USAGM Watch Commentary

Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, joined The Federalist Radio Hour Senior Editor Chris Bedford to discuss what The Federalist described as “public broadcasting’s failure to adhere to its objective standards and what his agency is doing about it.” Pack said that while he will never tell a journalist how to cover a story, he will ensure that there are no violations of the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law and which he is required to uphold under bipartisan legislation signed by President Obama. The 2016 legislation, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, established his job. Almost all Democrats in the U.S. Senate opposed his confirmation, but he was eventually confirmed earlier this year after waiting for more than three years since his nomination was announced by President Trump.

The Federalist reported that Pack “discusses his efforts to combat deep-rooted bias at Voice of America and its affiliates, potential security concerns, his two-year confirmation battle, and what people might not know about the USAGM’s international coverage.”

In the interview, Pack briefly mentioned former Voice of America Amanda Bennett who was in charge of VOA just prior to his arrival at the agency, and her husband Donald E. Graham, the former publisher of The Washington Post. He also briefly mentioned “VOA Mandarin Five”– five journalists in the Voice of America Mandarin Service who tried to do investigative journalism by interviewing a Chinese whistleblower and critic of the communist regime but had their interview shortened on orders from Bennett and were later disciplined after she accused them of insubordination and not following good journalistic standards. They strongly disputed these charges, but three of them were subsequently fired. The fired VOA Mandarin Service journalists hope that they might be vindicated and reinstated under Pack, but as of a few days ago they have not been contacted by USAGM officials.

At the time of the shortened whistleblower interview in 2017, both Bennett’s husband and former Democratic BBG Board chairman Jeff Shell were reported to have substantial corporate business interests in communist-ruled China, but Amanda Bennett insisted that nothing other than her concern for good journalism influenced her decisions. The shortening of the interview was ordered by Bennett after Chinese government officials demanded that it be canceled and made vague threats to cancel visas for VOA journalists.

Friday, Aug. 28, Amanda Bennett is scheduled to speak at the National Press Club Journalism Institute and Investigative Reporters & Editors program on protecting investigative journalism while it is under attack. It is not known whether she will speak about VOA Mandarin Five and investigative journalism at VOA. Registration for the webinar was still open Thursday night.

In his Federalist Radio Hour interview, Pack said that “There needs to be a separation between us the political appointees and what journalists are reporting.” “I would never tell a journalist how to cover a story or what to say,” Pack added. “However, I am there to make sure that the procedures and practices that ensure the highest journalistic standards and the contract of the VOA Charter are fulfilled.” His agency head position is different from the job of the VOA director. Pack chose a longtime Voice of America manager Elez Biberaj, who had worked closely with Bennett and publicly showed on Facebook his and his family’s ties to Democratic Party politicians, as acting VOA director while the search for a permanent VOA director continues.