June 23, 2020

Menendez Requests Inspector General Probe into Michael Pack’s “Wednesday Night Massacre”

On Pack’s Hollowing out of USAGM: “These actions appear to be entirely inconsistent with the highest standards of professional journalism”

WASHINGTONSenator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today requested the State Department’s Acting Inspector General Stephen Akard open a review to determine whether Michael Pack, the newly-installed CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), violated a federal regulation when he fired the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and dissolved the boards of each network. The federal rule, titled “Firewall and Highest Standards of Professional Journalism,” went into effect less than one week before Michael Pack’s “Wednesday Night Massacre” of USAGM leadership.

“On its face, the firing of the leadership of each network and dissolution of the boards appear to constitute an attempt to ‘interfere with’ and ‘impermissibly influence’ all ‘of the USAGM networks, including their leadership, officers, [and] employees … in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties and activities.’ Furthermore, the absence of standards editors in each of these news organizations raises questions about accountability mechanisms for journalistic integrity,” wrote Menendez in his first letter to Acting IG Akard since he replaced former IG Steve Linick. “[Pack] presented no cause for firing the network leaders, dissolving their boards, and reassigning the standards editors. Instead, these actions appear to be entirely inconsistent with the highest standards of professional journalism.”

The U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has a mission to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. Its grantee networks, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks, Voice of America and Radio and TV Marti, bring news and information to societies where free press is banned or not fully operational.

Ranking Member Menendez led the fight in Congress against Michael Pack’s confirmation after the discovery of questionable and potentially unlawful activity involving Michael Pack’s business dealings, which the District of Columbia’s Attorney General is currently investigating.

A copy of the Senator’s letter can be found below and HERE.

Acting Inspector General Akard,

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020 the new Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, Michael Pack, fired the heads of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and dissolved the boards of each network.[1] It is also my understanding that standards editors have been reassigned from their duties at the networks.

I write to request that you review whether Mr. Pack’s wholesale firing of the leadership of these networks violated a rule by the Broadcasting Board of Governors that went into effect on June 11, 2020, titled “Firewall and Highest Standards of Professional Journalism.” [2]

The rule revised “regulations to clarify the practical meaning and impact of the statutory firewall contained within the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994, as amended.”[3] Specifically, the rule states that “this ‘firewall’ is understood to be violated when any person within the Executive Branch or a Network, but outside the newsroom, attempts to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with, or otherwise impermissibly influence any of the USAGM networks, including their leadership, officers, employees or staff, in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties and activities.”[4] On its face, the firing of the leadership of each network and dissolution of the boards appear to constitute an attempt to “interfere with” and “impermissibly influence” all “of the USAGM networks, including their leadership, officers, [and] employees … in the performance of their journalistic and broadcasting duties and activities.” Furthermore, the absence of standards editors in each of these news organizations raises questions about accountability mechanisms for journalistic integrity.

While the rule states that the “firewall does not prevent a USAGM CEO or Board from undertaking the same type of direction and oversight that those in equivalent leadership positions in an organization overseeing other reputable news organizations may provide, in a manner consistent with the highest standards of professional journalism,” that exception does not appear to apply to Mr. Pack’s actions on June 17, as he presented no cause for firing the network leaders, dissolving their boards, and reassigning the standards editors. [5] Instead, these actions appear to be entirely inconsistent with the highest standards of professional journalism.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to the results of your review.

Sincerely,

###



[1] David Folkenflik, “Trump's New Foreign Broadcasting CEO Fires News Chiefs, Raising Fears Of Meddling.” NPR, June 18, 2020.

[2] “Firewall and Highest Standards of Professional Journalism.” A Rule by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, posted to the Federal Register on June 15, 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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