President Donald Trump will nominate a conservative documentarian and Stephen Bannon ally to lead a large government agency that creates and distributes news to more than one hundred countries.
Late Friday, the White House announced its intent to nominate Michael Pack, a former president of the conservative Claremont Institute, to lead the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The board controls US government-funded media outlets like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe and is considered the country’s largest public diplomacy program. It reaches an audience of 278 million in more than 100 countries and 61 languages.
If confirmed, Pack would replace current CEO John Lansing, who is a holdover from the Obama administration.
Pack’s nomination has been expected for more than a year, but it was tied up as he disentangled himself from conflict of interest issues, according to two sources with knowledge of the process.
Pack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pack is a former Corporation for Public Broadcasting executive, and an ally of Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and head of Breitbart. The two worked on two documentaries together and Pack wrote an op-ed last year praising Bannon as a pioneer in conservative documentary filmmaking. As head of the Claremont Institute, he also acted as publisher of the Claremont Review of Books, which the New York Times once dubbed the “bible of highbrow Trumpism.”
Several sources within the BBG have been privately expressing concern over Pack’s nomination. Previous BBG CEOs, a relatively new position, have been more mainstream newsroom leaders, like Lansing, who is a former president of Scripps Network, or current NBC News head Andy Lack, who briefly led the agency in 2015.
There is also concern Pack will turn what has been considered America’s voice abroad toward a decidedly more pro-Trump bent, though the agencies under the BBG are independent of the presidential administration, with the board acting as firewall. Several staffers at the BBG have told CNN they plan to leave if Pack is confirmed.
Other critics have said the BBG’s media outlets are undermining the administration’s efforts at home and abroad.
Once Pack takes over, the structure of the BBG governance changes.
Should Pack be confirmed, he’d have more unilateral power over the agency because of a provision enacted in the last weeks of the Obama administration that would disband the bipartisan board in favor of an advisory board, which supporters saw as a firewall between the administration and the agency. Proponents promoted the move as one to make the organization more efficient.
Beyond Pack, there are others who feel Bannon’s influence has already reached deep into the agency.
A Trump appointee already working in the BBG, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, a former investigative reporter who has ties to Bannon, has told colleagues that his goal is to turn the agency into a “Bannon legacy,” according to three sources within or familiar with the agency.
In March, the top Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel said he had come forward to allege that Shapiro and others were seeking to push the agency’s journalism toward a viewpoint more favorable with the Trump administration by overthrowing the current leadership before Pack’s nomination went out.