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Quote: OWI’s [VOA’s agency] mission was to cure “misunderstanding” of Soviet Russia — Oliver Carlson, 1947

The idea, officially projected through such organizations as the O.W.I., [Office of War Information — the parent U.S. government agency of the Voice of America (VOA) during World War II] was to cure “misunderstanding” of Soviet Russia, which was suddenly discovered to be a “democracy” and a noble social experiment.
Oliver Carlson (1899–1991) founder of the Young Communist League of America who became an anti-communist writer, University of Chicago political science lecturer. From: Radio in the Red, 1947.

Cold War Radio Museum

Cold War Radio Museum

One of several Communists who turned anti-communist and exposed Soviet influence at the Office of War Information, the parent U.S. government agency of the Voice of America, was Oliver Carlson, an American writer, journalist, founder of the Young Communist League of America, and lecturer at the University of Chicago. His description of pro-Soviet propaganda by the OWI was similar to Julius Epstein’s observations, who wrote after the war that the wartime Voice of America promoted “Love for Stalin.” 1 Epstein, a Jewish refugee, born in Austria, worked for the OWI  during the war on the German desk.

Epstein wrote in 1950:

When I, in 1942, entered the services of what was then the “Coordinator of Information,” which became after a few months the O.W.I., I was immediately struck by the fact that the German desk was almost completely seized by extreme left-wingers who indulged in a purely and exaggerated pro-Stalinist propaganda. 2

Carlson, who did not work for VOA and observed the organization as an anti-communist outsider, wrote in a pamphlet, Radio in the Red,” published in 1947 by the Catholic Information Society in New York:

During the war years — and largely with government blessing — the Communists moved en masse on the radio, as they did on the movies and the press to help “sell” the American people on the virtues of our Soviet ally. The idea officially projected through such organizations as the O.W.I., was to cure “misunderstanding” of Soviet Russia, which was suddenly discovered to be a “democracy” and a noble social experiment. 3

Carlson knew that the Office of War information produced such propaganda not only for overseas audiences through the Voice of America but also for domestic audiences in the United States until Congress eliminated most of its domestic propaganda budget in 1943. Carlson wrote about domestic OWI propaganda programs, which were essentially the same as VOA programs. 

Tens of millions of radio listeners were deluged with streamlined and dramatic presentations to prove that any talk of Russia as a ruthless dictatorship was a “reactionary” plot. The Bolshevik regime, it turned out, was just a Russian version of our own War for Independence, Lenin a Russian replica of George Washington, Stalin a compendium of Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln. 4

Carlson noted, however, in his 1947 pamphlet, Radio in the Red, published by the Catholic Information Society, that “such crude propaganda, now that the war is over, has declined.” 5

In 1947, the Truman administration was ready to replace pro-Soviet fellow travelers at the Voice of America with less naive State Department diplomats as managers and anti-communist refugee journalists as broadcasters. But the transformation of VOA would not be completed until the early 1950s. 6 The Roosevelt administration had already forced to resign during the war a few of the most pro-Soviet and pro-communist managers and editors. They included John Houseman, a specialist in fake entertainment radio news 7 and future Hollywood actor somewhat erroneously declared later the first VOA director, and his protege, VOA’s first chief news writer and editor, novelist Howard Fast, who later became a Communist Party USA activist, reporter and commentator for the party’s newspaper the Daily Worker, and a 1953 recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize. 8 

The official early history of the Voice of America put forward by VOA’s former and current directors, other officials, and many of its journalists is quite different.  Amanda Bennett, the current CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) — the successor agency to the Office of War Information, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — who was VOA Director from 2016 until 2020, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in 2018:

Those broadcasts were lifelines to millions. Even more important, however, was the promise made right from the start: “The news may be good for us. The news may be bad,” said announcer William Harlan Hale. “But we shall tell you the truth.” 9

VOA anti-communist audiences and refugees from countries that, after the war, became Soviet Russia’s colonies with the symbolically significant help from the Office of War Information and Voice of America broadcasts, saw these VOA programs quite differently. One Polish refugee journalist who during the war worked in Great Britain observed after the war:

With genuine horror, we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which, in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the [1944] Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored. 10

The wartime VOA promoted pro-Soviet and pro-communist propaganda in broadcasts to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, France, Italy, and many other countries. OWI promoted the same pro-Soviet messages to Americans through domestic U.S. media, including lies to protect Stalin from accusations of ordering genocide murders and other atrocities. 11 But current Voice of America officials persist in ignoring the history of VOA’s early involvement in spreading pro-Soviet propaganda and covering up communist crimes.

At a panel discussion in February 2022 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Voice of America’s founding, current VOA Acting Director Yolanda Lopez repeated what has been the management’s official line for many decades: “in many lands, at many times, we have heard people say, ‘I hear it on VOA, so it must be true.”

As you know, this agency was launched in the depths of World War II on the premises that honest, reliable reporting was more powerful weapon than propaganda and that its independence from government interference was the key to its credibility. Congress has underscored that independence with legislation at various times and VOA journalists have risen up to resist every attempt to infringe on it over the years. In many lands, at many times, we have heard people say, “I hear it on VOA, so it must be true.” 12

John Houseman is still celebrated on the Voice of America’s official websites as a champion of truth broadcasting. His forced resignation for hiring Communists for VOA jobs or the fact that his ouster was initiated by  high-level Roosevelt administration officials in the State Department and supported by the U.S. military intelligence, as well as General Dwight D. Eisenhower 13, are not mentioned. Also not mentioned in any official Voice of America literature is VOA’s first chief news writer and editor, Howard Fast. It is still too shameful for Voice of America and its agency officials to admit that VOA’s first news chief joined the Communist Party while still working for VOA, included Soviet propaganda lies in VOA broadcasts, censored information about Stalin’s crimes, and was rewarded by the Soviet regime in 1953 with the Stalin Peace Prize.

Notes:

  1. “How a Refugee Journalist Exposed Voice of America Censorship of the Katyn Massacre,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), April 16, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/how-refugee-journalist-exposed-voice-of-america-katyn-censorship/.
  2. Julius Epstein, “The O.W.I. and the Voice of America,” a reprint from the Polish American Journal, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1952.
  3. Oliver Carlson, Radio in the Red (New York: Catholic Information Society, 1947), p. 7.
  4. Carlson, Radio in the Red, p. 7.
  5. Carlson, Radio in the Red, p. 7.
  6. Ted Lipien, “President Truman Launches Voice Of America Transmitter Ship ‘Courier’ – Cold War Radio Museum,” accessed November 4, 2022, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/timeline/president-truman-launches-voice-of-america-transmitter-ship-courier/.
  7. Curator, “Future First Voice of America Director Introduces Americans To Entertainment Fake Radio News in 1938 – Cold War Radio Museum,” accessed November 2, 2022, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/timeline/future-first-voice-of-america-director-introduces-america-to-fake-entertainment-radio-news-in-1938/.
  8. Howard Fast, the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize winner, best-selling author, journalist, former Communist Party member, and reporter for its newspaper The Daily Worker, describes his role as the chief writer of Voice of America (VOA) radio news translated into multiple languages and rebroadcast for four hours daily to Europe through medium wave transmitters leased from the BBC in 1942-1943. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), pp. 18-19.
  9. Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director,  “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-worldwide-network-is-a-great-idea-but-it-already-exists/2018/11/27/79b320bc-f269-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html.
  10. Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, pp. 61-62.
  11. “OWI Head Elmer Davis Spread Soviet Katyn Propaganda Lie in World War II Voice of America Broadcasts,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), May 11, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/owi-head-elmer-davis-promotes-soviet-katyn-propaganda-lie-in-the-us-and-in-voice-of-america-radio-broadcasts/.
  12. Yolanda Lopez, Voice of America (VOA) Acting Director, “Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism,” InsideVOA You Tube Channel, February 3, 2022, https://youtu.be/CvzuuWuQo6Q.
  13. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965), p. 279.
Author
Curator

Ted Lipien is the online Cold War Radio Museum's principal volunteer editor. He is an independent journalist, writer, and media freedom advocate. He was Voice of America’s Polish Service chief during Poland’s struggle for democracy and VOA’s acting associate director. He also served briefly in 2020-2021 as RFE/RL president. His book “Wojtyła’s Women” was published in 2008 by O-Books, UK. E-mail him at: tedlipien@gmail.com.

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