The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee, Michael Pack, to run the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees the Voice of America (VOA) radio network and other U.S. government-funded international broadcasters.
The vote of 53-38 comes after two years of opposition from Senate Democrats. The Republican-led Senate voted almost entirely along party lines, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) being the only Democrat to vote in favor of the nomination. Trump had nominated Pack two years ago to lead the USAGM—formerly called the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Pack, a filmmaker and former educator, will serve for three years as the USAGM’s first Senate-confirmed CEO—a position created with bipartisan support. The USAGM oversees VOA and its sister outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Cuba-oriented Radio and Television Martí.
“Congratulations to Michael Pack! Nobody has any idea what a big victory this is for America,” Trump announced on Twitter late Thursday.
“Why? Because he is going to be running the [Voice of America] and everything associated with it,” the president continued. “Michael is Tough, Smart, and Loves our Country. This has been a big battle in Congress for 25 years. Thank you to our Great Republican Senate!”
…Michael is Tough, Smart, and Loves our Country. This has been a big battle in Congress for 25 years. Thank you to our Great Republican Senate! @SenateCloakroom
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried unsuccessfully eight times to postpone consideration for the nomination of Pack two weeks ago. An initial committee vote was delayed in early May, after the attorney general for the city of Washington opened a civil investigation into whether Pack misused funds from his nonprofit Public Media Lab at his film company, Manifold Productions, which recently released a documentary on conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In September 2019 at his nomination hearing, Pack told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if confirmed, he would address “the scandals besetting USAGM,” which include “accusations of bribery, anti-semitism, and malfeasance by a senior official.” He said he would seek to make sure the so-called scandals “cease and don’t occur in the future.”
Such scandals occurred under the leadership of VOA director Amanda Bennett, an Obama appointee, and John Lansing, another Obama appointee. Lansing, now the CEO of NPR, was made CEO of the USAGM but never faced Senate confirmation.
In October 2018, VOA fired 15 of its employees from its Hausa language service after they were alleged to have accepted bribes from a Nigerian official. In the same month, the USAGM launched an investigation into an anti-Semitic television segment produced by the Spanish-language Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which directs Radio and Television Martí. Haroon Ullah, a former State Department official and and senior employee of the USAGM while under Lansing, was sentenced in November 2019 to three months in prison for stealing government funds.
USAGM Watch, an independent watchdog group of the agency, noted that besides the “multiple management and programming scandals,” 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”—an allegation Bennett has strongly denied.
The group also noted that Trump has criticized VOA’s current management.
The Trump administration in April accused VOA of amplifying Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda about the spread of the CCP virus, a novel coronavirus that is reported to have emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.
At the time, the White House cited two examples where VOA had allegedly promoted CCP propaganda about the CCP virus. VOA later released a detailed statement in response to the White House allegations, pointing out that the outlet has regularly exposed Chinese disinformation related to the CCP virus.
VOA was created during World War II with the goal of airing unbiased news to combat Nazi propaganda and promote American values to the world.
At his nomination hearing, Pack said that he would ensure journalistic independence.
“The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say,” Pack said. “Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined. So, I think that is a bedrock principle.”
Pack said at the nomination hearing that there is a need to “make some decisions that keep the work of this agency in line with what the U.S. global interests are,” but added that “the first principle has to be the editorial independence of journalists in the field, and no one should be telling them what to report or how to shade the news.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.