The Trump administration is potentially undermining a federal agency to facilitate pro-Trump propaganda. In June 2020, the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s freshly-installed CEO Michael Pack — a conservative filmmaker with close ties to former Breitbart News executive chairman and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon — ushered in disruptive personnel and policy shakeups.

Pack oversaw interferences at USAGM such as:

  • Investigating VOA’s White House bureau chief Steve Herman for supposed anti-Trump bias
  • Forcing VOA’s general counsel and standards editor out
  • Tapping Jeffrey Shapiro — another Trump-ally with close ties to Steve Bannon — to lead OCB as acting director
  • Defying a congressional subpoena seeking his testimony.

Trump has baselessly accused VOA of representing the voice of “communists” and suggested that Pack’s leadership would help shift Voice of America in a direction more favorable to the President. The president’s personal intervention to ensure Michael Pack’s appointment to USAGM and Pack’s ensuing drastic acts raise red flags over political, pro-Trump interference in the independent, journalistic standards of an agency that oversees federally-funded broadcast outlets (such as Voice of America) and media programs abroad.

Just weeks after Pack’s confirmation, senior leadership at many of the outlets USAGM oversees either felt compelled to resign, were “stripp[ed] … of their authority,” or were fired outright. In one fell swoop, dubbed a “Wednesday night massacre,” Pack axed officials leading Middle East Broadcasting (MEB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), and the Open Technology Fund (OTF).

We requested records to expose whether Pack’s drastic policy and staffing changes are part of an effort to facilitate pro-Trump propaganda and undermine journalistic integrity. When USAGM failed to respond to our FOIA request, we filed suit to uncover the truth.

Democracy Forward requested the following records:

  • All records sent or received by Michael Pack discussing leadership changes at USGAM or any of its subsidiaries
  • All communications between Pack and Steve Bannon
  • All records sent between Pack and any individuals affiliated with Fox News, Breitbart News Network, or One America News Network

As part of an ongoing examination, Democracy Forward has investigated and uncovered potentially illegal coordination between Trump-led agencies and conservative media outlets. Learn more about our work exposing the Trump administration’s propaganda efforts.

Ben Seel

Counsel

Focusing on justice, national security, immigration, and health care issues.

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