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the injunctions. "The court confirmed that the First Amendment forbids Mr. Pack and his team from attempting to take control of these journalistic outlets, from investigating their journalists for purported 'bias,' and from attempting to influence or control their reporting content," Lee Crain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel revealed on December 2, 2020, that it had found "a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing" at USAGM, including "gross mismanagement" by Pack and violations of the legal firewall meant to protect Voice of America's journalistic integrity. It demanded that the USAGM investigate allegations by whistleblowers. The Government Accountability Project, a public interest law firm, told NPR that it was representing more than 20 whistleblowers at USAGM.
On January 14, 2021, six days before Joe Biden's inauguration as president, a group of Voice of America journalists signed a letter demanding the resignation of the director of VOA and his deputy. The controversy concerned the reassignment of reporters Patsy Widakuswara and News Director Yolanda Lopez after the journalists questioned outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pack has written, directed, and produced numerous documentaries, principally for PBS, as well as corporate and educational films. His major credits include:
- Hollywood's Favorite Heavy: Businessmen on Prime Time TV, hosted by Eli Wallach (1987)
- Campus Culture Wars: Five Stories about Political Correctness, narrated by Lindsay Crouse (1993)
- Hollywood vs. Religion, hosted by Michael Medved (1995)
- Inside the Republican Revolution: The First Hundred Days, hosted by Don Lambro (1995)
- The Rodney King Incident: Race and Justice in America, narrated by Robert Prosky (1998)
- The Fall of Newt Gingrich, narrated by Blair Brown (2000)
- Rediscovering George Washington, hosted by Richard Brookhiser (2002)
- God and the Inner City, narrated by Phylicia Rashad (2003)
- Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, hosted by Richard Brookhiser (2011)
- RICKOVER: The Birth of Nuclear Power, narrated by Joan Allen (2014)
- Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words (2020)
- The Last 600 Meters (2020), a documentary about “the two biggest battles of the Iraqi war”
- Edmondson, Catie; Wong, Edward (2020-05-08). "With Push From Trump, Senate Moves to Install Contentious Filmmaker at U.S. Media Agency". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
- Tweet by Steve Herman, White House Bureau Chief for Voice of America. January 20, 2021
- Alex Weprin (2021-01-20). "Biden Administration Asks Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack to Resign". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2021-01-20.
- Folkenflik, David (November 20, 2020). "Voice of America's 5 Months Under Trump CEO: Lawsuits, Bias Claims, And A Sex Scandal". NPR News. Retrieved 2020-11-21.
- "Trumpism At Voice Of America: Firings, Foosball And A Conspiracy Theory". NPR.org. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
- "On Trump's Latin America team: Trump nominates Mauricio Claver-Carone to head the IDB". Global Americans. 2020-06-23. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
- "Michael Pack". Huffington Post. Huffington Post. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
- "Manifold Productions - Films". www.manifoldproductions.com. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
- "National Endowment for the Humanities Advisory Board Gains Five New Members". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2020-02-11.
- "Current.org | Michael Pack named CPB program chief, 2003". current.org. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
- "Claremont Institute | Recovering the American Idea". www.claremont.org. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
- "Voice of America CEO Accused Of Fraud, Misuse of Office All In One Week". NPR.org. Retrieved 2021-01-09.
- "AG Racine Sues Public Media Lab and Manifold Productions for Funneling Over $4 Million in Nonprofit Funds to Michael Pack". oag.dc.gov. Retrieved 2021-01-09.
- "Obama Signs New Law Restructuring U.S. International Media". RFE/RL. December 24, 2016. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
- "Trump to Nominate Michael Pack as Next BBG CEO". NPR News. June 3, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2018.
President Donald Trump plans to nominate conservative filmmaker and documentarian Michael Pack as the next head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the White House says.
- Buble, Courtney (October 27, 2020). "Global Media Agency CEO Revokes Regulation Clarifying 'Firewall' Protecting Journalistic Integrity". Government Executive Magazine. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
- Schwartz, Brian (September 20, 2019). "Trump's nominee to lead federal media agency funded a private company with donations from his nonprofit". CNBC.
- Edmondson, Catie; Wong, Edward (May 8, 2020). "With Push From Trump, Senate Moves to Install Contentious Filmmaker at U.S. Media Agency". The New York Times.
- Kim, Seung Min (May 21, 2020). "Senate committee approves nominee to oversee U.S. media agency criticized by Trump". Washington Post. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
- King, Colbert (2020-05-15). "Did Trump's pick to lead the VOA misuse nonprofit funds? D.C.'s AG is on it". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
- "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 2nd Session". www.senate.gov.
- "Republican-led Senate confirms divisive Trump broadcasting nominee Pack". Reuters. June 4, 2020.
- Edmondson, Catie (June 4, 2020). "Senate Confirms Conservative Filmmaker to Lead U.S. Media Agency". The New York Times.
- Cassata, Donna. "Senate confirms Trump nominee to lead agency overseeing VOA despite investigation". Washington Post.
- "Senate confirms Trump's pick to lead Voice of America". AP News. June 4, 2020.
- "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 2nd Session". www.senate.gov.
- Ellison, Sarah (June 19, 2020). "How Trump's obsessions with media and loyalty coalesced in a battle for Voice of America". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Lee, Matthew (June 17, 2020). "US broadcasting chief fires agency heads in major reshuffle". Associated Press. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- Kelly, Laura (June 18, 2020). "Trump appointee ousts multiple officials within US media agency: reports". The Hill. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- Folkenflik, David (June 18, 2020). "Trump's New Foreign Broadcasting CEO Fires News Chiefs, Raising Fears Of Meddling". NPR News. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Wong, Edward (2020-06-17). "New Conservative Media Chief Dismisses Heads of U.S.-Funded News Outlets". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-06-18.
- "Trump administration purges news execs from U.S. agency meant to counter disinformation, leaving staff fearing more to come". CBS News. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
- Lee, Matthew (June 18, 2020). "Trump global media chief faces GOP backlash over firings". Associated Press. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Kelly, Laura (June 20, 2020). "Trump's new head of US media agency under fire from both sides". The Hill. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Schwartz, Brian (2020-06-17). "Federal media chief Michael Pack installs Trump loyalists to leadership posts, memo says". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-06-17.
- Schwartz, Brian (2020-06-19). "New directors at federal media agency have ties to anti-LGBT groups, fought pro-transgender policies". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
- Ward, Alex (2020-06-25). "The head of US broadcasting is leaning toward pro-Trump propaganda. Biden would fire him". Vox. Retrieved 2020-11-24.
- Lippman, Daniel (August 12, 2020). "U.S. global media agency hires shock jock who called Obama 'Kenyan'". Politico. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
- Lee, Matthew (July 13, 2020). "Undaunted, US global media chief plows ahead with changes". Associated Press. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
- Lippman, Daniel (August 12, 2020). "Trump appointee deepens purge of U.S. global media agency". Politico. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
- Bernal, Rafael (July 9, 2020). "Voice of America not extending foreign journalists' visas: report". The Hill. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
- Folkenflik, David (July 9, 2020). "U.S. Broadcasting Agency Will Not Extend Visas For Its Foreign Journalists". NPR News. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
- Lippman, Daniel (July 30, 2020). "Deleted Biden video sets off a crisis at Voice of America". Politico. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
- Lee, Matthew (July 30, 2020). "Trump global media chief probes pro-Biden VOA content". Associated Press. Retrieved August 2, 2020.
- Lippman, Daniel (August 13, 2020). "U.S. global media agency demanded outlets return money for internet freedom projects". Politico. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
- David Folkenflik (4 March 2021). "Trump Appointee At VOA Parent Paid Law Firm Millions To Investigate His Own Staff".
- Folkenflik, David (October 27, 2020). "U.S. Agency Targets Its Own Journalists' Independence". NPR News. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
- Fischer, Sara (October 28, 2020). "Trump-appointed USAGM CEO removes agency's firewall protections". Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
- Folkenflik, David (September 2, 2020). "At Voice of America, Trump Appointee Sought Political Influence Over Coverage". NPR. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
- "Judge rules against Trump global media chief after firings". AP NEWS. November 21, 2020.
- Folkenflik, David. "'Substantial Likelihood Of Wrongdoing' By VOA Parent Agency, Government Watchdog Says". NPR News. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
- Lee, Matthew (December 18, 2020). "Pro-Trump shakeups continue at VOA's parent agency". Associated Press. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
- Lee, Matthew (December 9, 2020). "Appointment of new VOA chief raises fears for US broadcaster". Associated Press. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
- Jerreat, Jessica (December 9, 2020). "USAGM Says Robert Reilly to Return as VOA Director". Voice of America. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
- Lee, Matthew (December 22, 2020). "Falsely accused "Anonymous" re-emerges at VOA sister network". Associated Press. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
- DeLuce, Dan (January 14, 2021). "Voice of America journalists demand resignation of top officials, protest sidelining of two staffers". NBC News. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
- "petition", January 14, 2021. Accessed January 14, 2021.
- "Trump media chief who oversaw Voice of America purge resigns". The Guardian. Associated Press. 2021-01-21. Retrieved 2021-01-21.
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