The Trump appointee who oversees Voice of America and other federal broadcasting operations continued an ongoing purge of top leadership by naming two conservative allies to run two of the most prominent networks.
The new hirings by Michael Pack, the head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, may turn out to be short-lived and largely symbolic. President-elect Joe Biden’s aides have indicated Biden intends to fire Pack when he assumes office on Jan. 20, although it’s not clear how much authority Biden would have to undo Pack’s personnel decisions.
Nevertheless, the two new appointees are Pack allies expected to carry out his agenda, which critics have said involves turning the networks under his supervision from independent news sources into Trump-boosting propaganda outlets.
Pack on Friday named blogger Ted Lipien to head Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and former Breitbart and Washington Times writer Jeffrey Scott Shapiro to run the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti.
The appointments follow Pack’s replacement last week of the acting director of Voice of America, Elez Biberaj, who has spent four decades as a journalist at the agency. His replacement was Robert Reilly, a former VOA director who has written books strongly critical of Muslims and gays and lesbians. Reilly’s appointment has raised concerns among congressional Democrats, given VOA’s presence in predominantly Muslim countries and Reilly’s writings in favor of turning VOA from an international news source into a more direct instrument of U.S. policies.
Pack, a veteran documentary filmmaker whose appointment this summer was championed by former Trump campaign chairman and White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, has shaken up the broadcasting empire he oversees by firing directors and senior managers, investigating one of its most prominent journalists, and asserting the right to breach a statutory “firewall” designed to shield the networks from political influence.
Shapiro, an attorney who has worked for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting since 2017, also wrote occasionally about his contempt for the Obama administration for Breitbart, the conservative commentary site formerly run by Bannon. “It’s hard for people to pinpoint exactly what it is they don’t like about President Barack Obama,” he wrote in 2012, “but I think I can easily sum it up: his thinly veiled contempt for America, and his transparent resentment for the country he was elected to lead. You’ll often hear people say, ‘He just hates America.’ ”
Lipien is a former VOA official who has run a blog called BBG-USAGM Watch that is a forum for critical former VOA employees (BBG refers to USAGM’s former name). The blog has repeatedly asserted that VOA’s programming favors liberal views. It has also reported and commented favorably on Pack’s efforts to restructure the operation since he assumed the top job in June.
Pack’s actions have been the subject of civil lawsuits and a whistleblower complaint. A federal judge last month ordered him not to involve himself in any editorial matters.
Pack has responded in the past 10 days by replacing the leadership of three of the five networks under his control with new managers who are likely to do his bidding.
Radio Free Europe, based in Prague, was founded in 1949 as an American broadcasting bulwark against the Soviet Union’s suppression of the press across Eastern Europe. It broadcasts in more than two dozen languages. Pack ousted its previous director, Jamie Fly, in June.
The Miami-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees Spanish-language programming beamed into Cuba, is the smallest of the U.S.-funded news media entities, with a budget of $28 million and a staff of 117. It has been plagued by management turnover for years before Pack arrived, and this summer faced a funding crisis. (washingtonpost.com/)