Head of U.S. Agency for Global Media Resigns

January 25, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
The Voice of America in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — The government agency that runs Voice of America is getting a new chief executive after the controversial previous head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media resigned Wednesday.

Michael Pack was given an ultimatum by the Biden administration: resign or be fired.

He was replaced by Kelu Chao as acting chief executive officer of the agency, which oversees six radio or television broadcast networks.

On her first day as chief executive, she removed Pack’s appointee who headed Voice of America.

Although Pack is gone, controversy continues about allegations of financial self-dealing and using the government-sponsored broadcast networks to advance conservative interests of the Trump administration.

Pack, a documentary filmmaker, headed the U.S. Agency for Global Media for only a year-and-a-half.

Shortly after taking office, he fired the heads of the news outlets under the umbrella agency’s control and replaced them with Trump loyalists. He disbanded a bipartisan board that oversees the agency and launched investigations into journalists suspected of bias against Trump.

He also revoked U.S. Agency for Global Media rules that protected Voice of America journalists from political interference.

At the same time, he had editorials prepared that presented Trump administration policies favorably. They were read over the international radio networks and posted on their websites in various languages.

On Jan. 11, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to the Voice of America staff at Pack’s invitation, asking them to be less critical of the United States.

“It is not fake news for you to broadcast that this is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation this civilization has ever known,” Pompeo told the Voice of America staff. “I’m not saying ignore our faults. Indeed, just the opposite. It is to acknowledge them. But this isn’t the Vice of America, focusing on everything that’s wrong with our great nation. It’s the Voice of America.”

Pack’s actions were met by outrage among long-time staff members, some of whom sued him and wrote letters to Congress to protest what they said were violations of their charter intended to prevent bias in news reports.

Their lawsuit in U.S. District Court sought an injunction to prevent Pack from making personnel decisions about journalists employed by the agency. They also wanted him prevented from communicating directly with them.

On Nov. 20, 2020, Judge Beryl Howell granted a preliminary injunction.

It ordered Pack to stop “conducting any and all investigations into journalistic content, individual editors or journalists or alleged editorial lapses or breaches of journalistic ethics at Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.”

Pack continues to face a lawsuit by the District of Columbia attorney general that accuses him of shifting $4 million to a documentary company he owns from a non-profit he controls. The lawsuit says Pack was trying to enrich himself while violating regulations on non-profit organizations.

His temporary replacement, Chao, has worked at Voice of America and the U.S. Agency for Global Media for more than 40 years. She is the first woman to be the agency’s chief executive officer.

A U.S. Agency for Global Media announcement said President Joe Biden is expected to nominate a permanent chief executive officer soon.

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