R.

Russian propaganda at WWII Voice of America

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.

“I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire”*

*Howard Fast. Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 18.

Howard Fast was Voice of America (VOA) chief radio news writer and editor in the U.S. Office of War Information (early 1943-January 1944), Communist Party USA member and news reporter (approx. 1944-1957), Stalin International Peace Prize winner (1953), and best-selling American author. He was one of many pro-Soviet communist activists and journalists recruited by the first VOA Director John Houseman. Easily deceived, they helped to spread the Kremlin’s propaganda abroad in Voice of America wartime broadcasts and domestically to Americans through OWI press releases, radio programs, mass mailings, posters and exhibits. Stalin was America’s important war partner against Hitler in 1943, but he was earlier Nazi Germany’s ally in launching World War II and in annexing neighboring states. Howard Fast’s trusted Soviet news sources used in VOA broadcasts represented the regime responsible for the genocide of millions of people.

Russian propaganda influence in the United States is not new.


“I established contact at the Soviet embassy with people who spoke English and were willing to feed me important bits and pieces from their side of the wire”*

*Howard Fast. Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 18.

Howard Fast was Voice of America (VOA) chief radio news writer and editor in the U.S. Office of War Information (early 1943-January 1944), Communist Party USA member and news reporter (approx. 1944-1957), Stalin International Peace Prize winner (1953), and best-selling American author. He was one of many pro-Soviet communist activists and journalists recruited by the first VOA Director John Houseman. Easily deceived, they helped to spread the Kremlin’s propaganda abroad in Voice of America wartime broadcasts and domestically to Americans through OWI press releases, radio programs, mass mailings, posters and exhibits. Stalin was America’s important war partner against Hitler in 1943, but he was earlier Nazi Germany’s ally in launching World War II and in annexing neighboring states. Howard Fast’s trusted Soviet news sources used in VOA broadcasts represented the regime responsible for the genocide of millions of people.

G.

George Soros’ building in NYC saw Voice of America’s early love affair with Stalin

By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

The Argonaut Building in New York City at 224 West 57 and Broadway, where first Voice of America (VOA) radio programs were produced in 1942, is now the headquarters of Open Society Foundations (OSF), formerly the Open Society Institute, originally created and funded by billionaire investor and philanthropist  George Soros to help countries move away from communism. According to online sources, OSF signed a 30-year lease for office space in the building in 2011. When the Voice of America used the building as its headquarters from 1942 until 1953, there were both communists and anti-communists among its early journalists and officials. From 1942 until the end of World War II, VOA was under the firm control of Soviet sympathizers and employed a fair number of communists. In a later period, a large number of anti-communist VOA broadcasters worked at the same location in New York.

Alan L. Heil, Jr., former VOA deputy director of programs, noted in his book, Voice of America: A History, that Voice of America had its start in 1942 in the Argonaut Building in Midtown Manhattan:

There was a huge buildup of the Voice staff in the summer of 1942 after it became part of the Office of War Information, with the acquisition of many floors in the old Argonaut Building on West Fifty-seveth Street, in Manhattan, and expansion to sixteen studios, several score program lines, and forty transmitters in distant locations. 1

As stated on the OSF website, Soros began his philanthropic work in 1979 by funding scholarships for black university students in South Africa during apartheid and for dissidents in communist Eastern Europe to study in the West. During the Cold War, his foundations paid for distribution of photocopiers to independent groups “to break the Communist Party’s grip on information.”

Today, George Soros’ foundations give money to groups and individuals in more than 120 countries. A post on the OSF website says that since 1984 Soros has given away $32 billion of his personal fortune made in the financial markets. As reported by the New York Times in October 2017, “George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager and a major Democratic donor, has given $18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, one of the largest transfers of wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation.”

A New York Times article by David Gelles pointed out in 2017 that some of Soros’ philanthropic activities have become controversial: “His [Soros’] political focus — including large donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians — has made Mr. Soros a target of criticism from both the Republican establishment and fringe elements of the far right.”

During the Cold War, George Soros used his fortune to support establishment of open societies and democracy in East-Central Europe, in the Soviet Union and in China. The focus of his philanthropic activities in the communist world was then on supporting basic human rights.

Ironically, during World War II, many American and foreign communists working for the Voice of America in the Argonaut Building in New York and spread propaganda in support of pro-Soviet communist regimes in East-Central Europe, including Hungary, where George Soros was born in 1930. It took the Voice of America several years after World War II to reform the management of its programs and to replace pro-Soviet journalists with anti-communist refugee journalists from Europe and Asia, such as Polish anti-Nazi fighter Zofia Korbońska who was hired in 1948 after escaping from communist-ruled Poland. These new journalists eventually changed VOA into a radio station that opposed communism and advanced freedom and democracy.

One of the contributors to Cold War VOA Hungarian programs was former United Press reporter in Hungary Ilona Marton. She was imprisoned by the communist regime and after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution became a political refugee in the United States together with her journalist husband, Associated Press reporter Endre Marton. Their daughter, Kati Marton, is a best-selling author and former NPR and ABC News correspondent.Through her daughter Kati, Dr. Iliona Marton was the mother-in-law of broadcaster Peter Jennings and U.S. diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke. 2

Another refugee from communism, Heda Margolius Kovály, was a freelance reporter for VOA Czechoslovak Service in the 1970s when Voice of America headquarters were already in Washington, D.C. She was the wife and later widow of Rudolf Margolius (1913 – 1952), Czechoslovak Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade (1949–1952) in the Soviet-dominated regime. Her husband later became the youngest communist co-defendant in the infamous 1952 Rudolf Slánský trial. He was condemned to death on trumped-up espionage charges and executed. Her VOA radio name was Kaca Kralova.

But Voice of America personnel and broadcasts produced during World War II were completely different from what they became several years after the war. One of the pro-Soviet communists working for VOA at 224 West 57 Street in New York during World War II was American author and journalist Howard Fast—future [1953] Stalin International Peace Prize (worth about $235,000 in 2019 dollars) winner, future Communist Party USA member and future reporter for the Daily Worker Communist Party newspaper. He was recruited in 1942 by first VOA director, future Hollywood actor John Houseman, to become the chief news writer and news director—a position he held until he resigned in early 1944. His patron, John Houseman, who hired many of VOA’s early communist broadcasters, resigned earlier due to behind-the-scenes complaints from President Roosevelt’s foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, and from General Dwight D. Eisenhower. At that time, Voice of America studios were in New York City while VOA’s original federal agency, the Office of War Information (OWI), was in Washington, DC. VOA used the Argonaut Building studios in New York until 1953 when most of VOA’s broadcasting operations were moved to Washington. During World War II, VOA served as both anti-Nazi and pro-Soviet propaganda outlet. It covered up and censored news about Stalin’s crimes.

Howard Fast’s recruitment to become VOA’s first chief news writer and news director is described in his biography by Gerald Sorin,  Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012). Fast also wrote about his work for VOA in his autobiography, Being Red. 3 Fast left the Communist Party in the mid-1950s after Stalin’s crimes were disclosed by new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Former Voice of America journalist and news director Howard Fast, who got his World War II Russia news from the Soviet Embassy and rejected information unfavorable to Russia as anti-Soviet propaganda, later claimed that he had no idea Stalin was a mass murderer.

In his book about Howard Fast, Gerald Sorin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of American and Jewish Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, made several references to Fast’s work for the Voice of America during World War II.  Sorin’s book, Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent, received the 2003 National Jewish Book Award in History. His other books include The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880–1920 (Indiana University Press, 1985).

From Gerald Sorin’s biography of Howard Fast:

[Louis]Untermeyer, a former editor of the Marxist journal The Masses, who was writing propaganda pamphlets for the Office of War Information (OWI), suggested that Howard [Fast], instead of aimlessly wandering the streets, apply for the same sort of position. Fast was reluctant, never having done that kind of work before. But during his visit to the OWI building on Broadway and 57th Street, he was impressed with the people he met, especially Elmer Davis, the well-known writer and news reporter who directed the OWI; Joseph Barnes, veteran editor and foreign correspondent for the Herald Tribune, who (along with Walter Duranty of the New York Times), did much to put a veil of ignorance over the worst of Stalin’s crimes; and John Houseman, the [future] Academy Award–winning actor and filmmaker, who worked at the OWI for the Voice of America (VOA). 4

Sorin’s description of early VOA journalists as followers of Walter Duranty is confirmed by declassified U.S. government records of the Office of War Information where VOA broadcasts originated. Duranty who was the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union during the 1930s consistently lied about Stalin’s crimes. He received the Pulitzer Prize and was the model of an activist journalist for many pro-communist early Voice of America radio broadcasters and officials who were U.S. federal government employees. Among them were Howard Fast, Joseph Barnes,  John Houseman,  and Robert E. Sherwood. Described as one of the founding fathers of the Voice of America, Sherwood was FDR’s speech writer and playwright who coordinated U.S. propaganda with Soviet propaganda at the OWI and in his weekly propaganda directives made sure that VOA followed the Kremlin’s line.

While the Roosevelt White House was strongly pro-Soviet, many of VOA officials and broadcasters were far more radical in their admiration for the Soviet Union and their naïveté in accepting Stalin’s propaganda lies as truthful news. In 1950, Howard Fast was compelled to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities but refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), which became a communist front organization. He was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress. While he was at Mill Point Federal Prison, Fast began writing his most famous book, Spartacus.

This part of VOA’s history has been hidden from the American public and taxpayers, making oversight and preventing current journalistic abuses at the Voice of America more difficult. I was saddened to see that since about 2016, some VOA reporters and editors have started to present American and foreign Communists, Angela Davis and Che Guevara, as fighters for human rights and revolutionary heroes. The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) which now manages the Voice of America, has also became embroiled in a controversy over a TV Marti report about George Soros, produced in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and other critics charged that the report was anti-Semitic. This led to the dismissal of several TV Marti reporters, but higher-level OCB and USAGM managers, some of them appointed during the Obama administration, were not held accountable.

Notes:

  1. Alan L. Heil, Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 41.
  2. Kati Marton, Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 225.
  3. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19.
  4. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Indiana University Press, 2012), 60.
U.

U.S. Responses to WWII Soviet Propaganda Against Poland

U.S. Responses to WWII Soviet Propaganda Against Poland — Lessons for Confronting Putin’s Propaganda

By Ted Lipien

Aggressive propaganda in support of territorial claims against other, almost always smaller and weaker nations, has been a constant feature in Soviet history. There are many similarities between Soviet propaganda and propaganda currently employed by the Kremlin against Ukraine and the West. Soviet propaganda portrayed Russia as a victim or a potential victim of aggression, made Soviet aggression appear as self-defense, and labeled all those who opposed the Kremlin in any way as Fascists. The Communist regime in Russia also fabricated and promoted false evidence to cover up Soviet crimes. The very same themes are being used and constantly repeated today by President Putin’s propaganda and disinformation machine to justify his military aggression in Ukraine and other aggressive foreign policy moves. President Putin and his media are also engaged in a propaganda campaign to distort World War II history and to whitewash some of Stalin’s most hideous crimes.

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W.

Warsaw Uprising Betrayed by Pro-Stalin WWII Voice of America

Warsaw during August 1944  anti-Nazi uprising.
Warsaw during August 1944 anti-Nazi uprising.

August 1, 2019 is the 75 anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, a 63-day unsuccessful operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi German occupation. About 16,000 Polish fighters were killed and between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. After the Home Army capitulation in Warsaw, the Germans expelled from the city the entire civilian population. Thousands of the evacuees were sent to Nazi concentration or labor camps. The city was almost completely destroyed during the fighting and after the uprising in a deliberate German action of blowing up buildings.

But in line with Stalin’s negative view of  of Polish anti-Nazi fighters who were not pro-Soviet Communists, World War II U.S. Voice of America radio broadcasts largely ignored the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, while most Americans and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who caved in to nearly all of Stalin’s demands, expressed support for  the Poles’ fight for freedom. VOA’s early news writers, including future Stalin Peace prize winner, American Communist Howard Fast, did not practice journalism in the style of CBS wartime radio reporter Edward R. Murrow. They followed in the footsteps of Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty who, because of his pro-Soviet and pro-communist bias, shamelessly lied about the starvation and death of millions of people in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule.

Some of Soviet sympathizers and Communists were hired by VOA’s first director John Houseman, a future Hollywood Oscar-winning actor. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence quietly forced him to resign in 1943 with the approval from the FDR White House, but many of his Communist hires remained until at least 1945. Some stayed on for a few years longer. Some went back to Eastern Europe to work as propagandists and diplomats for Soviet-dominated communist regimes.  

But a different view of early Voice of America radio broadcasts was presented by current VOA director Amanda Bennett in a recent Washington Post op-ed:  “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.’” Bennett insisted that Edward R. Murrow helped to create VOA. Based in London and working for CBS, he had absolutely no role and no influence over wartime VOA dominated by admirers of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Unlike early VOA officials and broadcasters, Murrow was not a journalist to be easily fooled by Soviet propaganda. 1

It took Zofia Korbońska, Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), Zdzisław Dziekoński, Jan Grużewski, Wacław Bniński and other VOA Polish Service Cold War era broadcasters and journalists who were former Warsaw Uprising fighters many years to undo the damage done by Soviet agents and sympathizers who had taken control of U.S. international broadcasting during World War II. Another VOA Polish Service broadcaster, my deputy Marek Walicki, witnessed the Warsaw Uprising as a young boy. Eventually, with the help of these journalists, VOA was perceived in Poland as a symbol of America’s commitment to freedom and democracy, but it required a change of staff, a change of management and a new vision for the organization that previously had betrayed American values.

The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was doomed because Stalin halted the Red Army offensive to allow the Germans to kill and crush anti-Communist Poles. As a result of concessions made by Roosevelt to Stalin  and the presence on the ground of Red Army troops Poland fell under Soviet domination and communist oppression for nearly five more decades. The early Voice of America did not only betray Warsaw Uprising fighters and Poland, it betrayed more than 80 million people in all the nations which fell under Soviet rule.

During the Cold War, the Voice America eventually redeemed itself and broadcast truthful news behind the Iron Curtain. President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to former anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising fighters, including those who later worked in the VOA Polish Service. During World War II, however, VOA Polish radio broadcasts prepared by admirers of Stalin and Communism, were filled with Soviet propaganda and hostile toward those who did not want to accept Stalin’s rule. They even largely ignored the Holocaust because Soviet propaganda, which they promoted, focused on the suffering and sacrifices of Soviet soldiers and civilians rather than the plight of  Jews or other groups and nationalities. Some of the early OWI journalists, including Stefan Arski,  a.k.a. Artur Salman, and Adolf Hofmeister, went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe. Before they left, these Soviet sympathizers and agents of influence made the life of a few honest VOA journalists extremely difficult. A VOA Polish Service broadcaster Konstanty Broel Plater resigned in 1944 rather than be forced to read Stalin’s propaganda lies to German-occupied Poland. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who was one of the most liberal members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, in 1943 sent a secret memo to the White House with a warning that pro-Soviet fellow travelers and Communists employed in the Office of War Information have shown “bitter hostility” even toward “a considerable number of officials in the United States Government who are deemed inconvenient.” 2

This article, originally written in 2015, was updated for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

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Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013. State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284.
W.

WWII Voice of America aired Stalin propaganda to cover up his role in Katyn massacre

WWII Voice of America aired Stalin propaganda to cover up his role in Katyn massacre

From deliberate pro-Stalin WWII propaganda to careless “pro-Puntin bias” — Avoiding propaganda pitfalls at Voice of America

By Ted Lipien

Official documents declassified and released by the National Archives since 2012 show that during World War II and for years afterwards, the U.S. Government-run Voice of America external radio station broadcast Soviet propaganda and disinformation to Poland and to other countries throughout the world with the intention of covering up Stalin’s crimes. This was done primarily in the interest of supporting immediate U.S. military and foreign policy wartime goals set by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and other high-ranking U.S. officials. It was a far cry from the promise enunciated in what was later presented as VOA’s first broadcast on February 25, 1942 or about that time. The Voice of America did not adopt its full official name until a few years later but it was the same broadcasting organization, first within the Office of War Information (OWI) and after 1945 within the U.S. State Department (VOA staff was reduced in 1945, but many former OWI broadcasters continued to be employed by the State Department. Sometime in early 1942, a broadcaster announced in the first German U.S. shortwave radio broadcast to Germany: “The news may be good. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”

WWII diplomatic dispatches and other accounts prove beyond any doubt that following the wishes of the Roosevelt White House, its own parent agency, the Office of War Information–but largely on their own initiative and through the work of some of its staffers who later joined communist regimes in Eastern Europe–the Voice of America, although it was not yet its official name at the time, was guilty of hiding, censoring, distorting and minimizing news about Stalin’s order to kill Polish military officers and other POWs, estimated to number over 20,000, in in what became known as the 1940 Katyń Forest Massacre near Smolensk and at other locations in the Soviet Union.

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Z.

Zbigniew Brzezinski o Jałcie – About Yalta, 1985

In an article for the Winter 1984/1985 issue of Foreign Affairs, “A Divided Europe: The Future of Yalta,” Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that “Yalta is unfinished business. Forty years after the fateful Crimean meeting of February 4-11, 1945, between the Allied Big Three of World War II, much of our current (1984/1985) preoccupation with Yalta focuses on its myth rather than on its continuing historical significance.”

Dr. Brzezinski made the following comments (in English) about Yalta to the Voice of America (VOA) in February 1985:

Dr. Brzezinski: Yalta was also the last opportunity for the West, and notably for the United States, to have done something significant to avert the division of Europe.

After all, the Anglo-American democracies were infinitely more powerful than the Soviet Union.

And, instead of trying to shape a more constructive European system close to the end of the war, while at Yalta, the Western leaders in effect caved in.

And, while they did not give away Eastern Europe to the Soviets — the Soviets already had it, and it had been given away at Teheran — they failed to use the opportunity to try to shape an arrangement for Europe, which would have averted what subsequently evolved, namely: the partition of Europe.

Yalta has thus become the symbol of that partition.

I think they could have pressed Stalin to accept arrangements in Central Europe which would have been more palatable and which would have probably also helped to avoid not only the subsequent division of Europe but also the American-Soviet Cold War in Europe.

Their naivete seems to have dominated their thinking.

Certainly, the arrangements for democracy in Eastern Europe were left for Stalin to execute. And, one should have had some idea how Stalin interprets democracy, on the basis of Soviet experience.

Link to audio in Polish.

Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service director Ted Lipien interviewed Dr. Brzezinski about his article and his proposed solutions to ending the division of Europe. Brzezinski stated that Western leaders had not agreed at Yalta to the division of Europe, but at the same time they were naive and did not press Stalin to insure that free elections would in fact be carried out in Poland and in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe under Soviet military domination.

This is the part of the interview (in Polish) dealing with Yalta. In the rest of the interview, Dr. Brzezinski stressed that the return of Central and Eastern Europe to the rest of Europe needs to be a largely European process with strong encouragement from the United States.

Ted Lipien: W opublikowanym przez pana niedawno artykule poświęconym konferencji jałtańskiej i jej następstwom, zauważa pan, ze wbrew powszechnie rozpowszechnionej opinii, Zachód nie zgodził się w Jałcie na podział Europy. Dlaczego więc Jałta stala się tym symbolem zdobycia przez Rosję dominacji nad Europą Wschodnią?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Dlatego, ze jednym z następstw Jałty był istotnie podział Europy, oraz w Jalcie, Zachód, a w szczegolnosci Amerykanie i Anglosasi, nie wykorzystali możliwosci by wywrzec nacisk na Stalina i na Sowietów w kierunku ustanowienia czegoś we Wschodniej Europie i Centralnej Europie co by bardziej odpowiadało aspiracjom ludów zamieszkujących ten region Europy.

Ted Lipien: Czy fakt, ze Armia Czerwona zajęła większość obszarów Europy Wschodniej nie przesądził właściwie o przyszłości politycznej tej części świata.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Niekoniecznie. Dlatego, że jednocześnie Związek Sowiecki był wyczerpany wojną, i bardziej skoncentrowany i politycznie inteligentny nacisk ze strony Zachodu skierowany na osiągnięcie pewnych konkretnych celów — nie przesadnych ale konkretnych — sądzę mógł byłby mieć pozytywny rezultat.

W każdym razie wiemy tylko to, że tego nacisku nie było, tego rodzaju prób nie było.

W Jałcie była deklaracja o demokracji w Europie Wschodniej, ale wykonanie tej deklaracji pozostawiono całkowicie w rękach Stalina.

Wiedząc jak Stalin interpretuje demokrację, można było z góry przewidzieć jaki będzie rezultat tego rodzaju rozwiązania.

L.

LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot

Zofia Korbońska and Tadeusz Lipień in the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service in 1974.

On September  1, 2010, The Washington Times published my article about Zofia Korbońska, an anti-Nazi and anti-Communist resister and a Voice of America Polish Service journalist who had passed away on August 16, 2010.

LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot Read more

H.

Hushing America’s message in terrorism’s redoubt, Washington Times op-ed

Ted LipienIn an op-ed in The Washington Times, former Voice of America manager Ted Lipien warns that bureaucratic infighting mustn’t curtail U.S. news and information outreach to Chechnya and other nations where anti-Americanism and jihadist ideology threaten America’s safety.

Lipien, who now is a director of the independent Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – cusib.org) pointed out that the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) — the executive arm of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) — actually wanted to end Radio Liberty broadcasts in Chechen, Circassian and Avar, three local languages of the violent North Caucasus region, and to lay off a number of experienced journalists. Officials did not succeed in making these cuts owing to strong opposition in Congress. However, the former management of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty did fire dozens of journalists who reported on and analyzed lawlessness and anti-Americanism in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The article goes on to say that anti-Americanism is the official ideology of President Putin and that officials of the International Broadcasting Bureau are still proposing programming cuts and resisting efforts by BBG members to reform the bureaucracy. It also points out that BBG’s Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton’s unexplained absence from meetings in the last four months has created a crisis for other BBG members who are trying to set U.S. international broadcasting on the right path. Lipien calls it a national security issue that must be resolved.

READ MORE: LIPIEN: Hushing America’s message in terrorism’s redoubt, Ted Lipien, The Washington Times, April 29, 2013.

F.

Fired Radio Liberty reporter Kristina Gorelik receives Moscow Helsinki Group Journalism Prize

BBG Watch Commentary

Kristina Gorelik (Кристина Горелик), fired last September by American taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) along with dozens of her colleagues, has received today the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for “journalistic activity aimed at promoting human rights values.” The prize was presented on the International Human Rights Day, December 10.

At Radio Liberty, Gorelik specialized in human rights reporting, but the new American management of RFE/RL cancelled her programs and those of other journalists whom they fired. Several other journalists resigned in protest and with their fired colleagues formed Radio Liberty in Exile. They launched their own website, LibertyNew.com.

Nearly all major Russian human rights leaders and democratic political figures, including Mikhail Gorbachev, issued statements in support of the fired journalists. Some have also appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Congress and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees Radio Liberty, to overrule the mass dismissal of Radio Liberty journalists and other recent personnel and programming decisions made by RFE/RL president and CEO Steven Korn and his top deputies. In remarks to senior staff at the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Korn said that that he would not have been able to convince Russian human rights activists and political leaders of anything, including what day it was.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, also known as the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, (Московская Хельсинкская группа) is an influential human rights monitoring NGO which was established in the Soviet Union and still operates in today’s Russia. It is led by Lyudmila Alexeeva (Alexeyeva).

The last interview Kristina Gorelik recorded for Radio Liberty last September on the day she and other journalists were being fired was with Alexeeva. Gorelik and Alexeeva were inside the RFE/RL Moscow bureau recording the interview, while her colleagues were being prevented from entering the building by RFE/RL security guards. Later, Alexeeva told RFE/RL President and CEO Steven Korn that even repugnant wild capitalists in Russia treat their employees better than he had treated Radio Liberty journalists.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Steven Korn and Vice President Julia Ragona insist that the reorganization of the Moscow bureau was done to prepare it for Radio Liberty’s new role in digital media in Russia after RFE/RL lost a medium wave (AM) radio frequency in Moscow under a new Russian media law. But the list of the fired employees (some resigned in protest) shows that the entire Internet and social media team was also dismissed along with some of the most famous Radio Liberty journalists. According to latest reports, the Radio Liberty Russian website, now run by Masha Gessen, Korn’s new choice to be the Russian Service director, has lost more than 50 percent of its online audience. Ragona, who oversaw the firings in Moscow, said that Russian human rights and opposition leaders who sent a letter of protest to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the U.S. Congress were confused about what happened at Radio Liberty. Mr. Korn issued a statement in which he implied that the fired Radio Liberty employees were treated with great respect and made the following observation:

“Though we have said good-bye to some of our journalists and other colleagues, we are thankful to have had the benefit of their creativity and dedication over the years and hope they will continue to contribute their voices and ideas to the public forum.”

But the fired journalists said they were humiliated by being fired in a law firm office in Moscow and prevented from returning to work, and one independent Russian journalist called Korn’s statement a mockery.

The new Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty management has been criticized for programming changes that de-emphasize news reporting and include posting of sexually suggestive videos.

Republican BBG member Victor Ashe has publicly questioned Steven Korn’s leadership at RFE/RL. Ashe said that Korn made Radio Liberty an enemy of the human rights movement in Russia. Korn has reportedly also angered BBG Democratic member Michael Meehan by refusing to provide answers to the BBG Strategy and Budget Committee which Meehan chairs. Other BBG members, both Republicans and Democrats, are also deeply concerned by Korn’s actions, according to BBG Watch sources. The BBG’s next board meeting is scheduled for December 14. The RFE/RL board, which includes all BBG members, will also be meeting, at which time the issue of the fired Radio Liberty journalists may be discussed, sources told BBG Watch.

Radio Liberty Human Rights Reporter Kristina Gorelik
Radio Liberty's former human rights reporter Kristina Gorelik

In a letter sent to the Broadcasting Board of Governors last September, Kristina Gorelik described how she and her colleagues, including employees with disabilities and single mothers with dependent children, were fired by RFE/RL executives without any warning.

Putin’s Regime Could Not Have Asked For A Greater Gift

Letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors from fired Radio Liberty journalists Kristina Gorelik.

On the morning of September 20th, RFE/RL’s corporate lawyers summed the entire staff of the Moscow bureau’s Internet division and informed them that they were no longer employed by the company. On the morning of September 21st, when the rest of the bureau’s staff came into the office, they were met by similar news. In one stroke, a collective that took over twenty years to assemble was destroyed.

Out of 55 people employed by the bureau, 35 were fired. An additional 5 resigned in protest. There remain 15, of whom 4 are producers, 3 are technical staff, a secretary, a coordinator, an accountant, and an administrator. The whole of broadcasting and information services has been entrusted to just three individuals.

I was lucky in that I was able to say farewell to my listeners who have followed my human rights programs for 10 years. The majority of fired journalists were not afforded such an opportunity. One by one, they were summoned, forced to sign off on their own dismissal, and given two hours to vacate the premises.

Many of these people had worked at the bureau since its founding over 20 years ago. What did the Russian public get to hear about this? Not from most of us, chased away from the microphone, our computers, and our building by guards especially hired by RFE/RL managers for this purpose.

My own opportunity to say good bye was pure luck. On the day I was fired, I was recording an interview with the famous human rights activist and founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alekseeva. Owing solely to this circumstance did my program eventually air. Alekseeva saw first hand what was happening in the bureau, and soon a letter was drafted by ten of Russia’s most prominent human rights activists. They were outraged by the destruction of the Moscow bureau. Most importantly, no one knew at the time, and no one knows now what the real reasons behind this decision were.

From a strictly legal standpoint, I have no qualms with RFE/RL’s management; I signed the papers I was asked to sign. But no one can silence my moral condemnation of what happened. I still have not heard a satisfactory explanation for why such an enormous percentage of our staff was fired, considering the fact that the BBG’s annual report named the Russian Language Service one of the best under its supervision.

RFE/RL’s management has stated on a number of occasions that our future is in multimedia. Why, then, were the first people fired those who staff our Internet division – the people who brought coverage of the protests in Russia to hundreds of thousands of online users? The number of our website visitors and social network subscribers has been growing unabatedly, and these figures were part of the BBG’s annual report.

RFE/RL’s management talked about convergence, but our journalists already wrote pieces for the station’s website, produced video materials, maintained personal pages and broadcast over the Internet. Many of them took the initiative and took multimedia training sessions in order to improve our mass-media outreach. Was this not a clear enough demonstration of our willingness and ability to adapt to new conditions?

RFE/RL’s management also talked about cutting costs, but due to the timing of the dismissals — not wanting to see these loyal employees for even one more day or to allow them even to say good bye — the company was forced to pay out hefty severance packages.

The Moscow bureau was provided with a new space: a new office was built and furnished with expensive equipment. Benefits packages for new employees were expanded and salaries increased significantly. Questions arose over the inexplicably high pay rise for the bureau chief, but this was never addressed. Nothing was done to economize in the aforementioned areas, and the Russian Language Service’s budget for the following year – even in light of recent spending – was not trimmed.

RFE/RL’s management explained the current wave of layoffs by referring to a new strategy, but why were the details of this strategy never made public? Access to these documents might have explained why influential, seasoned journalists with excellent reputations, who had spent years reporting on sociopolitical issues in Russia, were suddenly deemed unfit for service?

RFE/RL’s management additionally explained the layoffs by citing recently passed legislature that prohibits broadcasting in Russia by agencies whose funding is over 48% foreign. I won’t dwell on the argument that our broadcasts are necessary (there are plenty of advocates for this position), or that similar rules did not prevent the Radio from broadcasting before or that all other Western broadcasters in Russia had other arrangements and will continue to broadcast despite the new law. I will, however, point out that the new rules come into effect for us on November 10th. Why, then, was it necessary to lay off people with such urgency, and to burden the tiny remaining staff for at least a month if not much longer while we are being paid to do nothing and for not showing up? Is our presence, after 20 years of serving our audience, so distasteful to the new management that we can’t even say good bye and thank them for listening, visiting our website, calling and participating in our programs all these years?

And finally, why did no one consider the reputational risks and damage that RFE/RL would incur by acting in such a fashion?

People who have worked in the Moscow bureau have excellent reputations and considerable influence in Russian public circles. It is no accident that among those who spoke out against the recent layoffs were Mikhail Gorbachev, numerous human rights activists, opposition politicians, prominent public figures and journalists. Many of them have agreed that, in light of the recent crackdown on civil rights in Russia, Putin’s regime could not have asked for a greater gift. The American taxpayer seems to be rather confused regarding whose interests are really at stake in this situation.

Kristina Gorelik is a journalist, member of Russia’s Union of Journalists, former human rights broadcaster at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) fired in September 2012, author of former Radio Liberty programs “The Third Sector,” “A Man has a Right,” and “The Path of Freedom,” winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group Journalism Prize.

R.

Remembering Radio Liberty in Exile Journalists on Thanksgiving

As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, BBG Watch remembers Radio Liberty journalists who were brutally fired without a warning or chose to resign in protest against the actions of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty management.

These journalists are facing now an uncertain future in Vladimir Putin’s Russia without any support or protection from their former U.S. taxpayer-funded employer, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the U.S. federal agency that allowed this to happen – the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Imagine journalists being stopped by guards from entering their offices and prevented from even saying good bye to your loyal radio and online audience of many years. This is what happened to Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow.

As BBG Watch extends our Best Wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all our online visitors, contributors and supporters, we also ask you to continue to support Radio Liberty in Exile journalists and their new SvobodaNew.com news website.

We hope that they will soon be returned to work at Radio Liberty and will see their pro-media freedom and pro-human rights restored. But we must also do everything possible to make it happen.

We are, of course, grateful for all the successes during the past year, including saving Voice of America broadcasts to China and Tibet.

We thank you all for your support and ask you now to support Radio Liberty in Exile.

1. Sign Radio Liberty in Exile Petition

2. Like Radio Liberty in Exile on Facebook and Leave a Comment

3. Visit SvobodaNew.com

4. Email SvobodaNew.com info@svobodanew.com

5. View Radio Liberty in Exile Video

6. Write, Phone, or Email the Broadcasting Board of Governors http://www.bbg.gov/contact-us/

7. Write, Phone, or Email Your Members of Congress http://www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/index.htm