The VOA’s Unfulfilled Promise
As a former Voice of America manager responsible for launching the VOA Ukrainian TV program hosted by Myroslava Gongadze, I applaud Jay Nordlinger for his article on this courageous and talented Ukrainian-American journalist (“A Voice of America,” April 25). I feel obliged, however, to comment on VOA’s early history and its current effectiveness.
Contrary to the Voice of America’s promise to tell the truth, during World War II it was primarily a propaganda tool of the Roosevelt White House and its own pro-Soviet sympathizers. The station’s World War II leadership did not permit any significant criticism of Joseph Stalin after his alliance with Hitler collapsed 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 prisoners of war 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 World War II broadcasts openly referred to themselves as propagandists during and after the war. They 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 from reaching 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, 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 now in charge of VOA. While journalists such as 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, made 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