President Joe Biden’s initial list of action items included sweeping changes to rid the federal government’s international news organizations of top managers loyal to his predecessor.
Biden’s moves appeared to be an attempt to stop, what critics said, was the attempted formation of a propaganda machine under former President Donald Trump and his administration, per The Washington Post.
Within hours of being sworn in Wednesday, Biden forced out Michael Pack, the controversial head of the agency that oversees Voice of America and four other networks that broadcast news to millions of people abroad.
Biden then removed VOA’s director and deputy director on Thursday after both had their jobs only a few weeks.
Pack, a Trump appointee, was involved in scandal, lawsuits, and acrimony in the eight months since he became chief executive of the news organizations’ parent, the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Biden named Kelu Chao, a journalist who has worked at VOA for nearly 40 years, as Pack’s interim replacement. Senate confirmation is required for the agency’s permanent chief executive.
Chao then fired VOA Director Robert Reilly and and Deputy Director Elizabeth Robbins on Thursday. Both had been appointed by Pack last month.
Yolanda Lopez, another longtime VOA journalist, was named acting director.
The Chao and Lopez appointments signaled support for longtime staffers and the way the news organizations operated before Pack.
Earlier this month, more than two dozen VOA employees objected to a directive, apparently from Pack and implemented by Reilly and Robbins, to broadcast a speech by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. The employees said the order, given by a political appointee, amounted to government “propaganda” — the very thing VOA was established to counter in foreign countries. They also demanded Reilly and Robbins resign.
After Pack suspended six senior USAGM executives and sought their removal last fall, Chao joined a whistleblower lawsuit against the former agency head.
Also Thursday, Office of Cuba Broadcasting Director Jeffrey Shapiro resigned. He was another Pack appointee.The U.S. government reportedly spends $637 million annually to support the five news networks — VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Middle East Broadcasting, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and Radio Free Asia.
Congress established the agencies as an extension of American “soft power,” though their news content and commentary is regulated independently.
Voice of America is the USAGM’s biggest and most influential network, broadcasting in 47 different languages, primarily in countries where press freedom is limited or nonexistent.
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