by Michael Gonzalez
If war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means, public diplomacy is a theater where states use ideas instead of ordnance.
But in this important battlefield, the U.S. is not currently fighting with generals chosen by the commander in chief elected by the American people in 2016. The ideas are still being shaped by officials picked by President Barack Obama, not President Donald Trump.
All of this may be about to change now that the White House has announced its intention to nominate Michael Pack to replace Obama appointee John Lansing as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency in charge of broadcasting operations in support of freedom around the world.
Pack, a documentary filmmaker, is a former executive with the liberal Corporation for Public Broadcasting and former president of the high-brow conservative Claremont Institute.
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But don’t expect “The Resistance” to take Pack’s nomination lying down. Like those World War II Japanese soldiers who held out in Filipino jungles until well into the 1970s, that hardy band of stalwarts continues to refuse to acknowledge Trump’s victory.
The administration must stick to its guns as it steers Pack through the usual traps, most importantly confirmation hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
For close to a decade now, diplomacy—including the public kind—has been used to promote liberal causes and lifestyles on which the American polity has not yet reached consensus. This use of taxpayer money does not serve U.S. national interests and must stop.
Lansing, a former president of Scripps Network, is one of the key officials who has been shaping public diplomacy during the 500 days of the Trump presidency. Another is Amanda Bennett, head of the Voice of America and also an Obama holdover.
Once confirmed by the Senate, Pack would be expected to sack Bennett, a veteran print journalist, and replace her with someone else in short order.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, with an annual budget of $684 million, oversees not just the Voice of America but other government-financed broadcasters such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. They’ve all come under criticism for continuing to promote Obama’s policies and worldview.
Take Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. An independent study carried out under the auspices of the American Foreign Policy Council late last year found that Radio Farda’s broadcasts to Iran made no effort to describe the detrimental effects of the Iran nuclear deal signed by Obama but recently abandoned by Trump.
“Simply put, Iranians were told in detail that the Obama White House supported the agreement, and why. They have not been afforded the same explanations of current administration policy,” the study said.
The idea that the estimated worldwide audience of 175 million being reached by U.S. international broadcasting might be lost to liberalism’s message is enough to give some people the vapors.
Which apparently explains why the media hits on Pack keep piling on. An immediate one after the announcement of his nomination came from Hadas Gold, who wrote on CNN’s website that Pack is an ally of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. The article noted “concern over Pack’s nomination” from “several sources” who supposedly fear that Pack would turn the Voice of America “toward a decidedly more pro-Trump bent.”
“Several staffers at the BBG [Broadcast Board of Governors] have told CNN they plan to leave if Pack is confirmed,” wrote Gold, as if this were somehow a disincentive to the White House to do anything but double down on Pack.
The more staid Foreign Policy magazine followed Monday by describing Pack as a “close ally” of Bannon and wrote that “critics have raised alarm bells over the proposed appointment.”
Both these reports, and others, point out that, under congressional changes Obama signed into law in his last year in office, the governing board would be turned into a less powerful advisory board, giving more power to its new CEO.
Underlying the angst over Trump’s using his power as president to name the heads of agencies is the canard that Lansing and his predecessors have been “more mainstream newsroom leaders” (in the words of Gold) than Pack.
That is somehow hard to square, unless one truly believes that Scripps is more “mainstream” than the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or Claremont Institute. More likely, “mainstream” just basically means “liberal” and Gold basically has substantiated the charge of conservatives who derisively use both words interchangeably.
There’s also the “Bannon ally” charge, shrouded as it is in all manner of innuendo. It seems to be based on the fact that Pack has worked on two documentaries with Bannon (two, in a 35-year career), and that last year Pack wrote this essay for The Federalist that mentioned Bannon.
One of the documentaries dealt with the two biggest battles of the Iraq War, Fallujah and Najaf, and the other with Adm. Hyman Rickover, a Jewish immigrant who was the father of the nuclear submarine. Hardly pitchfork populism, in other words.
Pack’s March 2017 article in The Federalist began by noting of Bannon: “Now that there is a documentarian in the White House, perhaps conservative documentaries can earn some respect—and a revival.”
Most of the article, however, was an accurate precis of how budding American documentary filmmakers are cultivated from university on through channels for distribution, credentialing, networking, and awarding so that they become leftists.
The process, Pack wrote, produces documentaries that “view American history and society solely through the lens of race, class, and gender.” Viewers and the nation, he averred, “would be better served by a diversity of views.”
Providing diversity to that 175 million-strong audience is why you are likely to hear more criticism of Pack. The administration better hang tough.
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Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is a widely experienced international correspondent, commentator, and editor who has reported from Asia, Europe, and Latin America. He served in the George W. Bush administration, first at the Securities and Exchange Commission and then at the State Department, and is the author of “A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.” Read his research.