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Bipartisan Support for Voice of America Countering of Soviet and Communist Propaganda in the 1950s

Cold War Radio Museum

In the early 1950s, the Voice of America (VOA) started to attract bipartisan support after several years of strong criticism, mostly from Republicans but also from a number of Democrats, that some of VOA’s pioneer executives and journalists hired during World War II were overly sympathetic toward the Soviet Union and some, like Howard Fast, VOA’s first chief news writer and editor, were in fact pro-Stalin Communists.

Howard Fast, a best-selling writer who was pushed out from VOA in 1944 and became a Communist Party activist and editor and commentator for the party’s newspaper which was supported with funds provided by the KGB, the Soviet secret police and intelligence service, would receive the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize. He also spent several months in a federal prison following his conviction on a charge of contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions about members of a Soviet Russia-influenced front organization.

For many decades, the Voice of America’s managements have been successfully covering up VOA’s early fall under the sway of pro-Soviet propagandists and never admitted that VOA’s first news director, a protege of the two first VOA directors, was an unrepentant communist all his life, and a Stalin supporter until 1956. The first VOA director, John Houseman, was also forced out of his job because of his hiring of Soviet sympathizers and believers in a totalitarian ideology.

Public criticism during World War II and in the late 1940s, which was especially strong in the U.S. Congress, as well as internal but not widely-publicized concerns in the State Department, the FBI and the Pentagon, led to the departure of Howard Fast and other pro-Soviet Voice of America officials and broadcasters and their replacement in the late 1940s and the early 1950s by mostly anti-communist managers recruited from among State Department diplomats. By the early 1950s, Voice of America programs underwent a dramatic change from being pro-USSR to exposing Soviet propaganda and communist violations of human rights.

The State Department, to where VOA was transferred in 1945 from the abolished Office of War Information (OWI), started to hire broadcasters who were refugees from communism in Europe and Asia as replacements for pro-Soviet VOA journalists, some of whom went to work for Moscow-established regimes in Eastern Europe. At the initiative of State Department officials and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, whose membership included leaders of media and entertainment industry, the U.S. government began to promote to the American public in the early 1950s the Voice of America’s role in countering communist ideology and propaganda from Soviet Russia. Senator Joseph McCarthy was still criticizing VOA for harboring communists, but his claims were widely exaggerated and no longer valid.

By 1951, even Senator Richard Nixon, a strongly anti-communist Republican, concluded that the Voice of America, now within the State Department, was sufficiently reformed, freed from communist and Soviet influence, and becoming a force in countering Soviet and communist propaganda. He joined Brien McMahon, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Connecticut and a prospective Democratic Party presidential candidate, in recording promos for a series of radio programs about the Voice of America which aired on U.S. domestic radio networks and stations. The programs were called “Your Voice of America.” One of the announcers for “Your Voice of America” was Greek-American actor Telly Savalas who later became famous for his television role as detective “Kojak.”

Descriptions of some “Your Voice of America” programs recorded in 1951 are available online.

Your Voice Of America. 1951. Program #1. Voice Of America syndication. “Why The Voice Speaks”. Sustaining. “A series of radio programs based on material from the files of the U. S. Department of State.” The date is approximate. Del Castillo (organ), Frank Danzig (director), Gerald Mohr (narrator), Robert C. Vincent (writer), Will Voeller (producer), Art Ballinger (announcer). 14:51.

Your Voice Of America. 1951. Program #5. Voice Of America syndication. “Escape To Freedom”. Sustaining. A Russian school teacher who escaped to America tells her story. The date is approximate. Gerald Mohr (narrator), Robert Vincent (writer), Will Voeller (producer), Frank Danzig (director), Del Castillo (music), Art Ballinger (announcer). 14:47.

We have transcribed the two promos for “Your Voice of America,” recorded by Senators Nixon and McMahon.

SENATOR RICHARD M. NIXON (R-CA): This is Senator Richard Nixon speaking to you from Washington.

There is a verbal battle for the minds of men in progress today.

It might be termed the global campaign of psychological warfare.

On the one hand, the forces of communism are directing with increasing momentum and skill, a clever, insidious program of hatred against everything that is American.

Through the Voice of America, we are counteracting this vicious campaign with a program of truth about democracy, as well as communism.

Now for the first time,the broadcasting industry is bringing to the American people the story of the Voice of America.

Through this series of dramas, we are able to learn what the Voice of America is, how it operates, and what it has already accomplished.

Through the Voice of America, we are counteracting this vicious campaign with a program of truth about democracy, as well as communism.

SENATOR BRIEN McMAHON (D-CT): This is Senator Brien McMahon speaking to you from Washington.

Americans know the power of radio.

We are using this power in the struggle against communist imperialism, through the Voice of America.

It will interest you to know that you can now hear on your own radio what the Voice of America is saying to the rest of the world.

A new radio series, entitled “Your Voice of America,” is ready to take you behind the scenes of the United States government’s big information program.

It will tell you why we need a program like this, and some of the results of the Voice of America has already achieved.

I hope and believe that you will find “Your Voice of America” series exciting and informative listening.

We are using this power in the struggle against communist imperialism, through the Voice of America.

Already during World War II, Congress restricted the Roosevelt Administration’s domestic propaganda program in response to scandals with Soviet and communist influence over early Voice of America programs, some of which were then also made available on U.S. domestic radio networks.

After the war, Congress severely restricted domestic distribution of VOA broadcasts fearing ideological, partisan and foreign propaganda. But as the Cold War intensified in the late 1940s and the early 1950s, some members of Congress were willing to allow the State Department to inform the American public on how the Voice of America was countering Soviet and communist propaganda.

“Your Voice of America” radio programs were broadcast on domestic U.S. radio networks for a few years. Members of Congress of both parties were willing to allow the Voice of America limited self-promotion in the United States as long as VOA journalists, who were and still are federal government employees, stayed clear of domestic partisan politics and did not try to propagandize to Americans. Domestic broadcasting by VOA and partisan propaganda were still prohibited by the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and other U.S. laws.

Comments(2)

  1. REPLY
    Renee Bernard says

    Very interesting. Since my dad as a young man spoke on Office of War Information’s broadcasts behind the curtain (to Poland), I’d be curious to know what was the content of his communications. He fought the Nazi’s and lost his leg from a battle in Narvik, NO, but I never heard any pro-Communist rhetoric from him.

    • REPLY
      Curator says

      The Voice of America management was initially cooperative toward the Polish Government-in-Exile in London and the Polish Armed Forces under the Polish government’s command. During the initial period before Stalin turned against the Polish government following the discovery in 1943 of his mass murder of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, a crime the Soviets denied for decades, VOA would interview Polish soldiers like your father. But most of the early VOA Polish Service editors and broadcasters were strongly pro-Soviet and quickly followed the Moscow line of hostility toward the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Polish Army in the West. Few recordings can be found, but there is at least one printed brochure written by some of the early VOA Polish journalists in which they advocated for a radical socialist and pro-Moscow government in post-war Poland. They later worked as propagandists for the Soviet-imposed and Soviet-dominated communist regime in Warsaw.

      Your father was loyal to the Polish Government-in-Exile and was under the care of the Polish Embassy in Washington. It was the Polish Ambassador in Washington, Jan Ciechanowski, who was working behind the scenes to expose Soviet propaganda influence in Voice of America broadcasts. Your father was interviewed before Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile. He was certainly not pro-communist. VOA would not have interviewed him after April of 1943 when the Soviet propaganda machine was mobilized against the democratic Polish government in London and its armed forces.

      https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/?exhibition=office-of-war-information-photos-of-polish-students-1942

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