Michael Pack, a filmmaker and former SVP of television for CPB, is reportedly under investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general’s office for allegedly using donations to his nonprofit to fund his independent film and production company.
Pack runs Public Media Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to receive and award grants to filmmakers, according to federal tax documents. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) is investigating whether Pack’s use of funds from the nonprofit was “unlawful and whether he improperly used those funds to benefit himself.”
Since leaving CPB, Pack has worked on PBS films about nuclear power and Alexander Hamilton. He is also the writer, director and producer of Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words, a film about the Supreme Court justice scheduled for common carriage on local PBS stations Monday. The film features Thomas and his wife, Virginia, who discuss the justice’s upbringing in Georgia, his time at Yale, his rise to the Supreme Court after facing accusations of sexual harassment and his image as a stoic figure on the bench.
Pack has been on the White House’s radar since 2017 to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media — formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors — which oversees Voice of America and other news outlets. While a Senate committee vetted Pack, it emerged in September that approximately $1.6 million in donations from Public Media Lab were sent to Pack’s production company, Manifold Productions, CNBC reported. Pack’s wife, Gina Cappo, is VP of the company.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the D.C. attorney general’s office informed the committee of the active investigation Thursday. In his statement to the Post, Mendendez said Pack has refused to provide the committee with documents that could shed light on the allegations.
Pack was scheduled to face a panel vote Thursday on his nomination to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chair of the Foreign Relations panel, postponed the vote, citing opposition from Democrats, according to the New York Times.
PBS declined to comment but a spokeswoman confirmed it will air Pack’s Clarence Thomas documentary as planned.
Spokespersons for the Packs did not immediately respond to Current’s requests for comment. Pack has not responded to Current’s request for an interview about his Clarence Thomas documentary.
Pack, who controlled a television budget of $70 million at CPB, left the corporation in 2006. During his tenure, he helped create America at a Crossroads, a $20 million CPB project that examined the world post-9/11. The initiative faced controversies over production issues, according to a 2009 investigation by Current.
Pack is a self-described conservative with ties to Steve Bannon, a former strategist for President Trump. Pack served as president of the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, between 2015-17.
Politics surrounding Pack’s nomination
President Trump has criticized Voice of America for its coverage on the coronavirus pandemic and has reportedly urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to speed up Pack’s nomination, according to the Times.
“If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. … Things they say are disgusting toward our country,” Trump said in April. “And Michael Pack would get in and he’d do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years. Can’t get him approved.”
Voice of America came under fire from the White House last month after it was accused of promoting Chinese government propaganda in its reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. A critique on the White House website is titled “Amid a Pandemic, Voice of America Spends Your Money to Promote Foreign Propaganda.”
In an April statement, Amanda Bennett, Voice of America’s director, defended the organization’s reporting on COVID-19. “Unlike China, VOA has stuck to verifiable facts, including publishing numerous articles in Mandarin, English and other languages that outed China’s initial secrecy keeping information of the initial outbreak from the world,” Bennett said. “VOA has thoroughly debunked much of the information coming from the Chinese government and government-controlled media.”
Later in April, Voice of America faced another controversy when Vice President Pence’s office said a Voice of America journalist, Steve Herman, had violated the terms of off-the-record conversations. Herman disclosed on Twitter that Pence’s staff told journalists they would need masks while traveling with Pence for his visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Reporters wore face coverings, but Pence didn’t. Pence later conceded that he should have.
This story has been updated with a response from PBS.