USAGM Watch Commentary

In a vote nearly completely along party lines, the U.S. Senate confirmed today (June 4, 2020) the nomination of film documentarian Michael Pack to become CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which oversees the Voice of America (VOA) and other U.S. taxpayer-funded and government-run media outlets targeting audiences abroad. Republican senators and one Democratic senator, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), voted to confirm Michael Pack. The final count was 52 for to 38 opposed, with 9 senators not voting.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Senate did not heed Senator Bob Menedez’s (D-NJ) calls to postpone the vote and closed debate on the nomination. In his speech today on the Senate floor, Senator Menendez accused Pack of providing false answers to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and to the IRS about the operation of a fund-raising non-profit organization used for producing his film documentaries. Senator Menendez, who himself had faced accusations of accepting favors from a friend in New Jersey and a mistrial on those charges, implied that non-profit money could have been used for Pack’s own expenses. Pack denied these accusations and said that any wrong answers resulted from an oversight. D.C. Attorney General is investigating the non-profit run by Pack.

In addition to Senator Menendez, U.S. Senators from Oregon, both of them Democrats, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), spoke during the Senate debate on Thursday against Pack’s nomination. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) spoke in support of Pack and said that opposition to him among Democrats is partisan in nature.

In his speech on the floor of the Senate today, Senator Menendez acknowledged briefly management problems at the U.S. Agency for Global Media. While Senator Menendez and other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee objected to Michael Pack’s nomination to be sent to the full Senate, committee chairman, Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), and Republican members by majority vote expressed approval for it to go forward. The vote on Michael Pack in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was along party lines.

Multiple management and programming scandals have been reported in recent years at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They were especially frequent and serious at the Voice of America (VOA) under executives appointed during the Obama administration. Some of them, including VOA Director Amanda Bennett, are still in charge. Federal surveys show record low levels of morale among agency employees. The Trump administration in its third year has so far no key executives at VOA or within the agency’s bureaucracy in Washington. 

The current VOA management team under 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.

A key aide to former USAGM CEO who was appointed during the previous administration and resigned last year, was sent to prison for stealing money from the agency.

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