The Deep State reaches into how we present ourselves to the world through organizations like Voice of America. Why would the Democrats not want the news to the  rest of the world to be accurate, objective and comprehensive?   Not a story that is being told by the media but deserves a spotlight being shown on the problem.   Nancy 
By Byron York  Chief Political Correspondent   February 4, 2021

Michael Pack has the distinction of being the very first person fired by the Biden administration. On Inauguration Day, the new president fired Pack before taking action on the pandemic, the economy, or immigration. How did sacking Pack, the mild-mannered, Trump-appointed head of the small, mostly obscure U.S. Agency for Global Media, earn such a high place on Joe Biden’s to-do list?

“I don’t know how to answer that,” a slightly bemused Pack said in a recent interview. All he knows is that at 12:21 p.m., as the inauguration ceremonies went on outside the Capitol, Pack received an email from Catherine Russell, director of White House personnel — a job she had held for 21 minutes at that point. “On behalf of President Biden, I am writing to request your resignation as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media,” Russell wrote. “If you do not resign by 2:00 p.m. ET today, President Biden will remove you from that office.”

So Pack, who just last year was confirmed by the Senate to a three-year term, resigned, effective 2 p.m.

Thus ended an extraordinarily rocky eight months in office, both for Pack and the agency. First, Senate Democrats delayed his confirmation for years, until, in June 2020, an impatient President Donald Trump finally pushed the Senate to act. Then, once Pack was on the job, an alliance of Hill Democrats, former agency officials, and several major media organizations waged a 24/7 campaign to undermine his plan to reform the organization. The issue was of such importance to Democrats that during the presidential campaign, Biden vowed to fire Pack immediately. And that’s what he did.

Now, it is time to look back at what Pack accomplished, and why Democrats and their media allies hated it so much.

A respected documentary filmmaker and former head of television programming for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (and a friend of mine for several years), Pack came into office with the goal of restoring the agency to its original mission, which had begun decades ago with the Voice of America. Pack went back to its original charter, which said that the agency should provide news that is “accurate, objective, and comprehensive.” The charter also said it should “present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions,” “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively,” and “present responsible discussions and opinions on these policies.”

Pack took those words seriously. On the one hand, U.S. Agency for Global Media programming should stress accuracy and objectivity, but on the other hand, it should “present the policies of the United States.” The agency wasn’t like a big newspaper or a cable news network. Its job was to show the world where the U.S. stands.

The problem was, the agency, which was known for years as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, had long been deeply dysfunctional. In 2013, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Our Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena, and we need to get back into it.” Over the years, the agency suffered a series of missteps and failures so extensive that the late Republican Sen. Tom Coburn once called it the “most worthless organization in the federal government.”

In 2018, Congress changed the Broadcasting Board of Governors’s name to the U.S. Agency for Global Media and put it under the control of a single, Senate-confirmed chief executive officer. Pack was the first to hold the job. He had studied the agency’s operation during the years that Senate Democrats blocked his confirmation, deciding after much thought that it was sclerotic, ineffective, and in need of a jolt.

Pack delivered that jolt in the form of firing the heads of four of the news networks that made up the organization: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. In addition, the head of the fifth and most prominent network, Voice of America, resigned just before his arrival. Such a housecleaning is not at all rare in management changeovers in the world of private business. Pack did not accuse any of those senior managers of misconduct; he just believed the agency needed a fresh start.

“My only goal was to bring these agencies back to their core mission, presenting balanced, objective news and telling America’s story to the world and promoting our core values, like freedom and democracy — which is nonpartisan,” Pack recalled.

The move set off a media uproar. “‘Wednesday night massacre’ as Trump appointee takes over at global media agency,” read the headline from CNN. Two media outfits were particularly critical of Pack’s moves. One was National Public Radio, where John Lansing, who was acting chief of the U.S. Agency for Global Media before Pack’s nomination, had gone to become CEO. (NPR reported that the firings raised “fears of meddling,” which suggested that normal managerial oversight in a news organization could be termed “meddling.”) The other outlet that was extremely critical of Pack was the Washington Post, where Donald Graham, husband of the VOA chief who resigned ahead of Pack’s arrival, Amanda Bennett, was the paper’s former publisher and chief executive.

Once inside, Pack was stunned by what he discovered. “We found a great deal of bias and gross mismanagement,” he said. “And in some ways, they were related. The agency had no effective control since it was created in the late 1990s and run by a very ineffective board. Twenty years of bad supervision can lead to both those things.”

On the bias issue, Pack was quickly confronted with a situation that served as an example of how difficult it would be to restore the agency to its mission.

In July 2020, the Voice of America’s Urdu language service broadcast a video on then-candidate Biden that Pack called “essentially a repackaged Biden commercial.” Even though the Urdu service is intended to speak to Muslims in Pakistan, to Pack, the video seemed at least as much designed for a domestic U.S. audience. “This was a video clearly targeting Michigan, calling upon Muslim voters in Michigan to vote for Biden and turn the state for Biden,” Pack explained, adding that it was “a clear violation of Voice of America’s charter to present objective, balanced news.” That was true whether the viewer was in Dearborn or Karachi.

Watching the video, which consisted mostly of the candidate’s own words, it did indeed resemble a Biden, or a Democratic National Committee, commercial. Pack ordered an investigation of how it came to be produced by the Voice of America. After the investigation, Pack dismissed four contractors and placed an editor on leave.

The episode set off another uproar. Rather than approve of the new chief executive’s effort to correct an issue of clear bias, Pack found himself the target of criticism from Washington insiders and his own employees. Several former workers filed a whistleblower complaint against Pack. Others filed a lawsuit. All alleged that Pack had violated a “firewall” protecting news reporting from political influence. The reality was just the opposite: The video was an example of politics influencing news reporting. But big news organizations, particularly NPR and the Washington Post, slammed Pack. “Trump appointee Michael Pack tears down ‘firewall’ at Voice of America,” was the Post headline. “U.S. Agency Targets Its Own Journalists’ Independence,” was the story from NPR.

For Pack, the problem was that the Urdu episode was just one part of the bias issue. To give a few other examples from before and after he arrived:

1) During the 2016 campaign, the VOA Ukrainian Service translated actor Robert De Niro’s rant against Donald Trump in which De Niro called the Republican presidential candidate a punk, a dog, a pig, a bulls— artist, and an idiot, adding, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” The Ukrainian Service posted the video, with translation and VOA logo, on its Facebook page, without any balancing material from Trump.

2) In 2017, the then-Broadcasting Board of Governors commissioned a study of U.S. international broadcasting into Iran and found that the Voice of America featured guests on its programming who “espoused deeply negative, even conspiratorial, views of U.S. actions and priorities in the region without being authoritatively rebutted.”

3) In August 2020, the VOA’s French-language service broadcasting to Africa aired a one-hour discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement that “almost exclusively focused on attacking law enforcement,” according to Pack’s declaration in one of the lawsuits filed during his tenure.

4) In 2016, a group of consultants hired by the then-VOA chief found that bias was a serious concern among some employees. “The perception of biased coverage is real among multiple VOA reporters and editors,” the consultants said, recommending that the organization “create a safe avenue for staffers to report bias concerns without fear of reprisal.”

For Pack, tackling the problem of bias was a lesson in groupthink, the culture at the agency, and how those factors can combine to present the U.S. to the world in an unfavorable light. “Left to their own devices, media agencies, given the culture that we live in, tend to drift left, and that’s what happened here,” Pack said. “This issue of media bias runs very deep. All five of my networks looked to the mainstream media as their models — Washington Post, CNN, New York Times — so when the mainstream media has become more and more biased in a way that few people can miss, it’s very hard to insist that our [government] media be objective and balanced, even though our agencies are required to be objective and balanced by law. It’s hard to hold them to standards that the entire rest of the media has shaken off.”

The bias issue would have been plenty for a new boss to handle, but Pack also found a significant amount of mismanagement. Perhaps the most egregious example concerned security clearances. The U.S. Agency for Global Media is part of the State Department, and the international nature of its work requires that many of its employees have security clearances. But Pack discovered that the requirement was largely ignored before he arrived.

“I was really shocked to find a huge security problem,” Pack said. “We had 4,000 employees, and we found that 1,500 had faulty security clearances. From 2010 to 2020, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had called this to the attention of senior management here, and they had simply failed to act. We had to re-clear over 1,000 people, including many who had secret and top secret clearances.”

Pack’s team discovered that earlier management had simply made up Social Security numbers for some employees, used outdated clearances for others, and cut all sorts of corners. In August, the Federal News Network reported that the Office of Personnel Management had rescinded the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s “authority to conduct and adjudicate its own background investigations for its employees, following a long saga of mismanagement within the organization’s personnel security program.” That had not happened to any federal agency for the last two decades.

The security issue took up an enormous amount of Pack’s time. “It’s not the thing I went there to do, but it was the thing I had to do,” he said. When he left, on Inauguration Day, many of the new clearances had been completed, and the agency was on the way to fixing the problem.

To the anti-Pack chorus at NPR and elsewhere, the security issue was just a ruse to cover up Pack’s effort to Trumpify the agency. Lansing, Pack’s predecessor who moved to NPR, said, “Pack’s insistence that there were issues related to security in hiring at VOA is merely a smokescreen to avert attention from his blatant attempt to interfere with the legislatively mandated independence, or ‘firewall,’ protecting the journalists of VOA from government interference.”

The Office of Personnel Management clearly did not agree. But Lansing’s criticism captured the tone of much of the Washington establishment’s attack on Pack. First, it came from an interested party. Second, it reflected the view of a group of Democrats in government and media that the agency was rightfully theirs and should not be run by an outsider. And third, it rested on the idea that U.S. government media networks should operate like CNN or other private media organizations. But the fact is, those networks are not CNN. Their very job, as Clinton said, is “to tell a message around the world.” That message should be pro-American. That’s not the responsibility of a private media network. It is the responsibility of the Voice of America and other U.S. government broadcast networks.

Looking back, Pack was careful to note that VOA and the other networks employ many excellent journalists, some of whom do their jobs abroad in the face of significant personal danger. As for the rest of the agency, Pack said he hopes he brought it a little closer to its original purpose. “It takes a long time to change an agency,” he said. Still, he added, “I think that we achieved a lot in eight months.” But it all could be fleeting. In a talk before he was fired, Pack expressed the hope that the new managers he had brought into the five networks would run them in a more objective and balanced way than in the past. By the time we talked after the inauguration, they had all been fired by Biden, too.

So now, Pack is looking for something new. Yes, he will likely make more documentaries, but his experience in government has changed his ambitions. “It makes me think that I have to really work hard to make sure that there is media that is objective, balanced, and comprehensive,” he said. “The resistance I encountered made me appreciate the mission.” He seemed to suggest that a sort of new, privately funded institution, a kind of private Voice of America, could take up the mission that U.S. government broadcasting has abandoned. “I’m going to look to be a part of that and lead that effort,” he said. “We need to be telling America’s story to the world and to ourselves.”




Leave a Reply

Search All Posts