In the early 1950s, the Voice of America (VOA) started to attract bipartisan support after several years of strong criticism earlier, 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 toward communism, and some, like Howard Fast, VOA’s first chief news writer and news editor and later the best-selling author of the novel Spartacus, after which the Hollywood movie was made, were in fact pro-Stalin Communists and Communist Party members.
Howard Fast, who was pushed out from VOA in 1944 and became a communist activist, as well as a reporter, editor and commentator for the party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker, which received secret subsidies from the KGB in Moscow, was awarded in 1953 the Stalin Peace Prize. He spent several months in 1950 in a minimum-security federal prison in Mill Point, West Virginia, following his conviction on a charge of contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions from lawmakers about members of a Soviet Russia-influenced front organization.
The Voice of America’s successive U.S. government managements have been covering up the taxpayer-funded station’s early fall under the sway of pro-Soviet propagandists and never admitted that its first news director, a protégé of the two first VOA directors, was an unrepentant communist, and a Stalin supporter until 1956. The first VOA director, John Houseman, later an Oscar-winning Hollywood actor, was also forced out of his U.S. government broadcasting 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 the media and entertainment industry, the U.S. government started 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” broadcasts was a Greek-American actor, Telly Savalas, who later became famous for his television role as detective “Kojak.”
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.
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.
Already during World War II, Congress restricted the Roosevelt Administration’s domestic propaganda program due to some of the scandals with foreign, mostly Soviet and communist, influence over early Voice of America programs, some of which were then also made available to 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. 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 employees, stayed clear of domestic partisan politics and did not try to propagandize to Americans. Domestic broadcasting by VOA was still prohibited by the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act and other U.S. laws.