Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blast from the Past: George Creel, American WWI government propagandist, on the Voice of America (1952)

George Creel, "Study in Planned Futility," the Freeman, Monday, March 10, 1952; kindly provided by Ted Lipien (see original text at); see also: John Brown, "Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann during the Great War"; Walter Lippmann, "The Voice of America Should be Abolished," Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1953.

Gary Cooper (known for his cowboy roles) at Voice of America image  from;  NB Creel, in one of his many roles, acted as a cowboy in  a film]; [JB - was this image, to use a contemporary term, "photoshopped"? An referring to the placement of the "Voice of America" microphone next to the actor]

By GEORGE CREEL [on Creel, Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919, see.]

Mr. George Creel, who here depicts the costly Babel euphemistically known as the "Voice of America," has a special right to criticize it; for he headed President Wilson's Committee on Public Information during World War I. In a recent letter he writes us that his Committee "issued all government information to the press; handled the voluntary censorship; supervised the cable censorship; worked for unity at home by war expositions, posters, Four Minute Men and motion pictures; had our offices in every neutral country (and won them to our side); had our people in England, France and Italy to buck them up; and put over the propaganda that broke through the Iron Curtain of the Central Powers. The cost of all this for the full two years of war was exactly $4,912,553. And Congress and the press never stopped hounding me for my extravagance."O tempora, O mores!

A CLUTTER of Washington agencies spent half a billion on propaganda between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day, yet victory found the world position of the United States so precarious that it was decided to continue the courtship of other peoples on a larger and even more lavish scale. As a result Administration midwives brought forth the International Information and Educational Activities, and called it the Voice of America (VOA).

Naturally enough the first task of the new organization, as a State Department adjunct, was to save war workers from the ignominy of private employment. Never was a bureaucratic obligation discharged more faithfully, for along with top levels of the Office of Strategic Services, the Office of War Information was taken over almost entirely. VOA now has 10,615 on its payroll, and plans to add 3000 more.

A creditable record if viewed bureaucratically, but not so good when it is remembered that the Administration's trumpeted purpose in creating the Voice of America was to "contain communism" and "build up resistance to Soviet tyranny and imperialism." Here is the score on that: At the war's end only Poland and the Baltic States had been enslaved by Russia; today Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, China and Yugoslavia are ruled by Red dictators, all recognizing Stalin's overlordship with the sole exception of Tito. Other victories that must be chalked up to the Kremlin's credit are the "police action" in Korea that has cost the United States so appallingly in blood and billions, the Moscow-directed uprisings in Malaya, Burma and Indo-China, and the Iranian an-Egyptian "powder kegs."

All this, while the Voice of America's gallant Ten Thousand were spending a quarter of a billion "to stimulate among free nations the building of the unified strength necessary to deter aggression and secure peace." Nevertheless a locust swarm of VOA heads went before Congress last spring and asked for $115,000,000, plus a supplemental appropriation of $97,500,000, with which to carry on from June 30, 1951 to June 30, 1952. They were supremely confident, too, for the House committee before which they appeared had a Democratic majority, and was chaired by John J. Rooney [see (For his part, Mr. Rooney was fond of taking verbal pot shots at any State Department program he considered frivolous. He liked to call the United States Information Agency the “inflammation agency” and gleefully mocked some of the agency's more ambitious publicity gimmicks.]

A tragic miscalculation, for not only did Democrats vie with Republicans in condemning VOA's inefficiencies, but in the chorus of criticism [text unclear here - JB] Ben Rooney led all the rest. At one stage in the merciless inquiry, Edward W. Barrett, Supreme Pontiff of the Voice (now retiring), burst forth:
We have a terrifically short time in which to influence the minds of millions of men to prevent war ... In order to get the job done that may save hundreds of thousands, we have to sacrifice some efficiency to get it done with speed.
"That," rasped Mr. Rooney,
is exactly what you said a year ago. The Committee understands just as well as you the necessity for a strong Voice of America, and has all along. The questions are these: Is the thing being done sensibly? Are we getting our money's worth? High-sounding statements of noble purpose do not enter into the picture at all.
After he had listened to hours of double talk, "abracadabra" became Mr. Rooney's favorite word. Mr. Clevenger of Ohio, equally disgusted, declared that the whole VOA business had gone "into the realm of the fantastic," and that "we are just shouting a storm of words into the air without evidence that it has done any good." Mr. Stefan of Nebraska stated that the Voice "was "making us the laughing stock of the world."

At the end of exhaustive hearings the Committee rawhided the VOA for "lack of proper planning, poor management and avoidable delays," and reported that it was "very much disappointed in accomplishments and progress to date." The requested appropriation of $115,000,000 was cut to $85,000,000, and the supplemental reduced from $97,500,000 to $9,533,939-a denial of  $117,966,06l.

The VOA spokesmen, highly indignant, appealed to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. But the Senators screamed louder than the Representatives, and only White House pressure kept them from cutting the $85,000,000 down to $63,000,000.

What did most to raise the blood pressure of  the House and Senate committees was an Alice in Blunderland sense of unreality that marked the hearings from first to last. A confusion of activity with progress; tangents instead of straightaways; the substitution of government gobbledygook for plain English, and above all, enthusiasms followed by apathy and disinterest.

Back in the summer of 1950, for instance, some genius in VOA conceived the idea of distributing free radio-receiver sets in certain selected countries so as to increase the size of the Voice's audience. Congress was urgently requested to rush an appropriation of $3,000,000 for the purchase of  200,000 sets at $15 apiece. The money was granted in July; yet bids were not asked until December, and then it was discovered that no American manufacturer could deliver before the summer of 1951. In another tizzy of urgency, 2750 sets were ordered from an English firm at $35 each, but none was delivered until February 1951, and then only five hundred. When this story was told to the Congressional committees, the members listened grimly and then ordered "that no part of the funds appropriated shall be used for the purchase of radio sets for free distribution."

It was also in the summer of 1950 that VOA heads begged $7,000,000 with which to buy a building in New York, declaring that any delay might imperil the country's peace and safety. Congress refused to be rushed, and further inquiry developed that a 31-story building in a good location could be had for three million dollars. The money was voted, and the Voices were grateful to the point of tears. However, a reexamination of the building disclosed that it provided not 250,000 square feet, but only a miserable 200,000, so the purchase was called off. The next move was an attempt to take over the Furniture Mart, a mammoth building in which a business of one-half billion is done annually; but the frantic outcry of the industry ended that. Deciding to accept the status of tenants, the VOA took space here and there, and at the time of the March hearings had spent $600,000 on rent. After pointing out  that this money could have been saved had the 31-story structure been accepted, Mr. Rooney bit off this question: "Are all of your operations as loose and negligent as this?"

The "How Am I Doing?" Program

An extreme of irritation likewise marked inquiry into the "evaluation" program of the Voice; for on top of millions already spent, additional millions were being asked. These were some of the expenditures: International Public Opinion Research, conducted by Elmer Wilson and Elmo Roper, $41,775 for interviewing from 100 to 185 people about VOA broadcasts in five European countries; Columbia University, $225,000 for "comparative sociology on communications behavior study"; Dr. Herta Herzog, Motivational Research Director for an advertising firm, $7000 for analysis of 500 letters from France, Germany, Italy and Spain "to determine psychological characteristics and economic levels as revealed by the writers"; Harvard University, $11,500 for study of references to VOA in Soviet press and radio; University of Chicago, $15,000 for "comparative evaluation of broadcasts to Germany by VOA, the British Broadcasting Company and Moscow."

Other projects, with payments not revealed, were these: Gallup's American Institute of Public Opinion, study to ascertain how many Swedes and Norwegians listened to VOA programs in English; New York University, making content analyses of VOA output; Dr. Herta Herzog, appraisal of the language and delivery characteristics of broadcasts to eight European countries.

Along with an appropriation of $1,312,100 for radio evaluation, and $175,000 for surveys by
"private contractors in selected areas," Mr. Barrett pleaded for $2,219,500 with which to make
the following studies in 22 countries:
1. Key target audiences' attitudes on subjects
of major concern  .......... ................................ $ 630,000
2. To determine best media for psychological
warfare themes to target
audiences .......... ............................................... 242,000
3. Content analysis of nledia output to
insure conformity to policy guidance ..................42,500
4. Basic research on the influence of
country population groups to assure
that the target groups are the right
ones to reach ......................................................135,000
5. Ultimate program impact on selected
6. To determine extent and degree of
knowledge of English among target
audiences in 18 countries ...................................170,000

Was it possible, demanded the Congressmen, that after five years the VOA experts were still in doubt about what to do and how to do it? And if so, why couldn't some of the evaluation be done by the heads of the 209 missions in 84 countries? Or by the Central Intelligence Agency, the ambassadors and consuls, or even the VOA executives who spent most of their time racing from one country to another? Mr. Rooney made sharp mention of "WPA projects," and Mr. Stefan declared that the entire evaluation business was "geared primarily to get more money and more men."

Where fireworks really began, however, was when the Voice's top-flighters told of their propaganda approach to the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain countries. In their opening statement they gave four million as an estimate of the number of listening sets in Russia. When committee members brought out that other estimates ran all the way from one to nine million, and that the United Nations proceeded on a guess of 1,500,000, Mr. Barrett broke down and admitted that "in the case of the Soviet Union we have to do an awful lot of putting together of very fragmentary information to get any kind of clear picture."

Turning to Asia, Foy Kohler, chief of the International Broadcasting Division, made the flat statement that there were one million radio sets in China, "of which 200,000 are equipped for short wave reception."

When Dean Rusk, then Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, was asked about the probable number of receiver sets in China, he answered; "I would not put it at more than 60,000 in the entire country." In the same breath he insisted that VOA's propaganda efforts were "beginning to show considerable results in China." Pressed for proof, he produced a set of regulations put out by the Chinese Reds "to keep down rebellion and unrest." Under bombardment he was compelled to admit that nothing in them referred even remotely to the VOA broadcasts.

Contradictions were the order of the day. Mr. Barrett was happy to testify that VOA broadcasts were getting into Russia "at least 20 per cent clear to Moscow, and around 60 to 80 per cent in outlying districts." But Mr. Kohler, asked about the Ukraine, answered: "We have had no figure of  as is usual in the case of the Soviet Union." (Italics added.)

While the hearing room still echoed to insistence that the Soviet Union was being penetrated by VOA broadcasts, witnesses came forward with mournful reports of Moscow's success in blocking these broadcasts. George Herrick, Chief of the Facilities Branch of the International Broadcasting Division spent $30,000,000 on the installation of a "jamming system," and that the annual cost of its maintenance was between "five and ten millions."

To meet this challenge, Mr. Barrett pleaded for $88,966,061 with which to put across his "ring facilities concept." He painted a picture of fourteen high-power relay bases around Russia  and satellite countries, which would be fed through equally high-power origination stations in the United States. When installed, he predicted, this system would frustrate the "jamming" operations; and enable the Voice "to blast the truth" into every area behind' the Iron Curtain.

Unhappily, questioning developed that not a single site had been selected, and that no determination had been reached as to the countries in which some of the proposed facilities would be located. As Mr. Rooney caustically observed, even the number fourteen was "just an engineering guess," and twenty or even thirty might as well have been picked as absolutely vital.

Finally giving up all hope of finding out how much the Voice was getting into the Soviet Union and satellite states, the Committee turned to a discussion of VOA policy. Just what was it that Mr. Barrett and his Ten Thousand were trying to "blast through the Iron Curtain"? How far were they going in an attempt to encourage a spirit of revolt in Russia and its satellites?

Mr. Kohler instantly and somewhat indignantly disclaimed any such propaganda. "We are the instrument of the foreign policy of the United States and ... it is not the foreign policy of the United States, at the moment, to stir up rebellions." About all that could be done in the way of inciting revolt, he indicated, was to remind captive peoples of "their own glorious traditions."

A Waste of Printed Words

Well, asked the Committee, what about printed matter? Are you making any better record there than with the spoken word? The VOA spokesmen thought they were, and cited the monthly magazine Amerika. Back in 1945 or thereabout, Averill [sic] Harriman had induced Stalin to take 50,000 copies of this publication for sale on the newsstands of his country. Was Stalin still keeping his bargain? No, not exactly. Under pressure a Mr. Dunning admitted that some 28,000 were being returned each  month. Whether the remaining 22,000 were being sold or scrapped he could not say.

And were we still printing the full 50,000? Oh, yes, and about 8000 more. And what did we do with them? We distributed them as "prestige publications" in Iran, Greece, Germany and other countries where there were Russian groups. And what was the cost to the. American taxpayer? Around 600,000 a year. Then why wasn't it a sound idea to stop publication?

Oh, no! [declared Mr. Barrett]. We felt that the very fact that the Soviet Government is afraid of the publication is a demonstration it is exceedingly worth while to get that information behind the Iron Curtain. . . . To curtail the print order would be an acknowledgment of defect.
And what was the nature of the information that Stalin did not dare to let in? Well, here is a list of the contents of the forty-eighth number of Amerika, picked out as a fair sample. A magnificent four-color job on expensive paper, the front cover shows ski scenes in Sun Valley, the back cover "Late Spring in Maine," the two inside covers American bobsledding and apple trees in bloom at Michigan State College.

The first four pages of the magazine are devoted to the "Good Heritage," the story of Tom and Mary Marshall, city folks who moved to a Pennsylvania farm some sixteen years ago. Photographs and text tell how they plough, plant and reap, and raise chickens, ducks and fruit; but pictures of picnics, dances and concerts prove that American life is not all work. Following the "feature" are four pages devoted to the Academy of Art and Literature, showing award of prizes and admission of new members; ten pages-five text and five photographs-about the administration of Puerto Rico; six pages-three text and three photographs-praising the composer Menotti and his two operas; four pages on basketball; four pages about stained glass windows; five pages on antibiotics; three pages on Dr. J. E. Church and his "snow measuring" hobby; two pages giving best methods of cleaning and pressing clothes; three pages on the New York Museum of Modern Art; four pages of Justice W. O. Douglas's life story; and nine pages devoted to the third installment of John Hersey's novel, "The Wall."

After a proper interval for recovery, the empurpled Committee turned to the pamphlet designed" to inform all foreign listeners of VOA's progress, schedules and frequencies, and circulated by the millions for free. A twenty-page job in four colors, on the most expensive paper as always, and with thirteen of its pages given over to these pieces of "ace propaganda": a view of the Schuykill River; photographs and life story of General Marshall, "the greatest living American"; two pages about stamp clubs; a biographical sketch of Thomas Eakins, American painter; two pages on "How Congressmen Report to the People"; "Letters from Listeners," all effusive; and as the high note, a glowing illustrated biography of Jo Stafford, singer of hit tunes, along with the offer of a free photograph on request.

By unanimous vote the Committee ordered Mr. Barrett to cut out the color, the expensive paper, the boosts of Administration favorites and popular songsters, and confine the pamphlet to schedules
and frequencies. 

Charity compels the drawing of a veil over what happened when the Committee came to consideration of a choice propaganda bit entitled "Eight Great Americans." Even Democratic members waxed green" about the gills as they read the names : Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Senator Connally, Speaker Sam Rayburn, Vice President Barkley, Harry S. Truman, Dean Acheson-but why go on when even Mr. Rooney couldn't? Fortunately, inquiry developed that the pamphlet was so bad that it had to be junked.

What's Wrong With These Pictures?

Breathing hard but still indomitable, the Committee next examined Herbert Edwards, Chief of the Division of International Motion Pictures, demanding justification of a request for $13,074,035.
Mr. Edwards obliged with the statement that his films had these objectives:

To make basic democratic concepts more meaningful; to show free labor and free enterprise as complementary parts of an expanding economy; to alert people to the dangers of Communist aggression, and to prove that the people of the United States are tenacious in their democratic faith, seriously concerned with their international responsibilities, possessed of the enlightenment and economic strength required for the tasks before them.
Unfortunately, much of the effect of this rhetorical display was lost when Mr. Stefan began to ask about a two-reel picture costing $60,000, called "The Tanglewood Story." Mr. Edwards admitted that it was a picturization of a concert given by Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony at a summer festival in the Berkshires, and justified it with this explanation:
It is one of our musical prestige pictures that we make to prove that America is not without arts and a love of music, ... and that we are not uncultured boors and gangsters.
Hurrying to remove a plainly unfavorable impression, he proudly recited six films embodying "major policy statements": United Nations Aids the Republic of Korea; President Truman Reports on Korea; President Truman's Speech in San Francisco; President Truman Addresses the United Nations; Secretary Acheson Reports on New Communist Threat to World Peace; President Truman Addresses Congress. Seeing that the brows of the Congressmen were still beetled, Mr. Edwards hastily made mention of other films that he seemed to feel might be more appealing.

After touching on pictures built around Dr. Ralph Bunche, Edith Sampson (a member of the American delegation to the United Nations) and General Eisenhower, he took up "In Defense of Peace," a four-reel major picture on "Communist obstructionist tactics since the end of the last war, including their action in the United Nations, including the Berlin blockade and our institution of the air lift, and taking the story up to the Korean aggression." This did not go so well with the Committee, for everything played up in the film had constituted a humiliating loss of face for
the United States.

Then, as always in moments of stress, Mr. Barrett took over. Brushing the past aside, he urged the Committee to judge the Voice by the "changes in program emphasis." One by one, he solemnly
intoned them:

Much more emphasis on building up an affirmative desire to cooperate with the United States; much more emphasis on developing a spirit of unity, guts and determination; a great deal more emphasis in building up a will to resist communism; a great deal more emphasis on building up behind the Iron Curtain the psychological obstacles to further Communist aggression.
"Do you mean to say," demanded Mr. Rooney, "that the four items you mention have not been component parts of the program of the Voice of America ?"

Although insisting that they had been component parts, Mr. Barrett finally admitted that "the original concept put primary emphasis on building up understanding between the peoples of the United States and other peoples."

Five years and a half-billion spent on selling the "American way of life" to Poles, Czechoslovaks and other peoples who bought democracy from us back in the days of Woodrow Wilson! Boasts of our automobiles, deep freezes and tractors slushed down on wretched millions who remember Yalta and Potsdam and wait to hear whether we mean to wipe out the shame of our betrayals! And this the one answer, tucked away between a hillbilly song and a Truman classic; "It is not the foreign policy of the United States to stir up rebellions!"

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