WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump’s hand-picked chief of U.S. international broadcasting has quit amid a burgeoning staff revolt and growing calls for his resignation.
Michael Pack resigned as the chief executive office of the U.S. Agency for Global Media just minutes after President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday. The agency runs the Voice of America and sister networks.
Pack had created a furor when he took over the agency last year and fired the boards of all the outlets under his control along with the leadership of the individual broadcast networks. The actions were criticized as threatening the broadcasters' prized editorial independence.
Biden had been expected to make major changes to the agency's structure and management but Pack’s early departure signaled those may be coming sooner rather than later. Though many presidential appointees resign when a new administration comes in, Pack was not required to do so. His three-year position was created by Congress is not limited by the length of a particular administration.
In resigning, Pack cited the incoming administration’s desire for new leadership at the agency. Shortly after his departure the Biden White House announced that a veteran VOA journalist, Kelu Chao, would helm USAGM in on an interim basis.
“I serve at the pleasure of not one particular president, but the office of the president itself,” Pack said in a resignation letter sent to staffers. “The new administration has requested my resignation, and that is why I have tendered it as of 2PM today.”
The letter said that "a great amount of much-needed reform was achieved in the past eight months, some of this work is outlined in a series of recently-released agency statements.” Yet those statements were seen by many, including Republican and Democratic lawmakers and a significant number of employees, as being antithetical to the agency's mandate to provide international audiences with unbiased, uncensored and nonpolitical information.
VOA was founded during World War II and its congressional charter requires it to present independent news and information to international audiences.
Pack is a conservative filmmaker and former associate of Trump’s onetime political strategist Steve Bannon. Pack’s moves raised fears that he intended to turn venerable U.S. media outlets into pro-Trump propaganda machines. His actions had done little to dissuade those concerns and had attracted a large amount of criticism from supporters of the agency's mission.
Indeed, just on Tuesday he appointed new conservative members to the boards of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
Only last week, Pack attracted new criticism when one his top aides demoted a VOA White House reporter after she asked a question of then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. That reassignment prompted a new round of criticism and demands for VOA chief Robert Reilly to resign. In addition to Republican criticism, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez. D-N.J., demanded changes in leadership.
Biden’s team had made clear it was not pleased with Pack's record on the job and had sent numerous signals that he should go.
Pack’s appointments to specific networks and boards of directors may be more difficult for the Biden administration to rescind without congressional action. Some appointees now enjoy federal employment protections.
Transition officials said last week they were looking into ways that legislation could be amended or replaced to make dismissals of certain personnel easier.