Michael Pack, the documentary filmmaker, takes over the helm of the Claremont Institute today.
That’s news we report to you, exclusively and happily, this morning. Some of my fondest memories involve a week as a Claremont Lincoln fellow, sitting alongside my good, late friend Andrew Breitbart one summer years ago, being grilled by Claremont’s (and Berkeley’s) John Yoo on the practicality of faith and freedom and the Constitution. It’s a rare place that could get both Andrew and me to sit still — and occasionally go offline.
“My wife sometimes says that every ten years I should get a real job,” Michael Pack tells me somewhat jokingly on the phone. The set-up is: He’s actually leaving Manifold Productions, the company he started, and not for the first time. He’s done it before to work at WorldNet (part of the U.S. Information Agency) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, among other places.
“We should all vary the challenges we take on,” he stresses, looking forward to the bit of a “radical” change to think-tank life he now faces. It’s also, he says, a “natural extension” of the relationships he’s had and the skills he’s honed.
“Although I am a filmmaker,” Pack says, “I consider myself, more broadly, a communicator of ideas, an educator. Movies are just the medium. The ideas and principles I have infused into my films are the same as those animating the Claremont Institute.”
“I’ve worked with Michael on two PBS documentaries, Rediscovering George Washington and Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton,” Rick Brookhiser, our senior editor, tells me, about Pack. He continues:
For wordsmiths, imagine a documentary as a million-plus-dollar start-up of a magazine that will have only one issue. It involves raising money, dealing with a lot of people, making something worthwhile, and putting it out there. Michael is smart, savvy, relentless, talented, and good-humored. I told him once that if we ever got a sit-down with God, he would take me, his interviewer, aside, even as the seraphim were singing hosannas, and say: “But there’s pain and evil in the world; if He doesn’t talk about that, we have no scene. You’ve got to push Him!” I loved working with him, and he certainly brought out the best in me.
Talking about the transition, Pack tells me:
My filmmaking skills are very relevant to my new job. The Claremont Institute has a profound grasp of the principles of the Founding and their relevance to today. The challenge for the Institute, as for many conservative groups, is to disseminate those ideas more broadly. Media, and more particularly storytelling, is essential, through documentaries, social media, websites, etc.
Pack has a particular fondness for the fellowship programs Claremont runs. He explains:
The fellows are a great asset because they represent the future leadership of America. We originally selected them because of their great potential. Armed with their education in Claremont ways of thinking, they are in various stages of fulfilling that potential, as many are in very different phases of their careers. We intend to continue to help them as they continue to rise to national prominence.
Pack says frankly that, even in what Rick Brookhiser calls “Right World,” knowledge of Claremont is limited. With his experience, he hopes to lead Claremont in “engaging more broadly.” He wants to make sure that Claremont and The Claremont Review of Books become better known among conservatives. Claremont’s “deep grasp of the Founding” is something “we have a responsibility [to] more broadly disseminate.”
“The great strength of the scholars, writers, and thinkers of the Claremont Institute has always been developing ideas that deserve to be well known,” says Tom Klingenstein, chairman of the board of Claremont. “For the past few years, we have turned our attention to making sure that they are well known among the most important intellectual and political leaders. We need to continue that effort. We think Michael Pack, whose expertise is ‘distributing’ ideas, will be especially good at making the work of the Claremont Institute known and valued where it matters most.”
William J. Bennett, the former U.S. secretary of education who has long been affiliated with Claremont, says about the news: “Michael Pack is a fine man with a distinguished record of achievement in film and production focused on educating the American public. He now takes charge of a premier organization dedicated to the principles of the Founding. This is a fine and important moment.”
Pack is confident that you’ll be seeing more from Claremont in the years to come. It’s hard not to share his enthusiasm as he undertakes his new responsibility.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online. She has been a Lincoln fellow at the Claremont Institute.