Former Voice of America (VOA) acting associate director, Ted Lipien, who earlier in his VOA career was also in charge of broadcasts to Poland, has written a letter to the editor of National Review applauding its article on VOA Ukrainian Service TV program host Myroslava Gongadze while correcting some historical and current inaccuracies about VOA. (“A Voice of America: Myroslava Gongadze and the importance of the VOA” By Jay Nordlinger, National Review, April 25, 2016 Issue.)
Letter to the Editor of National Review
As a former Voice of America manager responsible for launching the VOA Ukrainian TV program hosted by Myroslava Gongadze, I applaud Mr. Nordlinger for his article on this courageous and talented Ukrainian American journalist. I feel obliged, however, to address some of the misperceptions that readers may have about VOA’s early history and its current effectiveness.
Contrary to the Voice of America’s promise to tell the truth, VOA during World War II was primarily a propaganda tool of the Roosevelt White House and many of VOA’s own pro-Soviet sympathizers. The station’s WWII leadership did not permit any significant criticism of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after his alliance with Hitler collapsed with Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 and Russia suddenly became Britain’s and America’s valuable wartime ally while remaining a strategic and ideological enemy. Elmer Davis, the head of the Office of War Information (OWI), VOA’s parent agency, personally penned commentaries promoting the Soviet lie that the Nazis were responsible for the executions of thousands of Polish POW officers in the Katyn Forest massacre. More than 20,000 Polish prisoners were in fact murdered on Stalin’s orders in 1940 by the NKVD secret police. Even State Department diplomats were appalled by VOA’s pro-Soviet Katyn propaganda and urged caution. Their warnings were ignored.
Elmer Davis and others in charge of VOA’s WWII broadcasts openly referred to themselves as propagandists during and after the war. They officially sought White House approval to coordinate their propaganda with the Soviet government. A number of Soviet sympathizers employed by VOA made sure that spokesmen for non-communist governments allied with the United States in fighting the Nazis but viewed unfavorably by the Kremlin would not be heard in U.S. overseas broadcasts. The OWI even tried to censor U.S. media to prevent the news of massive Soviet human rights crimes and Stalin’s aggressive designs on Eastern Europe to reach the American public. After the war, several of VOA’s foreign language broadcasters and their spouses left the United States to work for the communist regimes in Eastern Europe as anti-American propagandists. One of them, Stefan Arski, had worked on VOA’s Polish desk during the war. Another defector who became a communist official, Dr. Adolf Hofmeister, had been in charge of VOA’s wartime broadcasts to Czechoslovakia.
Thanks to Myroslava Gongadze and other similarly experienced Voice of America broadcasters, some of the current propaganda from the Kremlin is being exposed, but VOA’s overall performance is highly uneven due to years of mismanagement by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency in charge of VOA. While journalists like Ms. Gongadze cannot be fooled by Russian propaganda, the same cannot be said about all Voice of America and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) programs. (RFE/RL, also overseen by the BBG, had a recent Facebook post accusing Israel of practicing “wholesale racism” in its anti-terror security measures.) Ms. Gongadze alluded in her interview to some of these difficulties and the lack of sufficient support from VOA’s government agency. Journalists like her cannot be fully effective against the new massive anti-American propaganda offensive from Putin’s Russia and from ISIS until the U.S. Congress and the White House work together to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Former VOA Acting Associate Director
Disclosure: Ted Lipien is one of the cofounders and supporters of BBG Watch.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."