President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down, burn statue of Confederate general in DCUS attorney in NYC who spearheaded probes of Trump allies refuses to leave as DOJ pushes ousterTrump to host 4th of July event despite pleas from lawmakers to cancelMOREs pick to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media is coming under fire from Democrats and conservatives alike following a rash of high-level dismissals at the international broadcasts it oversees.
Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker who took over as CEO of the agency this past week, is facing pushback from congressional Democrats on the committees with oversight of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
The criticism on the right has come from conservative commentators and foreign policy analysts, including those who supported his nomination two years earlier and are seen as Trump loyalists.
Critics fear Pack will jeopardize the independence of the broadcast networks, which are charged with objectively reporting about the U.S. and its foreign policy to an international audience of 350 million people and in 61 languages.
David Ensor, who was director of USAGMs Voice of America from 2011 to 2015, said Pack has the authority to replace the staff, but that the sweep of firings is out of the ordinary for positions that are apolitical.
Its a little bit surprising that the administrations guy has decided to get rid of absolutely everybody in charge of one of the news organizations, he said. But certainly hes within his rights to do so.
On Wednesday, he dismissed the senior editors for news outlets broadcasting in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as the head of an internet freedom grantee organization.
Voice of America (VOA) Director Amanda Bennett and Deputy Director Sandy Sugawara resigned on Monday ahead of Packs first day on the job.
VOA is the agencys flagship broadcast.
The Democratic chairs of the House Appropriations and Foreign Affairs committees said they were outraged to learn of Packs dismissals and staff appointments.
The House chairs, Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Supreme Court ignites an election year battle over immigrationHuman Rights Campaign endorses Mondaire Jones in race to replace Nita Lowey in NYDemocrats accuse SBA of stonewalling GAO’s attempts to oversee lending program MORE (D-N.Y.) of the Appropriations committee, and Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelJamaal Bowman raises M, launches 0,000 ad buy ahead of New York primaryJamaal Bowman calls for Juneteenth to be made a holidayOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top Democrats introduce bill to stop Trump’s Germany withdrawal | Esper announces internal review on diversity in military | Top foreign policy Pentagon official resigns after White House passes on nominationMORE (D-N.Y.) of the foreign affairs committee, are demanding Pack provide documents related to the firings, and criticized the CEO for putting his chief of staff on the advisory board of each broadcast.
That Mr. Pack took this drastic measure in his first week on the job is shocking, and we have deep concerns that he takes the helm of a critical agency with the intent to prioritize the Trump administrations political whims over protecting and promoting independent reporting, which is a pillar of freedom and democracy, the House Democrats wrote.
Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezLighthizer denies Bolton claim that Trump asked Xi for election helpGOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angstGovernment watchdog: ‘No evidence’ Pompeo violated Hatch Act with Kansas tripsMORE (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Packs purge of staff risks compromising the independent broadcast outlets.
As feared, Michael Pack has confirmed he is on a political mission to destroy the USAGMs independence and undermine its historic role, Menendez said in a statement. This latest attack is sadly the latest but not the last in the Trump Administrations efforts to transform U.S. institutions rooted in the principles of democracy into tools for the Presidents own personal agenda.
Menendez has also criticized Packs confirmation by the Senate even though he was under investigation for the misuse of funds, allegedly transferring money from his nonprofit organization Public Media Lab to his for-profit film company.
Menendez revealed in May that Pack was under investigation ahead of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on whether to advance his nomination. Packs nomination was advanced in a 12 – 10 vote along party lines.
He was then confirmed by the Senate in a 53-38 vote. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer faces tough choice on police reformOvernight Energy: Senate passes major lands conservation bill | Mnuchin ordered to give Native American tribes full stimulus funding | Key Republican jeopardizes Trump consumer safety nomineeSenate passes major lands conservation billMORE of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote for him.
The USAGM did not return a request for comment on the investigation into Pack.
The conservative backlash, meanwhile, has been more focused on the ousting of the director of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Alberto Fernandez, and the head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jamie Fly.
Fly, who is also a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund, a think tank that promotes cooperation between North America and Europe, was a former adviser to Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans brush off Bolton’s bombshellsRoberts sparks backlash from conservative senators with DACA rulingRubio to introduce bill allowing NCAA athletes to make money from name, likenessMORE (R-Fla.).
Fernandez, who joined the Middle East Broadcasting Networks in 2017, is a former U.S. ambassador and career Foreign Service officer with multiple tours in the Middle East.
Fernandezs dismissal was criticized by David Reaobi, a national security analyst and a former colleague of Pack at the conservative think-tank the Claremont Institute.
Reaobi wrote on Twitter that he had advised Pack to keep Fernandez while clearing the agency of anti-American leftwing agitprop.
Michael Pack gets confirmed by the Senate and, rather than take stock and talk to people who know whats happening, he fired everybody. Including [Alberto Fernandez]. Shameful, Reaobi tweeted. I sent Pack an email indicating my extreme disappointment.
Sebastian GorkaSebastian Lukacs GorkaAppeals court blocks White House from suspending reporterSunday shows preview: As states loosen social distancing restrictions, lawmakers address dwindling state budgetsFBI director in ‘hot seat’ as GOP demands reformsMORE, a former Trump adviser in the White House and conservative radio host, supported Reaobis tweet, writing on the platform that Ambassador Fernandez was the greatest asset America had in foreign broadcasting.
Gorka is reportedly under consideration for a USAGM post.
Mark Dubowitz, head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank supportive of the Trump administrations maximum pressure campaign on Iran, said both Fernandez and Flys dismissals were a poor decision.
Pack, in a statement released Thursday, defended the firings.
Every action I carried out was and every action I will carry out will be geared toward rebuilding the USAGMs reputation, boosting morale, and improving content, he said.
In an introductory email to staff, Pack said he has three goals for the agency to improve morale; examine some of the problems that have surfaced in the media in recent years, adding he wants to make sure there are no issues getting in the way of your ability to report the news; and make more effective the impact of the broadcasting networks.
Beyond these three goals, I am fully committed to honoring VOAs charter, the missions of the grantees, and the independence of our heroic journalists around the world, he wrote.
The VOA charter, a public law signed in 1976, is designed to protect the integrity of the organization and define its mission.
Voice of America is an organization that tries to do, is supposed to do and it has a legal charter requiring it to do truthful journalism, said Ensor, the former VOA director. It also has a mandate to report about America to the world.
Packs critics worry that hes further influenced by his conservative ties, in particular his connections to Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonMueller report re-released with fewer redactions after legal battleTrump appointee ousts multiple officials within US media agency: reportsHouse Democrat warns of potential staff purge at US media agencyMORE, the former senior White House adviser and former executive director of the conservative media site Breitbart News.
Theres going to now be, as there has been throughout much of VOAs existence, a big debate to what extent will the new team be wanting to try to turn VOA into more of a propaganda organization less of a journalistic organization, Ensor said.
I hope that hes going to keep the journalism strong, because that is what has built audiences and credibility for Voice of America.