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Senate Confirms Conservative Filmmaker to Lead U.S. Media Agency

2020-06-04 20:32:42

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker who President Trump has said he hopes will dictate more favorable news coverage of his administration, to lead the independent agency in charge of state-funded media outlets.

The vote, 53 to 38, came after Mr. Trump personally intervened to expedite Mr. Pack’s nomination, which had initially stalled amid concerns from senators in both parties and hit a snag more recently amid an investigation by the District of Columbia attorney general into whether he illegally funneled funds from his nonprofit group to his for-profit film company.

Mr. Pack, a close ally of conservative activists and Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, will lead the United States Agency for Global Media, which oversees news organizations, including the Voice of America, that together make up one of the largest media networks in the world. Mr. Trump and White House officials in recent months have railed against V.O.A.’s coverage of the administration, and the president suggested in April that the Senate’s failure to confirm Mr. Pack was “preventing us from managing the Voice of America.”

Senate Republicans, led by Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pushed through Mr. Pack’s nomination over the objections of Democrats, who argued that the process should be paused given the investigation into Mr. Pack’s finances and outstanding questions about his ability to protect the agency’s editorial independence.

Mr. Risch on Wednesday blasted the attorney general leading the investigation as “obviously a partisan individual.”

“This has been investigated back and forth,” Mr. Risch said. “Keep in mind this is all politics. And if you see the kind of work that he’s done, he makes America proud when he makes a documentary.”

Mr. Pack’s latest project is a glowing biographical documentary about the conservative Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court.

The investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general is focused on whether Mr. Pack acted improperly by sending at least $1.6 million in donations to the Public Media Lab to his production company in a series of transactions first reported by MSNBC. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the Senate should pause its consideration of Mr. Pack’s nomination until the inquiry was closed.

“Please put aside whatever pressure, whatever threats the president has made and consider the dangerous precedent we are setting here today,” Mr. Menendez said. “If Mr. Pack is confirmed, the new bar for advice and consent is now set below that of a nominee who is under open investigation by law enforcement.”

At a private lunch last month with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump complained about Mr. Pack’s stalled nomination, according to people familiar with the conversation, and referred to the Voice of America as the “Voice of the Soviet Union.” Before the inquiry was made public, Mr. Trump had privately called Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, and pressed him to speed the nomination, and publicly lamented the delay.

“If you hear what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting,” Mr. Trump said. “The things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in and do a great job.”

The president nominated Mr. Pack in June 2018 to lead the agency, prompting protests from Democrats and quiet resistance from some Republicans, including former Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, then the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who showed little interest in moving the nomination.

Mr. Pack previously served as the director of Worldnet — now the television component of the Voice of America — under President George W. Bush, and worked at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a senior executive in its television production division.

At his confirmation hearing last fall, Mr. Pack cited that background and pledged to maintain the agency’s commitment to editorial independence.

“I’m not sure about all the journalistic practices and techniques inside the agency right now to do that, but I would look at those and try to strengthen them,” he said. “I guess it comes down to, we need to say no when you get a call from a political person telling journalists what to do.”


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