Biden Taps Veteran Journalist to Lead Global Media Agency
Workforce management and boosting morale are ongoing challenges the agency is working to address.
President Biden formally nominated on Monday a veteran journalist to lead the global media agency, as it works to continue building trust and credibility in the post-Trump era.
Amanda Bennett previously served as director of Voice of America from March 2016 to June 2020. She and the agency's deputy director left right as Michael Pack, CEO of U.S. Agency for Global Media, was coming in. Bennett wrote in The Washington Post in December 2020 that she expected to get fired by Pack who, along with his top officials, made vast and controversial changes in his almost eight months in office. Then new leaders under the Biden administration quickly worked to restore morale and credibility in the agency.
“I am honored by this nomination,” Bennett told Government Executive in a statement. “If confirmed, I will be so proud to work with all the dedicated journalists at [the Agency for Global Media] who are doing the critical and difficult work around the world of upholding and demonstrating the value of a free press.”
Before Voice of America, Bennett was executive editor of Bloomberg News; editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer; editor of the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky; and a managing editor at The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon. Also, “Bennett served as a Wall Street Journal reporter for 23 years, including stints in Toronto and Beijing. She has also been a contributing columnist for The Washington Post,” the White House noted in a press release. “Bennett shared the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting with her Journal colleagues, and in 2001 led a team from The Oregonian to a Pulitzer for public service. Projects she led or edited won awards including Loeb, Polk, Barlett and Steele, Headliners, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and Overseas Press Club Awards.”
The U.S. Agency for Global Media declined to comment on the nomination.
“I think Amanda’s the most qualified candidate for the job,” said David Seide, senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, who has represented Bennett and other current and former global media employees in the past. He said he is “absolutely delighted at the nomination” due to her years of experience in media and running Voice Of America as well as “outstanding judgement.”
Stephen Capus, who served as an advisor at the U.S. Agency for Global Media from February 2019 to July 2020, said Biden’s appointment of Bennett was “a smart, timely decision that will be well received within [the agency], the affiliated networks and services all around the world.”
She “brings the highest levels of journalistic integrity, principled leadership and an unwavering commitment to the principles of the First Amendment,” he continued. “I enjoyed working side by side with Amanda during my tenure with [U.S. Agency for Global Media] and know that she is the best person to shepherd [the agency] through the challenging days ahead.”
Capus told Government Executive Pack removed him at the same time he fired or forced the resignation of the top leaders of the sub-networks and was “told by his representative that Mr. Pack wanted to move in a different direction from my role, which was grounded in 25-years of network news executive leadership, production and journalistic independence”
Back in January, a bipartisan group of five House lawmakers, including Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, applauded Biden’s removal of Pack.
McCaul, however, expressed some concerns about Bennett's nomination. “I have several concerns about this nominee’s hyper-partisan record,” he told Government Executive in a statement on Tuesday. “As they consider her nomination, I urge my Senate colleagues to closely scrutinize her habits of mismanaging content and playing favorites in personnel practices.”
His office did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about examples of such a record. Meeks’ office did not respond for comment by the time of this article’s publication.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was also very critical of Pack. His staff said they could not comment on the new nomination that will be coming to their committee. Republican staff on the committee did not immediate respond for comment.
The same day as the nomination, the global media agency released its performance and accountability report for fiscal 2021, which includes the agency's accomplishments as well as ongoing challenges.
“Despite significant operational challenges in [fiscal] 2021, from leadership transition to pandemic limitations, the news and information programming of [U.S. Agency for Global Media’s] networks reached a worldwide measured audience of 394 million people in 62 languages each week,” which “represents an increase of 40 million from last year’s record audience,” wrote acting CEO Kelu Chao, in the opening message. “Trust is a national security asset, and research shows that we deliver it in some of the most important markets we operate in.”
Among the ongoing challenges, “management” is one of them.
“Internally, the quality, competence, and morale of the [agency] workforce is critical to mission achievement,” said the report. “As such, the agency has made the development and motivation of its workforce a key component of its strategic plan for meeting future challenges.” The agency is still operating under its strategic plan for fiscal years 2018 to 2022, but has already started working on the next one.
Additionally, “consistently low Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey scores and, specifically, issues of employee morale and satisfaction, made apparent in the results of these surveys, are being addressed through comprehensive communications initiatives and integrated intra-agency communications platforms,” said the report.
Also, on Monday, The Washington Examiner published an article by Pack in which he defended his actions while CEO. “The [Agency for Global Media] permanent bureaucracy was ready to undermine every move of my administration, with the help of their allies in the media, Congress, and the courts, as well as pro bono lawyers,” he said. “After all, they had been preparing for years while my nomination languished.”