The Trump administration’s leading candidate to head the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a position that with recent changes would give the single person unilateral power over the United States’ government messaging abroad reaching millions, is a conservative documentarian with ties to White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
Michael Pack, the leading contender for the post, is currently the president and CEO of the Claremont Institute and Publisher of its Claremont Review of Books, a conservative institute based in California which has been called the “academic home of Trumpism” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Pack, a former Corporation for Public Broadcasting executive, and Bannon are mutual admirers and worked on two documentaries together. Pack has appeared on Bannon’s radio show and wrote an op-ed in March praising Bannon as a pioneer in conservative documentary film-making.
Should he be appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate, Pack would be the first CEO of the BBG without a board as a firewall because of a little-noticed provision in last December’s National Defense Authorization Act which disbanded the bipartisan board which controls the BBG.
“The White House could theoretically use the BBG for any kind of messaging,” one senior government official with direct knowledge of the situation said. “People are generally worried about what might happen next because it would change the nature of BBG from having a CEO and a board and a track record for protecting independence to what might come next."
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on Pack, but said the administration has "no announcement at this time."
Pack declined to comment through a Claremont Institute spokesperson.
The BBG controls Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Network, which constitutes the largest public diplomacy program by the U.S. government, reaching an audience of 278 million by broadcasting in 100 countries and 61 languages. The state-funded media network was originally created to counter the propaganda arms of Nazi Germany. Today, it operates as a series of independent journalistic organizations. It was Voice of America which recorded and published video of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards beating up protesters in Northwest Washington earlier this month.
Though the position of CEO of the BBG is relatively new, the agency has traditionally been rooted in journalistic ideals and independent of the White House or State Department. Current CEO John Lansing is the former president of Scripps Networks, and the first CEO of the BBG was Andy Lack, who now heads NBC News. Before 2015, the day-to-day operations of the BBG was overseen by the board.
The recent changes in BBG management are “a really big deal because board of governors really represents the firewall. And the firewall is a legally mandated firewall which prevents the government from interfering from the editorial independence of the BBG,“ the senior official said. "Once President Trump appoints Pack or anyone else and when or if they’re confirmed by the Senate, then the entire board of governors goes away.”
Under the new arrangement, the board of governors will be replaced by an advisory panel.
Once confirmed, the new CEO could hire their own directors for the five networks under BBG and thus theoretically push whichever message he or she chose without the board’s approval.
A Republican government official familiar with the agency’s work told POLITICO in December that abolishing the board will make the BBG susceptible to the influence of Trump’s allies.
“There’s some fear among the folks here, that the firewall will get diminished and attacked and this could fall victim to propaganda,” the Republican official said in December. “They will hire the person they want, the current CEO does not stand a chance. This will pop up on Steve Bannon’s radar quickly. They are going to put a friendly person in that job.”
Pack has extensive experience in broadcasting, having previously served as senior vice president for television programming at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and as director of WORLDNET, the U.S. Information Agency’s global satellite network which is now part of Voice of America. For many years he ran his own production company called Manifold Productions, creating dozens of films that aired mainly on PBS. Pack worked with Bannon on two documentaries, one about the Iraq War and the other about a Jewish immigrant from Poland who created the nuclear submarine.
It was in The Claremont Review of Books last year that Michael Anton, now the director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, wrote under a pseudonym an essay called “The Flight 93 Election" that the Intercept called “the intellectual source code of Trumpism.” In it, Anton argued that Trump’s candidacy represented the last chance to save a hardline conservative vision for America against liberal opponents and moderate Republicans — charging the “cockpit” of American democracy in the same way the passengers of Flight 93 did on September 11, 2001, sacrificing themselves to prevent greater damage.
Pack has previously defended the institute telling the New York Times “The Claremont Institute stands for deep, serious thinking about American founding principles … we are not simply in the partisan fight.”
Pack is clearly in tune with Bannon, who has publicly praised Pack, calling him “one of the greatest filmmakers in America today.” In a recent column for The Federalist, Pack praised Bannon’s experience in documentary films, writing that having a documentarian in the White House would hopefully break the liberal “stranglehold” on the documentary industry.
“Documentaries provide an important way of understanding our politics, history, and culture. Viewers, and the nation, are better served by a diversity of views,” Pack wrote.
Tara Palmeri contributed reporting.