WASHINGTON – Republican Senate leaders, under pressure from President Trump to deploy an ally who would dictate more favorable coverage of his government, are trying to quickly confirm a conservative filmmaker who heads the independent agency responsible for state-funded media.
Idaho Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has scheduled a committee meeting next week to advance the longstanding nomination of Michael Pack, a close ally of Stephen K. BannonAnd a favorite of conservative activists to run the U.S. agency for global media.
The action took place after Trump’s senator Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and majority leader, put pressure on a recent call to speed up Mr. Pack’s nomination, according to three people who were familiar with the private conversation and were on the condition of anonymity.
Mr Trump’s personal intervention to get his favorite candidate through shows his determination to install a personable figure at the parent agency of broadcasters, which includes Voice of America, the largest American international broadcaster and one that has recently done so provoked his anger.
At a press conference last month, the president said the failure of the Senate to confirm Mr. Pack “prevented us from managing the voice of America.”
The week before had the White House threw an unusual broadside against the V.O.A.and accused the US-funded foreign broadcaster of mimicking Chinese propaganda in its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Trump’s social media director called it a “shame”.
The President lifted Mr. Pack’s nomination as part of one Tirade about the failure of the Senate to confirm its candidatesin which he raged over the democratic opposition to his elected candidates and threatened to use an unprecedented power of the President to postpone Congress himself so that he could use it unilaterally. Mr. McConnell has since opened the Senate to business – even though Congress’s top doctor said reunification poses health risks – and told his colleagues the first day before that he would try to “move qualified candidates who are already admitted to.” have been held for a long time “.
“The Senate will respond to key nominations that are directly related to the security of the American people, the monitoring of our coronavirus legislation, and more,” said McConnell.
A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said that the majority leader and Mr. Trump “talk all the time”, but the office does not read their conversations. A White House spokesman declined to comment on the call regarding Mr. Pack.
Democrats who have long spoken out against Mr. Pack’s nomination argued that it was inappropriate to be convened to conduct business that was not related to the novel coronavirus, especially someone whom they described as a “controversial political candidate” .
“In these circumstances, it would be a shocking departure from committee practice and a renunciation of the committee’s role to screen candidates and ensure that only those who are fit for service receive our seal of approval,” the Democrats continued External relations wrote on Thursday in a letter to Mr. Risch.
The U.S. agency for global media, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, oversees news organizations that together form one of the largest media networks in the world. V.O.A. is the most prominent, but the agency is also responsible for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and Broadcasting networks in the Middle Eastamong other groups. Many journalists in the organizations are nervous as to whether Mr. Pack – under the leadership of the White House – will try to curb or attack their editorial independence, according to people who are familiar with newsrooms.
“There was great concern,” said Brett Bruenwho worked with the agency as director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “Pack threatens to destroy its credibility both in Washington and worldwide.”
“It will be a taxpayer-funded expansion of OANN and Breitbartand added wrong stories, ”added Bruen, using the acronym for One American News Network, and naming two conservative news agencies that produce glowing coverage of Mr. Trump.
The agency traditionally had a non-partisan board that served as the collective leader of the organization and contributed to the maintenance of the firewall. But a provision in a 2016 defense policy bill raised the manager and put the board in an advisory role. The general manager can make appointments in the networks without checking this authorization.
Washington-based filmmaker Mr. Pack has collaborated on films with Mr. Bannon, a former director of Breitbart News, to produce and direct a documentary entitled “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words”. His nomination was supported by a cadre of powerful conservative activists and groupsincluding the Heritage Foundation, former Senator Jim DeMint and Jerome Corsi, the political commentator and conspiracy theorist.
Mr. Bannon is a longtime critic of V.O.A., say in 2018 that it was “a rotten fish from top to bottom”.
“It is now fully controlled by the deep state machine,” he said.
Mr. Pack was previously the director of Worldnet – now the television component of V.O.A. – Under President George Bush and worked for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a senior executive in the television production department.
“In today’s networked age, it is important to shape global public sentiment,” said Pack at his hearing for confirmation. “As Lincoln would have guessed, we have to face lies with the truth. We have to make it clear to the world which ideals America wants to live up to. “
Before the White House began, V.O.A. Attacking publicly, his current top executives, appointed by Obama and mostly from traditional media, expected that if Mr. Pack were confirmed, they would lose their jobs.
Mr. Pack was nominated by Mr. Trump as head of the agency in June 2018, leading to protests by Democrats and silent opposition from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, including former Tennessee senator Bob Corker, who was then chair of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time Interested in postponing the nomination.
In a letter to Mark Meadows in AprilThe White House chief of staff, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chief democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, raised a number of concerns, which he called “problematic revelations,” which were confirmed the night before Mr. Pack was heard showed up.
Mr. Menendez said the issue was whether he had carried out “inappropriate or illegal activities”. related to transactions between his film company and a nonprofit organization that he runs. Mr. Menendez also raised concerns that Mr. Pack had not acted properly when awarding a charitable fundraising contract to his film company.
“To date, his answers have been superficial and inadequate,” Menendez wrote.
The bigger concern, however, is that if confirmed, Mr. Pack would try reporting to V.O.A. and other networks. With a budget of $ 750 million and a reach of more than 345 million people worldwide, the US agency for global media tries to promote the democratic values of the United States by broadcasting journalism and political messages on a number of radio and television channels connects with each other. The 3,300 employees are legally protected from political interference.
John LansingThe former permanent director was known to maintain journalistic independence and maintain a firewall between news organizations and politicians. Mr. Lansing is now the managing director of NPR.
Following comments from Mr. Trump at his April press conference, Amanda Bennett, who heads Voice of America, released a long statement in defense of her reporting.
“One of the big differences between publicly funded independent media like the Voice of America and state-controlled media is that we can show all sides of a problem freely and are actually required to do so by law,” said Ms. Bennett.
Elizabeth Williamson contributed to the reporting.