BBG Watch – USAGM Commentary
Blanquita Cullum has interviewed for her radio program Hard Question on WCGO in Chicago film director and producer Michael Pack about his documentary on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The film will be released in theaters in the United States on January 31.
Pack is also President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which is the new name of the agency where Cullum had served from 2002 to 2010 as a member of the bipartisan board overseeing the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and other taxpayer-funded media serving overseas audiences. During Cullum’s tenure the agency was known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Trump nominated Pack in June 2018 but his nomination has lingered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since that time.
In his interview with Cullum, Pack presented a sympathetic picture of Clarence Thomas as a deeply religious African-American Supreme Court Justice who grew up in poverty in the segregated South, went to Catholic schools, experienced racism, and initially sided with radical leftist movements in his youth before becoming a conservative. The radio interview also focused on controversies in Thomas’ life and career. They are also noted in Michael Pack’s description of his documentary film: “Although Clarence Thomas remains a controversial figure, loved by some, reviled by others, few know much more than a few headlines and the recollections of his contentious confirmation battle with Anita Hill.“
The Cullum-Pack interview included a brief reference to U.S. international media, but they did not discuss any of the scandals at the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which is still run by federal officials appointed during the Obama Administration or selected by these appointees. There was no discussion of Pack’s plans for reforming the agency’s bureaucracy if he should be confirmed by the Senate. One of the former agency officials, a top aide to the former agency CEO, is currently serving a 90-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges of stealing money from the U.S. government.
Pack alluded in the interview to many liberal media attacks on Thomas as an African-American who betrayed liberal values. While there was no discussion in the interview of the taxpayer-funded and U.S. government-managed Voice of America, one of the most frequently quoted authorities by VOA on racial relations and African-Americans has been in recent years the Southern Poverty Law Center. Conservative African-Americans like Candace Owens have been almost completely ignored in Voice of America programs despite the VOA Charter which requires VOA programming to be “accurate, balanced and comprehensive.” Americans who hold similarly conservative views to many of those held by Thomas on various moral, social and political issues are now often labeled in VOA programs as racists.
Pack pointed out in his interview that when Clarence Thomas defended himself during his confirmation hearings against attacks, he accused his critics of running “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas.”