WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has moved quickly to remove a number of senior officials aligned with former President Donald Trump from the Voice of America and the agency that oversees all U.S.-funded international broadcasting.
The actions address fears that the U.S. Agency for Global Media was being turned into a pro-Trump propaganda outlet. The agency announced Thursday that VOA’s director and his deputy had been removed from their positions and that the head of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting had resigned.
The moves come just a day after President Joe Biden was sworn in and demanded the resignation of Trump’s hand-picked CEO of USAGM, Michael Pack. The agency said in a statement that VOA director Robert Reilly had been fired just weeks after having taken the job. He had been harshly criticized just last week for demoting a VOA White House correspondent who tried to ask former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a question after a town hall event.
Two agency officials familiar with the matter said Reilly and his deputy, Elizabeth Robbins, were escorted from VOA's headquarters by security guards. The officials were not authorized to discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition, Jeffrey Shapiro, who was just recently appointed to run Cuba-focused broadcasters Radio and TV Marti, resigned at the request of the new administration, they said.
Pack, who appointed all three of those terminated on Thursday, resigned just hours after Biden was inaugurated. Soon after his resignation, the Biden White House announced that a veteran VOA journalist, Kelu Chao, would head USAGM on an interim basis.
Pack created a furor when he took over the agency last year and fired the boards of all the outlets under his control along with the leadership of the individual broadcast networks. The actions were criticized as threatening the broadcasters’ prized editorial independence.
The moves raised fears that Pack, a conservative filmmaker and former associate of Trump’s onetime political strategist Steve Bannon, intended to turn venerable U.S. media outlets into pro-Trump propaganda machines. His further actions did little to ease those concerns.
Indeed, just on Tuesday he appointed new conservative members to the boards of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
Biden had been expected to make major changes to the agency’s structure and management, and Pack’s early departure signaled that those would be coming sooner rather than later. Though many presidential appointees resign when a new administration comes in, Pack was not required to do so. His three-year position was created by Congress and was not limited by the length of a particular administration.
VOA was founded during World War II and its congressional charter requires it to present independent news and information to international audiences.