In this episode, we sit down with Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees U.S. public media companies, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, and others.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Michael Pack, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Michael Pack: Thank you for having me on, Jan. It’s great to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’re the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, appointed by President Trump. And you’ve been bringing new vision to the agency overall—applauded by some and, frankly, a lot of people are also very unhappy with what you’re doing.
Mr. Pack: Very true.
Mr. Jekielek: Why don’t we start by you telling me what your vision is for what you’re trying to do?
Mr. Pack: My vision is really simple. The U.S. Agency for Global Media, which I am the CEO of, as you know, has five broadcasters underneath it—it’s all U.S. international broadcasting—the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. The five together reach an audience of over 350 million a week, so that’s very substantial, in over 62 languages with a budget of over $800 million a year.
So it’s a big operation, and I think it has a very important mission. Its mission is to fulfill American foreign policy broadly considered, promote American ideas and institutions, and especially to promote ideas like freedom and democracy around the world. And it does it in three ways. It’s summed up in the VOA charter, but it applies to the others as well.
First, they need to report the news in an objective and balanced way, not one side or the other—unbiased. Number two, they have to explain and talk about American values and institutions and explain them to the rest of the world. And number three, they need [to] present the administration’s viewpoint along with criticism of it, but they need to present it forthrightly and clearly.
And my goal is really to make sure they fulfill that mission. It’s been my sense that they haven’t been fulfilling it adequately enough over the last several decades since this agency was pulled together in the late 90s. It was run by a board, a presidentially appointed board, half Democrats and half Republicans, putting, like, a day a month into the operation, and no other entity—broadcasting entity—this size can be run by a board with such part-time work.
So the agency was largely considered dysfunctional. Hillary Clinton called it that, John Kerry called it that, Jim Glassman called it that. And because the agency was dysfunctional, and the board was ineffective, they created my job, the CEO job, that essentially replaced the board so that management could come in, and really, I think the core responsibility of management is to make sure that the agency fulfills its mission. And that’s really my goal. That simple goal is what I have tried to do in my six months or so on the job.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so where do you think things have not been meeting the goal up to now?
Mr. Pack: Well, since I’ve come to the agency, we have found egregious examples about mismanagement and bias. And I have tried to address those. We can look at the bias first. As I just mentioned, the agency is required by law to present objective and balanced reporting so that people around the world who don’t get that have a chance to get that, especially in places like China.
So one of the most egregious examples of bias that we found is a clip that was on the VOA Urdu service—which is targeted to Pakistan, obviously—and this was on the VOA social media, all social media—Facebook, Twitter, whatever. And it is essentially a Biden ad, and this was during the presidential election here in the United States. And I hope that we can show it to your audience. And I think you can see it’s sort of beyond bias. And we uncovered it. Not the VOA. My team found it.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, so tell me your take on what we just saw.
Mr. Pack: Well, to me, it’s more than just biased. It was really an ad for then-candidate Biden. As you can see, he’s the only one talking. There’s no one interviewed from the Trump campaign. And it’s really an appeal to Muslims in Michigan to vote for candidate Biden. In fact, most of it comes from the Biden ad, and then is labeled VOA. It even says that the Muslims in Michigan are enough to turn the state for Biden.
I think it’s completely inappropriate. It violates the VOA charter. It may violate the Hatch Act that doesn’t allow government employees to campaign for a candidate, especially on their work time, and it may violate the Smith-Mundt Act that prohibits my organizations from broadcasting directly to the American people and targeting them.
So it’s a really egregious example of a problem. And it is not balanced by pro-Trump ads, none of which ever appeared on the network. So we found it. The VOA did not find it. It was up for an entire week. We asked that it be taken down. And it was taken down. And then we later found, a couple weeks later, that a radio, audio version was still up, and then we asked for that to be taken down.
So for me, that problem is significant and emblematic because it was done by some contractors. And so sure, they were super enthusiastic for Biden, and they made this spot, but then it was not caught by their supervisors. When it was caught, no one was disciplined. And so we aim to do that differently. We instituted an HR process with the career HR office and our legal office to sort of see what appropriate discipline should be for violating the charter so egregiously.
So we looked up the whole chain of command and wanted people to be held accountable. Because I think there’s the problem of doing it, and the problem of the senior managers responsible for making sure that the product is unbiased and objective not doing it.
So we did that. And oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly, we were enmeshed in controversy immediately. We were deemed to be interfering with our journalists’ independence. We were deemed to be interfering with their right to discipline their employees. We had no right to try to correct it. So there was a vast outcry. You’d expect maybe if you were an objective viewer that people would be happy to have this obvious problem corrected. But it really wasn’t.
And so I think that goes to a problem in the Voice of America especially, but in all my agencies. They need to be much more diligent in policing themselves and catching bias and in dealing with it. And my goal is to make sure that they do that. And it’s not just my goal, it’s part of my responsibility by law is to make sure that they fulfill their charter and their mission. And so by actually intervening to sort of deal with this Urdu video, I was only following the law, but it was heavily criticized at the time and still.
Mr. Jekielek: So who are the “we”? You have an investigative team that’s doing this and it’s on behalf of your office?
Mr. Pack: My front office team, the Office of the Chief Executive Officer, includes some lawyers, some communications people, some government affairs people. We are not really conducting investigations. We heard about this from people, sort of whistleblowers inside the organization that called it to our attention. I actually think there needs to be a way more robust organization to catch and correct these things when they happen.
And they were not the only things. There were other things, especially in the election coverage, that indicated bias that really needed to be caught. I mean, we had a piece on Black Lives Matter, which we discussed before this interview a little bit, targeted to Africa, and it had a lot of people who are very enthusiastic about Black Lives Matter, but there was no criticism.
There was no one who has talked about the origins of Black Lives Matter or any of the criticisms that we talked about earlier that are out there. So in what way is that a balanced piece? If you’re going to cover something like that, you need to cover both parts of the debate.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So one of the things in an earlier interview you did with The Epoch Times we looked at was this … there was a Hoover report, I believe, that talked about VOA Mandarin—so Chinese—having a much too close relationship with the Chinese Embassy, basically. And I think you mentioned that you intended to investigate this or look at it. Has anything come of this?
Mr. Pack: Well, we’ve begun that process. I mean, I’ve only been there six months. But it’s something that I think is really important to do. One thing that I did was we looked at the issue of the Mandarin Five. I don’t know if you know that case; these five journalists who were interviewing a Chinese dissident, Guo [Wengui]—I’m not sure how you pronounce his name.
Mr. Jekielek: Guo, yes.
Mr. Pack: And it was cut off midway, and they were all fired. And they were suing, and I’ve looked at that, and embedded in that report are many accusations of people in the mandarin service being too close to Chinese intelligence, in fact, and others. So we have started to look into that. It’s a complicated process. It’s now a legal and security issue. But I think it’s a very serious issue, and I intend to continue that process and see what is going on there.
And that relates to other security issues throughout the agency. We talked a little before about management problems. And one thing we found is just a lax attitude towards security, period.
When we came into the agency—it’s an agency of about 4000 people—we found out that over a 10-year period, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had been telling the agency that it was improperly clearing people, giving them suitability clearance, giving them access to computers and badges, as well as people with higher security clearances—secret and above—were inadequately cleared.
And even after OPM and ODNI told them to stop clearing people, the agency continued to clear people. They would, in some cases, not bother to take fingerprints. They would make up social security numbers. They would okay people whose forms were incompletely filled out. They wouldn’t ask everybody about foreign travel.
So of the agency of about 4000, as I said, 1500 had brought problematic security clearances. A huge number. It’s a security problem of a scale that OPM had never seen in its time. Our security clearance, as I mentioned, was revoked. That’s only happened to two agencies in 20 years. So it was enormous. And it’s taken a huge amount of time to clear it up.
But I think … but why has senior management, why did senior management—including the board, including the heads of these organizations—why did they ignore it for 10 years? I think it’s a lax attitude towards security, period, that we intended to fix. So we are taking security matters more seriously across the board.
Mr. Jekielek: So this is fascinating. But it’s also … someone might say, “Well, these are journalists; what’s the issue here?” Right?
Mr. Pack: Well that’s right. So I think that’s the sense—that they shouldn’t be subjected to this sort of bureaucratic rigors of this sort of security clearance process. But they are journalists, but they’re working for the federal government. They’re not independent journalists. They’re not working for a commercial network.
And when, especially the ones, the 75 or more that are granted secret, top secret, TS-SCI clearances, they have access to secret information. And even the ones that are just in the building, they have access to the computers, they have access to material from the State Department. They need to be cleared. They are part of the federal government and they need to follow the security guidelines of the federal government. And I think this lax attitude shows up across the board in things.
So yes, it would be different, perhaps, if they weren’t working for the federal government. But they are. And the purpose of the … I mean sometimes the people who work from here would rather not remember that they work for the federal government. But the purpose of the agency; it is to cover the news in an objective and balanced way, but the goal is to further the foreign policy goals of the United States broadly considered. We don’t take instruction from the State Department about what to cover, and I would never tell a journalist what to do or what to report.
But the reason the American people are spending $800 million is the agency is supposed to advance American interests broadly—not Democratic interests, or Republican interests, but advance them broadly.
So we need to have decent security clearances, we need to follow the rules, we need to not be so open that other foreign intelligence agencies notice it and can use it, and that our data and our journalists are secure. So I think it’s an important thing, and I’m happy to have put it on the path to being fixed, which I’m happy to say it is now.
Mr. Jekielek: When I look at a lot of the numerous accusations that you’ve faced, to me, it seems to boil down to this idea that you’re trying to institute a pro-Trump bias at the agency.
Mr. Pack: But I’m really not. I am totally committed to the mission. I want there to be no bias. It’s true that we’ve been very critical of pro-Biden or pro-Democratically biased pieces, like the Urdu piece you showed earlier. But asking for one kind of bias to be eliminated is not pushing for another kind of bias. I would be against pieces that are biased in favor of Trump, too, if we had seen them.
I think it needs to … VOA and the other networks need to be fair, objective, and balanced. Not pro-Trump, not pro-Biden, not pro-anybody. They need to be fair and balanced. And people have taken this criticism badly. And they don’t like to be criticized, and they have chosen to portray it as pro-Trump, that I want a pro-Trump bias. But I’ve never asked for any pro-Trump piece to be run. It’s true, I am a Trump appointee. I voted for the president. But I have never asked journalists to cover him in any particular way, and neither has anyone on my team.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah, well that’s interesting, because this has been one of the things that’s been stated. People have said, “Oh, you’re accusing people of anti-Trump bias,” or this sort of thing.
Mr. Pack: But we just look for violations of the VOA charter or VOA social media rules, or any of the other VOA rules that are intended—or similar rules in the other broadcasters—that are intended to keep it objective and balanced. We just want them to live up to their own rules, their own journalistic standards, and their own charter and guiding legislation.
Now, it’s true that we have come in and we have been very demanding about that because that is my mission, required by law, and I’m very dedicated to that. And there is a lot of bias that goes one direction because media, as you know, tends to be on the left, on the liberal side. So the bias tends in that direction. But I like to think I would be just as assiduous in correcting bias if it was drifting in the other direction.
So people don’t like to be corrected. They don’t like to be accused of doing anything wrong. And in the history of the VOA, no one ever has been disciplined for doing anything biased. You know, there have been other examples of bias. No one has ever suffered the consequences, it’s usually just sort of swept under the rug, and we’ve pulled them into the light. And I actually think the VOA and the other broadcasters will be stronger for that.
Mr. Jekielek: So what other reforms, aside from this issue of bias and following the charter as it exists, are you trying to institute?
Mr. Pack: Well, we’ve talked a little bit off-camera about internet freedom. And that’s an area that I’ve spent a lot of time with. I thought we were not doing enough for internet freedom and internet firewall circumvention. As you know, especially in China, there are firewalls that are stopping people from access to the internet and to information. And we have some funding to fund and support internet firewall circumvention technology. We have about $20 million a year. Hardly enough. The Chinese alone spend vastly more in creating these firewalls.
I think it is a really important task. We had had an office of internet freedom that had sort of fallen away. I have revived it. I’ve started to give grants through it. We had another source, another grantee called the Open Technology Fund that, in my mind, wasn’t doing as good a job making internet freedom grants in a way-higher proportion to overhead, and to other non-internet freedom activities, civil society activities, good or not, but weren’t focused where I thought they should be. So we’ve ramped that up.
And we’ve given to … for a while, the agency, it had only given grants to open technology. We want to give it to open, closed, partially open—whatever works around the world. And I think that is really important.
And actually, I’d like to see, going forward, a bigger whole government effort on internet firewall circumvention. We have some funds for it. The State Department has some funds for it. Little pockets of funding are throughout the government. I think the government should have a joint and way bigger effort to circumvent these firewalls.
I agree with people who say they’re like the Berlin walls of our time. We can knock them down and change life for the people who would then have internet access, especially in China, but in North Korea and Iran and many other places. So I think it’s hugely important. And I have revived our office for doing that and spent more time and attention and funding behind it.
Mr. Jekielek: So this is actually quite interesting. Just very, very recently, you funded UltraSurf, which is one of the technologies that, actually, Epoch Times uses to get through the firewall of multiple ones. And this is one of the closed ones. And this was described by a journalist, I was reading on Twitter, as kind of the agency crossing a Rubicon here, presumably because of the previous focus almost entirely on these open, I guess, open technology or open source type methods.
Mr. Pack: That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: So I think it’s a quarter million dollars, or almost a quarter million dollars that you gave to this effort.
Mr. Pack: That’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: Now, what is the reason you think that these closed-code systems weren’t funded in the past, and why should they be now?
Mr. Pack: I find it odd that they weren’t funded. This spin-off agency of ours, a separate grantee called the Open Technology Fund, in its very name, they are self-limiting. I can’t figure it out. I think we just believe in finding whatever works. There’s a sense that people with proprietary software are making a profit from these things in a way that maybe open source companies are not, but I have no problem with people making a profit if it’s the most efficient way to deliver these services to the people who need it.
So I’m not sure why they’re focused on that. But it seems to be an undue limitation. We had funded UltraSurf before, before the Open Technology Fund, when the office I’ve revived, the Office of Internet Freedom, was previously operating. And there’s no reason not to fund it. We have to continue to subject these grants to rigorous review, of course, and even though something was funded in the past, it could be not appropriate to fund it in the future.
But there’s no reason to be exclusive. I cannot imagine what the reason would be to only fund open source technology in this area. So I don’t know. You have to ask the advocates of open source technology why they think theirs is the exclusive way.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, presumably, this is one of these examples where you can kind of let, let’s call it, the market decide, right? I mean, if it works.
Mr. Pack: That’s right.
Mr Jekielek: If it delivers more holes in the firewall and the Great Firewall of China, why not?
Mr. Pack: That’s right, exactly. That should be the only measure. I agree with you.
Mr. Jekielek: And frankly, Freegate, which is another one of the tools that we use, which I think the one that states has the greatest uptime, at least to my knowledge. We’ve been watching these things for decades now. The way they work is they actually have … to the user, it just looks like you push a button and you cut through the firewall.
But under the hood, there’s all sorts of different protocols and protocol spoofing. And if they actually gave that code to be available publicly, if the Chinese Communist Party knew what was happening under the hood, they would be able to very quickly counter it. So the idea that you have to make these things open to me is very odd.
Mr. Pack: It is an odd idea. It’s an odd idea. But talking about China, I do want to say that, in my time at this agency, that a lot of our journalists are heroic and are risking their lives to cover, to bring the news to people who are not getting it. I mean, Radio Free Asia has the only Uyghur service in the world, for instance. And we are bringing … our journalists who have family in China are risking their lives and the lives of their families to get the news to Uyghurs. And I think that is really noble.
I’m often critical of the agency, but there’s a lot in the agency that I admire. And I want to speak about that too. And especially these heroic journalists, and in Hong Kong as well. And in Belarus. Around the world, many of our journalists are risking their lives, they’re imprisoned. An Afghan journalist recently lost his life tragically. And I think these people need to be celebrated. And the only reason I want … it is so that their work can be more focused on and we can do more of it that I want to clear out the problems in the agency, both the mismanagement and the bias.
Mr. Jekielek: So that’s actually interesting because you hear a lot … the thing that I’ve seen in the corporate media is that a bunch of visas aren’t being renewed.
Mr. Pack: Right.
Mr. Jekielek: But presumably, a bunch of visas are being renewed and are being granted. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the breadth of what the organization is accomplishing right now?
Mr. Pack: Well, I’ll even address the visa thing for a second. When I came to this agency, I needed to sort out a lot of things like the visa program and the like, contracts that had … they didn’t really even know … they weren’t clear on the number of people working here, the number of contractors working for the agency, which contracts were renewed when. I mean, we needed to really restructure a lot of things.
And the J-1 visa program is a case in point. It’s actually not designed for journalists. It’s designed as an exchange program, especially for au pairs. And it is not designed to be open-ended or a path to citizenship. So we were employing it in a way that it wasn’t designed to be employed. And I was asked to renew visas without the proper consideration before a visa is renewed.
And I was told that a lot of these people who needed their visa renewed would be subject to persecution in their home country. But I totally believe in giving people asylum. I’m totally sympathetic to these people who are fleeing, especially communism, but oppression. We are just not an asylum-granting agency. A lot of people have asylum demands and interests and claims, and the asylum-granting agencies have to sort that out. I cannot.
So I try hard to fulfill the purpose of these things, but I also have to follow the law. And a lot of it was very kind of slipshod when I came into the agency. So that’s the visa question.
Mr. Jekielek: Well the other part is just, you started talking about this, there’s a Belarus service—people are risking their lives, there’s a Uyghur language service doing, frankly, incredible work.
Mr. Pack: Indeed.
Mr. Jekielek: If you could kind of give us a picture of the breadth of what you feel is firing on all cylinders, what is working?
Mr. Pack: I think many of the language services that are in the country, like the Uyghur service, like many of the journalists in Belarus, are doing a great job and a heroic job. And I think you’re right to call attention to the visas because many of them are foreign nationals that have fled their country, and they’re essential to our ability to work. I do not want these people excluded. They are the heart and soul in a lot of ways of this organization. And I just think the mission is hugely important, in part because of the rise of China, but not only.
We need to promote our ideas and our values all over the world. I mean, China is ramping up its information and disinformation campaign, as is Russia, as is Iran, but especially China. They’re promoting their way of dealing with coronavirus and their Belt and Road Initiative. And we need to be promoting our values all over the world.
And while telling the news is part of it, especially by our heroic journalists, we need to stand for American principles—like human rights, like the principles of the Declaration or the Constitution. We need to explain to the world and stand for the principles, the core principles of America.
So our mission, I think, is very important, including the non-news component of it. And in some cases, we’re doing a great job, in some cases not. It needs to really be sorted out. The best of it, I think, are really these language journalists that are getting information to information-starved parts of the world, especially those under communism. I think that is really important.
It’s true, as you said, that even in those parts of the world, our services are at risk. They’re at risk of ending up captured by the very … the countries and values that they’re supposed to be criticizing. One has to police them carefully. But I think the mission is important. And a lot of the journalism in those areas is really important and necessary. And we’re getting stories out that other people are not.
Mr. Jekielek: So what about this aspect of educating around, let’s call it American values or … you mentioned the Declaration, you mentioned the Constitution. Is it civics? I don’t know if you would call it that in this context. But is that being done?
Mr. Pack: It’s not done enough. It’s especially the Voice of America that has that mission, but not only. Middle East Broadcasting, too. It’s not really done enough. I would like to see more of it. Sometimes you hear people within the agency put it down as “Americana”, and in a demeaning way, but we need to explain our values.
For the last century and even beyond, people come here because of those values. They want to be Americans because they want to embrace those values, and in other parts of the world, they want to emulate them. As you know, in Tiananmen Square, they had a statue of liberty. Our values are a beacon to the world. And it’s important that we stand for them.
I actually think this is a moment where those values … the other institutions that used to promote them aren’t doing it either. Hollywood movies used to be a way of talking about America in a positive way. But mostly, you hear a very depressing view of America dramatized in Hollywood movies, “America is a racist, sexist, imperialistic, evil place.”
And while I’m all for looking at America warts and all, I think the commitment has to be for underlying values to which we aspire. And we’re not getting that from Hollywood. We’re not getting that from the commercial media. And that makes it all the more important that the media under USAGM fill that role.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’re probably familiar with the Chinese Communist Party’s doctrine of unrestricted warfare, namely, using the information as a critical element of their fighting with the West or fighting with America. Now, certainly traditionally, your agency … or at least recently. Traditionally, has not been playing such a role on the American side. Do you imagine there being some sort of a role of countering Chinese Communist Party disinformation, propaganda—this various weaponized information—for this agency, or does it belong somewhere else?
Mr. Pack: Well, I think it belongs a little bit in this agency and others, too. There’s this GEC at the State Department whose sole mission is countering disinformation—it’s the Global Engagement Center—and coordinating it across government. We cannot put out counter propaganda. We’re not supposed to put out propaganda and shouldn’t, but we kind of expose Soviet, Chinese, North Korean misinformation when it’s out there.
I mean, we could do pieces explaining what the others … what they’re saying and why it’s wrong. And we’ve done some of that. And we could do more. I think it’s an area where we should do more.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay. Well, you mentioned that you’re a documentary filmmaker. You have quite a remarkable documentary out recently, of course, about Clarence Thomas. A lot of people have seen it. So tell me a little bit about this, about your work on this documentary.
One of the things I noticed in it, which I thought was really interesting and unusual, is that you have everyone basically speaking into the camera, and I was curious, having cut my teeth a little bit in doing this kind of work, I was very curious about that choice. And also just about how you fell into this.
Mr. Pack: Well, let me talk a little about it generally because I like to separate the documentary work previously from the government work, but I’ve been making documentaries for over 30 years, I’ve made over 15. All but one have been on PBS, and that one was on TLC. And they’re on a variety of subjects—history, culture, and politics. So I am a journalist. I think I understand journalism from the inside.
I am very proud of my last documentary about Clarence Thomas. It was also broadcast on PBS in June, now streaming. And each of them, you have to figure out what is the right form. And in the case of the Clarence Thomas documentary, he has such a great story that I thought him telling it in his own words, looking directly at camera was the most dramatic way to tell it.
But I do feel, to go back to the explaining America to the world point, that it’s stories like Clarence Thomas that we should be telling the world, we USAGM. As you said earlier, Jan, and rightly, his is an only-in-America story. His coming from dire poverty to the Supreme Court, brought up by a grandfather who was illiterate, to now being an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Could never have happened anywhere else. And it’s a great story.
And it reveals a lot about America, and, you know, positive and negative. He grew up in the segregated South. He was the victim, in a lot of ways, of racism early and of many unjustifiable attacks later on. But it’s still a great story and a story about America. And I do feel people in the rest of the world, China included, need to hear those stories. Essentially a positive story about this country and what’s possible here.
It’s not a country without flaws, but it’s a country where somebody like Clarence Thomas can go from dire poverty of a kind we can no longer appreciate, raised in the segregated South, go through a period of disillusionment with America and black radicalism and come back and have the tremendous career he’s had. It’s a great story. And he, I think, tells it beautifully.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. As we discussed offline a little bit, it’s just a such an unbelievable story. And for someone who’s Canadian, I wasn’t maybe as aware as many other Americans are about his incredible history. So I appreciated the film.
So let’s talk about this idea a little bit. Now, you mentioned in Hollywood there are, maybe I’m putting words in your mouth, but I think you said there’s too few positive portrayals of America. And why is that?
Mr. Pack: Well, having lived in Hollywood, or in Los Angeles a couple times in my life, I have my theories. But I think it’s worth remembering that once upon a time, the vision of America from Hollywood was tremendously positive. I think of John Ford’s westerns, or perhaps John Wayne himself—rugged individualism, fighting for core values.
And when people around the world saw those Hollywood movies, they wanted to be like John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart or whoever, Gary Cooper. Now not so much. I think that it has to do with the changes in American culture, changes in academia where a lot of people in Hollywood these days come from. I’m not sure how to turn that around. That’s a deeper problem even than the problems at USAGM.
But I think we are … just like USAGM, I think Hollywood, too, is missing out on great stories about America. Sometimes they tell them. You have stories like Hidden Figures or whatever, that do tell such great stories. But too often, Hollywood now is reveling in stories of racism and oppression. And I’m not against telling those stories. Surely those are part of the fabric of America too.
But there are great stories of America that are missing and are inadequately told. And I think it has to do with the interests of writers, what’s fashionable in American culture, what they’ve taken from their … what they’ve learned, at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton before they wandered off to Hollywood. And it’s a hard thing to change.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting that you say that because actually your film, the Clarence Thomas film, is actually a story about racism and oppression.
Mr. Pack: Indeed it is. It’s racism and oppression, but he overcomes the racism and oppression. And Clarence Thomas would not say that it’s systemic. I mean, it’s there in America. And he had to deal with … you know when Clarence Thomas was growing up in Savannah, the Ku Klux Klan marched through the streets of Savannah every year. I mean, it was a kind of racism that, thankfully, we don’t see anymore. So he would be … I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I don’t think he would say there is no racism, but he believes that you can overcome it.
We called that film “Created Equal” because of his commitment to the principles of the Declaration. And I think he would say that those principles are still realizable here. You can live up to, America can live up to those values, and somebody like him can rise in America, where maybe they can’t so easily in other countries in other parts of the world. So, yeah, it’s a story about racism, but it’s a story of overcoming it. It’s not a wallowing in it or a pessimism about it.
Mr. Jekielek: Speaking about this outlook in Hollywood that you’re describing, and perhaps how the Clarence Thomas film challenges that outlook, we’ve seen reports that—in corporate media, for example—I think it was like 92 to 95 percent, depending on who did it, were against the president or the administration.
So there’s some kind of bias in the corporate media. And people … there’s, again, criticism of this, and at the same time, there’s a lot of pestiferous support of this type of an approach, of sort of activism in the media. So broadly speaking, looking at the media at large, is there a role for your organization in the sort of broader media picture?
Mr. Pack: I think it has a very important role because the rest of the media has become very polarized. They’re on one side or the other. There isn’t a lot of objective, unbiased news. But on the other hand, it’s very hard for my agency to fulfill its goal. It’s part of the media environment. It shares the partisanness of the media currently. So it’s a very hard.
So I’ve learned from my six months here, that it’s very hard to get an organization to deliver objective, balanced news. I mean, there are heroes. Most of the people in my organization are The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN. So they aspire to be like people who, to my mind, have a bias. Or Fox, the few that might have another bias. So it proves to be very, very difficult to get unbiased, objective, balanced news in the current environment, the way the media is constructed.
And I think that is parallel to the problem in Hollywood, and it is a deep problem, not admitting of an easy fix, a deep cultural problem. But one that I think will dog America, especially in its increasing rivalry with China in the years ahead. If we don’t have a self-confident, optimistic, forward-looking attitude about our country, and China does, we will be at a severe disadvantage in the war of ideas that is ongoing.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so at The Epoch Times, we will certainly do our best to present, I think, what I’d like to think is the best of America, and also do our best to try to be as objective as we can in our reporting. Indeed, that’s what a lot of our readers and viewers tell us. So any final words before we finish up?
Mr. Pack: I think we covered a lot. I just want to leave with my sense of the importance of the mission of this agency and my admiration for many, many of the journalists. I’m often critical, and I’ve been very critical this hour, but as we’ve said earlier, there are a lot of heroic journalists struggling to get the truth into countries where that is rarely heard and it’s censored, and there’s great cost in telling the truth.
So I admire many of the people. I think it’s an important mission. And I hope and pray that it can thrive and continue to fulfill that mission and do it more so in the years ahead.
Mr. Jekielek: Michael Pack, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Pack: Thank you, Jan. Good to be with you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.