By TED LIPIEN

The name of the handsome man with a tanned Latin complexion in the 1942 publicity photo was Edward Raquello. He was a Hollywood actor, but he soon became known as a “very talented terror” at the Voice of America (VOA), the U.S. government radio station broadcasting abroad, where he was hired that year as a producer and put in charge of training radio announcers during World War II and later in the early years of the Cold War. Before his Voice of America career, he played Latin lovers in a number of Hollywood films. Radio Daily, the national newspaper of commercial radio and television, referred to him in a report on July 7, 1943 as being “once known as the ‘Polish Valentino’ at the time the late Carl Laemmle brought that European film star to to Hollywood.” The paper praised his role as the “Polish immigrant” in a radio play titled America the Beautiful. Had we known earlier that Edward Raquello was the voice of the Polish immigrant, the paper wrote “the thrill to our ears wouldn’t have been so unexpected” “[His]splendid performance” Radio Daily added, “will be remembered (at least by this reporter) for many years,” 1

His American friends called him Eddie. Raquello was his American name. His name in Poland, where he was born on May 14, 1900 to a middle class Jewish-Polish family in Warsaw, then still within the Russian Empire, was Edward Zylberberg (Silberberg). His father died when he was a child. He was raised by his uncle, Beniamin Rykwert, the head of the Nożyk Synagogue who supervised his religious education. His mother, who died in 1932, ran a successful bakery and patisserie shop in Warsaw.

While still in Poland, Wowek, as he was affectionately called by his family, changed his last name to a more Polish-sounding name, Kucharski. In 1917, he began studies at the technical university in Warsaw, but his higher education was interrupted by the 1919-1920 war with the Soviet Union. Edward must have been a highly capable young man because he was chosen as a personal driver for Polish general Józef Haller despite the fact that some of Haller’s volunteers were strongly anti-Semitic, falsely accusing Polish Jews of siding with the Bolsheviks. With the exception of a few Polish and Polish-Jewish communists who took orders from Moscow, Edward and many other Jewish students saw themselves as Polish patriots and fought alongside ethnic Poles in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw which stopped and reversed the advance of the Soviet Red Army.

After the Polish-Soviet war, Edward started his acting career in Polish films. He also performed in theaters in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Kraków, Berlin, London, and Paris. An excellent, comprehensive and well-sourced article in Polish by young journalist Marek Teler, titled “Edward Raquello – zawrotna kariera polsko-żydowskiego Latynosa” (“Edward Raquello — A Meteoric Career of A Polish-Jewish Latino”), describes how Edward found his way to Hollywood. Rosabelle Laemmle, the daughter of the Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle reportedly hired Edward as her dancing partner in Paris when he fell on hard times. She immediately noticed his resemblance to Rudolf Valentino. The party-loving young woman was believed to have persuaded her father to offer Edward a contract with Universal Pictures. He arrived in New York on March 26, 1926.

A Latin Lover and Broadway Actor

Edward’s first Hollywood name was Edward Regino before he changed it to Raquello, possibly to honor his beloved sister Rachel who remained in Poland. Rachel survived the Holocaust, but his other sister, Jentel, was murdered in a German concentration camp together with her husband and their two children.

Edward Raquello’s first notable American role was that of a dancer Raoul in the silent movie The Girl from Rio. Afterwards, his movie career had stalled for a few years, during which he appeared in several Broadway plays, often playing handsome and aristocratic foreigners, mostly of Latin origins. In 1937 he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox and resumed his movie career, appearing in several films, including Charlie Chen at Monte Carlo and Idiot’s Delight with Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in the main roles. In 1938 he became an American citizen. Some of his other film roles were in  Missing Daughters (1939), The Girl from Mexico (1939), and  Calling Philo Vance (1940). He never became a major Hollywood movie star but had a reasonably successful American career as a film and theatre actor. Marek Teler reported that Raquello promoted Polish culture in the United States and assisted visiting Polish journalists in arranging interviews with film celebrities in Hollywood. In 1940 he played the role of a Polish officer Major Rutkowski in a Broadway production of Robert E. Sherwood‘s play There Shall Be No Night about the 1939-1940 Soviet attack on Finland. The play was directed by Alfred Lunt who admired Raquello’s acting talent and once fired another actor who publicly insulted Edward on stage during a rehearsal. Edward Goldberger, a veteran VOA broadcaster who had worked with Raquello said later in an interview that Raquello had to have provoked the actor to such an unprofessional outburst as he was later known to provoke many VOA broadcasters with his own erratic behavior. One explanation for it might have been that he suffered from an undiagnosed Addison’s disease, but according to Goldberger, Raquello was a unique, talented but difficult person.

But the thing that came into my mind was, he must have been like that then, too. What provoked this guy to do something so unprofessional? It must have been that Raquello was Raquello. 2

Hired by Pro-Stalin Voice of America

Edward’s appearances in Robert E. Sherwood’s plays (he also acted in Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) may have helped him to secure a job in 1942 as an announcer and later a program director and regional producer-supervisor (1942-1945) of early Voice of America radio broadcasts in the Office of War Information (OWI) in New York City. According to one of the early VOA broadcasters, Eugene Kern, it was Sherwood who brought Raquello to OWI to work on producing shortwave radio programs to Europe. Raquello found himself among many pro-Soviet foreign and American communists and naive idealists also recruited by the Roosevelt administration to produce anti-Nazi radio, print and film propaganda.

Portrait photograph of Robert E. Sherwood, July 1928. Theatre Magazine Company; Vandamm Studio, photographer.

Sherwood, who was also a speech writer for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was made earlier the director of the OWI’s Overseas Division. Raquello may have also known the first VOA director, theatre producer and Hollywood actor John Houseman who was later accused by the State department of hiring his pro-Soviet fellow-traveler and communist friends in the theatre world to work for the Voice of America.

There is no evidence that Raquello was fooled by Soviet propaganda or wanted to promote it, but in 1942, Houseman and Sherwood also recruited American communist author Howard Fast, the future recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize (1953), to be the chief VOA news writer and news director. It was Howard Fast who determined the content of VOA news and consulted with the Soviet Embassy in Washington. Fast also censored any news critical of communism or Stalinist atrocities. 3 Raquello may have been required to produce some of Fast’s anti-Nazi propaganda mixed with praise for the Soviet Union and Stalin.

Edward Raquello, who as a Polish patriot fought against the Soviet armies invading Poland, was almost definitely not pro-Soviet nor a supporter of communism. Sherwood, despite his earlier play critical of the Soviet invasion of Finland, later became a major proponent of Soviet propaganda in VOA programs, as did John Houseman who in 1943 was quietly forced to resign by the FDR White House due to the then secret complaints from high-level administration officials in the U.S. State Department and from General Eisenhower who later accused early VOA broadcasters of “insubordination” toward President Roosevelt. FDR himself was more than willing to appease Stalin at the expense of Poland and the rest of East-Central Europe, but not to the point when VOA’s pro-Kremlin propaganda threatened to put American soldiers in danger in North Africa and Italy. 4

Some of the broadcasters hired by John Houseman were hardline Communist Party members and were fired, but many of VOA’s European services, remained dominated by Soviet sympathizers while Sherwood continued to coordinate American and Soviet propaganda at the OWI for the remainder of the war.

Among other things, Sherwood wanted to convince VOA’s foreign audiences, including the Poles, that Stalin became a supporter of religious freedom and that any fear of Bolshevism was unjustified. 5 Sherwood also accepted and promoted the Soviet lie about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish POW military officers and government and intellectual leaders, including several hundred Jews. 6They were were murdered by the Soviet NKVD secret police, but the Soviet and OWI/VOA propagandists tried to blame it, falsely in this case, on the Germans. 7

Personality Conflict with Broel-Plater

Konstanty Broel-Plater, Voice of America Polish Service broadcaster who resigned in 1944 in protest against VOA’s airing of Soviet propaganda lies. A 2003 photograph courtesy of Elżbieta Palms.

There were some anti-communists among early OWI and VOA journalists, but they were very few and most of them were quickly marginalized. Polish announcer Konstany Broel-Plater, a former Polish diplomat with radio broadcasting and journalistic experience both in Poland and in the United States, resigned in 1944 in protest against VOA airing of Soviet propaganda lies. Jewish-Austrian OWI editor Julius Epstein, who also protested against Soviet propaganda in VOA’s wartime broadcasts, was laid off in 1945.

Edward Raquello’s role during the early years of the Voice of America (the official name for the radio broadcasts was not adopted until sometime after the war) seemed largely limited to producing programs and training radio announcers rather than being responsible for creating program content. The editorial side was left to individuals such as Howard Fast and other pro-Soviet journalists working in accordance of the weekly propaganda directives from Sherwood. Their excessive pro-Stalin zeal eventually became an irritant even to the already strongly Moscow-leaning FDR administration.

I have found no written record that Edward Raquello either supported or opposed the pro-Moscow line in VOA broadcasts during the war, but, unlike Broel-Plater and Epstein, he did not jeopardize his U.S. government career. In 1945 he was moved from the dissolved OWI to the State Department as a regional producer-supervisor. Raquello was already known by then to be a demanding but sometimes insulting radio producer and supervisor. The personality conflict between him and Broel-Plater is documented briefly in Broel-Plater’s official personnel file, with one note blaming Broel-Plater and another putting the blame squarely on Raquello. The note also mentioned Raquello’s conflicts with other VOA broadcasters. Broel-Plater, a Polish aristocrat with a 1936 law degree from the prestigious Warsaw University and a former diplomat, but also an experienced radio broadcaster who prior to his employment at the Voice of America had written and voiced Polish-American programs for radio stations owned by Columbia Broadcasting System and General Electric, was one of many VOA journalists who had found working with Raquello extremely difficult if not impossible.

In a 2000 interview with a Polish-American magazine, Broel-Plater said that he had refused to read Soviet propaganda and resigned from VOA in 1944. 8 In that interview and with conversations with friends, he did not talk about Edward Raquello in connection with his 1944 resignation. His friends described Broel-Plater, who died in 2007, as a modest and self-effacing man who did not seek publicity. To support his American family after leaving VOA, he had worked for several years as a laborer in a paper mill in Pennsylvania before getting an office job as a lab technician. “When he started working at the paper mill, his co-workers teased him about being a count,” his Polish-American neighbor Elżbieta Palms recalled from her conversations with him. She also remembered him as being a “very humble man” and saying that his aristocratic title didn’t mean much to him. 9

Broel-Plater’s decision to leave a well-paying U.S. government job in 1944 appeared to have been politically and journalistically motivated as a protest against propaganda and censorship although his conflict with Raquello may have also played a role. The voluntary resignation form signed by Broel-Plater said: “I am unable to work to the best of my abilities under Mr. Raquello’s supervision.”

At the time when the Soviet Union was America’s most valuable military ally against Nazi Germany, it would have been impossible to make any critical comment in official U.S. government records about Russia or about Stalin, whom VOA and much of private media in the United States were then presenting naively and falsely as a defender of freedom and democracy. But while there is no doubt that Broel-Plater and Raquello disliked one another, this was apparently not a conflict between the two of them based on political differences. Unlike his bosses and many of VOA’s World War II broadcasters, including several who had worked on the Polish desk, it does not appear that Raquello was an admirer of Stalin.

Broel-Plater was not the only VOA broadcaster who found it difficult to work with Raquello because of his explosive temper. Raquello antagonized many VOA journalists who had broader education and more journalistic and radio experience than him, as well as more knowledge of international affairs. While Raquello was well-traveled and knew several languages, he was primarily an actor, and was not a journalist.

As a former diplomat, Broel-Plater knew international politics and also had work experience as a journalist. In March 1943, his supervisor, Casting Director Ruth Ellis, gave him a “Very Good” rating. In submitting a request for a “rapid promotion” for him in August 1943, Ruth Ellis, who was his immediate supervisor, wrote: “Since Mr. Plater has been with OWI (November 1942) he has done consistently good work and has learned our special short wave techniques.” She added that “Mr. Plater’s Polish is excellent and he has been most cooperative.”

Based on his age, education and prior experience, Broel-Plater’s command of Polish was also most likely superior to that of Raquello’s. His immediate supervisor noted Broel-Plater’s previous work as a Polish broadcaster, writer and editor at the Columbia Broadcasting System and his prior work for General Electric as a Polish shortwave announcer “to the complete satisfaction of G.E.” However, his next rating in March 1944 was also signed by Edward Raquello as the Regional Supervisor and reduced to “Good,” with only Broel-Plater’s diction rated as “Outstanding.” This may have been a hint that Raquello had some objections to Broel-Plater’s use of the Polish language or possibly to changes made by Broel-Plater to scripts read live on the air. In his 2000 interview, Broel-Plater alluded to texts written in poor Polish, which he had to correct on the fly, but did not mention the names or identities of the VOA writers and did not mention Raquello. The final personnel form lists “Personality conflict with supervisor,” in this case, Edward Raquello, as the reason for Broel-Plater’s voluntary departure from the Office of War Information.

According to Broel-Plater, prior to his resignation, the OWI office in Washington warned him not to pick a fight with the VOA director over VOA’s pro-Soviet programming. A representative of the Washington office came to New York to talk to Broel-Plater. He invited him to lunch at a restaurant and in a short conversation asked him whether he intends to have a fight with the president of the United States and the Voice of America director. Despite such a veiled threat, Broel-Plater in his own ways tried to struggle with the U.S. government’s radio station’s intensifying pro-Soviet propaganda. As a result, working conditions were made worse for him. He was allowed only to work at night and limited to only announcing the program. 10

Incidentally and not related to Raquello’s Voice of America career, VOA’s early love affair with Stalin has been covered-up for decades as an embarrassment to the organization which later countered Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. VOA’s silence and promotion of an alternative but largely false narrative of early commitment to truthful reporting have been even more successful than the Soviet coverup of the Katyn massacre. 11

Early anti-communist VOA journalists like Konstany Broel-Plater or Julius Epstein are never mentioned in VOA promotional materials or by former and current VOA officials, and neither is Edward Raquello with the exception of a few archival interviews. John Houseman, who had recruited Howard Fast and other Soviet sympathizers and communists, is still presented as a defender of truthful journalism at the early Voice of America. The fact that FDR’s liberal friends and advisors at the State Department, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and Assistant Secretary Adolf A. Berle, forced Houseman’s resignation by refusing to give him a U.S. passport for official travel abroad—their decision supported by the U.S. Military Intelligence—has never been publicly noted by past or current executives in charge of the Voice of America. 12

Mrs. Ruth Haleman of Casting told that Plater had a personal grudge against Raquello, was very insulting — should have been released long time ago. Raquello is a good man.

RRW

4/10/44

The other note in Broel-Plater’s OWI file questioned the accuracy of the defense of Raquello’s behavior and is supported by several other accounts.

Report from Casting is not 100% correct. Bureau of [illegible words] have had so much trouble with Raquello that he has come to personify the poor producer. Swears at announcers, central room engineers, and is a definite personality problem. Bulgarian Desk at one time wrote memo of complaint, according to verbal reports. In view of Raquello’s record I strongly urge that Plater receive letter of availability and suggest that Casting be more accurate in its reporting.

[M. Sheehan]

4/14/44

Give certificate.

[Illegible initials]

4-18-44

“Talented Terror”

VOA broadcasters who had worked with Raquello invariably described him later as a demanding and valuable producer and trainer but extremely difficult to work with.

In commenting on Raquello’s role as a producer of first VOA Russian broadcasts in 1947 (VOA did not broadcast in Russian earlier in order not to upset Stalin), one of the early VOA broadcasters, Alexander Frenkley, made these observations in an interview recorded for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) oral history project on August 5, 1988.

…and then there was our good friend Eddie Raquello, to whom I think those who started working then and worked for years owe an absolute debt of gratitude. He may have been pedantic and extremely difficult to deal with but he gave us a technical basis, a notion of what broadcasting means, including such amusing points as when he was training his announcers, men and women, he said, “You always have to speak with a smile on your lips, because then the listener will feel that you are a friendly broadcaster. So whatever you have to say, say it with a smile.” But on the other hand he was very strict and demanding, and he thought of things, some of which I still use in the preparation of my scripts today, as a free-lancer. We remained very good and close friends for the rest of his life. 13

In an interview conducted for ADST on August 20, 1988, one of the early VOA producers Tibor Borgida made these observations about Eddie Raquello:

So we started working together on the Hungarian, and then they told me to organize the Czechs and the Bulgarians and, unbelievably, also the Albanians, and Romanians. Raquello came in, and they gave him the Polish programs. He wanted the Czechs badly, and in the beginning they gave him the Czechs, and when they did Dr. Adolf Hofmeister, who was the chief of the service, and later on became the Czech ambassador to Paris, objected. “Why can’t we have Borgida? His native tongue is Czech, he’s a doctor of law from Czechoslovakia, he was a journalist, he worked for Radio Prague, and you are giving us a Polish guy?” They left Raquello in the job until the Czechs raised hell.

[…]

And that’s the way it was till the end of the war when the Voice was taken over by the State Department. Then I became executive producer for the European Division. They took it away from Raquello for various reasons and put him in the Russian service. 14

Borgida did not explain that the Czechoslovak government Dr. Hofmeister served as Ambassador to France after his wartime employment with the Voice of America was the repressive Soviet-dominated communist regime in Prague. A few other former OWI/VOA journalists also went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe. Some like Stefan Arski, also known as Artur Salman, worked for the Soviet-controlled Polish regime in Warsaw as anti-U.S. and anti-Western propagandists. Dr. Hofmeister eventually broke ranks with the pro-Soviet hardline government after the 1968 Prague Spring. VOA’s early love affair with Stalin and communism and initial support for establishing pro-Soviet communist governments in East-Central Europe is almost never mentioned by former OWI officials and journalists, but it does not appear that Edward Raquello had much sympathy for communism. In December 1951 he appeared for the last time as an actor in a televised play I Was Stalin’s Prisoner. It depicted the imprisonment in Hungary for 527 days of American business executive Robert Vogeler whom the communist authorities arrested, tortured and accused of spying.

Without commenting on the political profile of World War II Voice of America broadcasts, two other early VOA programmers, Eugene Ker and Edward Goldberger, described Edward Raquello as “a very talented terror” in his work as a radio producer.

Eddie Raquello was a terror, a very talented terror. One day one of the correspondents he was working with started to strangle him — literally. This was a guy named Max Tak, a Dutch correspondent. At that time Eddie Raquello’s job was to handle a group of foreign correspondents working in New York, to expedite what they wanted to do, much the way the foreign Press Centers operate today.

KERN: They ware paid by their own people, but we also paid them.

GOLDBERGER: He had Dutch, Danish, Belgian, Norwegian, Finnish — he may have had a couple more. Max Tak had been a hero of the resistance in the Netherlands, was a very well known correspondent, and a very easy-going guy. But this particular day, Eddie was making Max go over and over what he was trying to read, and at one point he walked into the studio, leaned over the table to say more, and Max just reached up and seized him by the throat. That’s what Eddie Raquello was like. He was a perfectionist.

KERN: He used to pressure these guys to put in propaganda. And with some it went over easily, they accepted it happily. Others refused. We had to keep it down with Eddie. It’s okay to make suggestions, we told him, but they’re independent people. “Well,” he said, “I’m paying them.” And he was. You see, it was a dual-payment arrangement, which was probably unethical if not illegal, but we had to do what we were told to do. 15

In his book Voice of America: A History, former VOA deputy director of programs, Alan L. Heil, Jr., describes an amusing incident involving Edward Raquello, which was also mentioned by Edward Goldberger. It appears that at some point Eddie, then working at in New York City where the Voice of America had its headquarters from 1942 until 1953 asked the Washington office to record an hour of clear sound at the Lincoln Memorial. Someone in the Washington office simply stuck a microphone out of the window and sent the tape to Eddie. Raquello immediately got on the phone and yelled that there is no street traffic at the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington office had to send an engineer to record one hour of clear sound at the Lincoln Memorial as demanded by Eddie. 16

In recalling Eddie Raquello, post-war VOA broadcaster John Hogan said in an interview with Cliff Groce:

…he used to call five minutes or so before closing time, often on a Friday night. Just having to have something from Washington, some outlandish request. The silent sound tape he wanted from inside the Lincoln Memorial was just the last straw. He always went around with a little bit of wet cigarette hanging down, dripping ashes. He called everybody Sweetie Pie. Some of the time I was able to talk him out of his wilder requests. 17

In 1953, the Voice of America was moved from the State Department to the newly-established United States Information Agency (USIA). The 1953 State Department Biographic Register showed the progress in his radio career and lists him as being the chief off the VOA French Service in 1952.

STATE DEPARTMENT BIOGRAPHIC REGISTER 1953, Page 159

RAQUELLO, Edward.–b. Poland, May 14, 1900; naturalized 1938; engineering coll., Poland, 1917-1918; actor 1926–41; announcer 1942; program dir. and regional producer-supervisor, Office War Info., 1942-45; trans. the Dept. State as regional producer-supervisor, CAF-12, Jan.1946; GS-12 Oct. 30, 1949; act. asst. chief, production section, Office of Int. Broadcasting, GS-13, Apr. 29, 1951; chief, French ser., 1952; married.

At some point, Eddie Raquello apparently transferred from his VOA radio production to work on USIA public diplomacy outreach. His State Department/USIA 1967 Biographic Register entry lists his job title in 1966 as Agency International Radio Information Specialist. While the Voice of America headquarters were moved from New York to Washington in 1953, he may have stayed behind at the USIA New York office to assist foreign correspondents based in New York in filing their reports using U.S. government transmitting facilities.

Raquello retired from USIA in 1968, according to his obituary in The New York Times. The New York Times article said that King Baudouin bestowed on him the decoration Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold II for his information services in Belgium. He also received the decoration of the Lion of Finland. Edward Raquello died in New York, New York on August 24, 1976. He was survived by his wife, the former Louise Edwards who was a singer and was 28 years younger than Edward. They had no children. He and his wife, who died in 2010, are buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

In his fascinating article, Marek Teler wrote:

“Edward Raquello had a life full of incredible changes. An aspiring Polish actor with Jewish roots became a Latin lover in Hollywood films and then a demanding boss in the Voice of America.” 18


ALSO READ IN POLISH:

Edward Raquello – zawrotna kariera polsko-żydowskiego Latynosa

MAREK TELER 

Edward Raquello (właściwie: Edward Zylberberg) w krótkometrażowym filmie Man on the Rock z 1938 roku.

Edward Raquello (właściwie: Edward Zylberberg) w krótkometrażowym filmie Man on the Rock z 1938 roku. „Kariera Edwarda Raquello sama przez się przypomina scenariusz ciekawego filmu, pełnego niespodzianek i kończącego się zawrotnym triumfem” – pisało na temat wschodzącej gwiazdy Hollywood „Hasło Łódzkie” 13 stycznia 1929 roku. Pochodzący z Warszawy Edward Zylberberg-Kucharski, który w Stanach Zjednoczonych zmienił nazwisko na Raquello, rzeczywiście stanowi przykład osoby, której życie napisało niezwykle interesujący scenariusz: były student Politechniki Warszawskiej i początkujący aktor, zarabiający na życie jako pan do towarzystwa, nagle trafił do wielkiego świata hollywoodzkich filmów, a w czasie II wojny światowej aktywnie zaangażował się w działalność antywojenną.

More of Marek Teler’s Article in Polish

Notes:

  1. Radio Daily, “Main Street Old Scoops Daly,” July 7, 1943, page 4. https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Daily/RD-1943/RA-1943-07.pdf.
  2. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series,”EUGENE KERN AND EDWARD GOLDBERGER.” Interviewed by: Claude ‘Cliff’ Groce. Initial interview date: December 12, 1986. Copyright 2000 ADST. https://www.adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Kern,%20Eugene.toc.pdf
  3. “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. I had long ago, somewhat facetiously, suggested ‘Yankee Doodle’ as our musical signal, and now that silly little jingle was a power cue, a note of hope everywhere on earth…”–Howard Fast, 1953 Stalin Peace Prize winner, best-selling author, journalist, former Communist Party member and reporter for its newspaper The Daily Worker, describing his role as the chief writer of Voice of America 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.
  4. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279.
  5. Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box820; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  6. It is a common misconception that throughout VOA’s history directives from the White House and the State Department were responsible for most of VOA’s propaganda, censorship and news reporting failures. In fact, then as well as today, VOA’s executives and reporters generated much of the propaganda on their own. During World War II, some of VOA’s leaders and programmers were far more pro-USSR and pro-Stalin than the Roosevelt administration wanted them to be. By using the Soviet propaganda line and attacking potential U.S. collaborators in the French Vichy government and the Italian government, VOA was blamed by the Pentagon and the State Department for undermining U.S. war and diplomatic aims in North Africa and Italy. This infuriated, among others, General Dwight Eisenhower and resulted in at least one public rebuke of the Voice of America from President Roosevelt himself. Dozens of communists and Soviet sympathizers, including a few actual Soviet agents, were working at the OWI and the VOA during the war. Their influence over Voice of America’s broadcasts was so powerful that even Left-leaning American labor unions ceased their cooperation with VOA in producing programs about American labor movement issues. Some Communist Party members at the Voice of America were fired during the war, but others remained for a few more years. At least two of them later joined communist regimes in Eastern Europe and engaged in anti-American propaganda.
  7. The Katyn Forest Massacre. Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre pursuant to H. Res. 390 and H. Res. 539, Eighty-Second Congress, a resolution to authorize the investigation of the mass murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952), accessed October 26, 2017, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=osu.32435078695582.
  8. Teofil Lachowicz, “Zapomniany dyplomata,” Przegląd Polski (New York), October 20, 2000.
  9. Elżbieta Palms, e-mail to author, April 26, 2019.
  10. Teofil Lachowicz, “Zapomniany dyplomata,” Przegląd Polski (New York), October 20, 2000.
  11. Voice of America director Amanda Bennett wrote in an op-ed in 2018 about World War II VOA:“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.’” 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.
  12. Adolf E. Berle, Navigating the Rapids: 1918-1971, ed. Beatrice Bishop Berle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Inc., 1973), 440. The memorandum about Soviet and communist influence within the wartime Voice of America, signed off with a cover memo by Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, a distinguished career diplomat and a major foreign policy advisor to President Roosevelt and his personal friend, was forwarded to the White House with the date, April 6, 1943. The attached memorandum with the addendum listing names of individuals who had been denied U.S. passports for government travel abroad was dated April 5, 1943. The documents were declassified in the mid-1970s and have been accessible online for some time from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website and the National Archives. It appears, however, that they have never been widely disclosed and analyzed before now. They were presented for the first time with a historical analysis on the Cold War Radio Museum website. 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. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16619284.
  13. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series “ALEXANDER FRENKLEY Interviewed by: Cliff Groce.” Initial interview date: August 5, 1988. Copyright 2009 ADST. https://www.adst.org/OH TOCs/Frenkley, Alexander toc.pdf .
  14. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series, “TIBOR S. BORGIDA, interviewed by: Cliff Groce.” Initial interview date: August 20, 1987. Copyright 1998 ADST. https://adst.org/OH TOCs/Borgida, Tibor S,toc.pdf
  15. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series, “EUGENE KERN AND EDWARD GOLDBERGER. Interviewed by: Claude ‘Cliff’ Groce.” Initial interview date: December 12, 1986. Copyright 2000 ADST.https://www.adst.org/OH TOCs/Goldberger, Edward.toc.pdf.
  16. Alan L. Heil, Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 40.
  17. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project Information Series, “JOHN HOGAN Interviewed by: ‘Cliff’ Groce. Initial interview date: September 21, 1987. Copyright 1998 ADST. https://www.adst.org/OH TOCs/Hogan, John.toc.pdf.
  18. Marek Teler, “Edward Raquello – zawrotna kariera polsko-żydowskiego Latynosa,” HISTMAG.org, May 14, 2019, https://histmag.org/Edward-Raquello-zawrotna-kariera-polsko-zydowskiego-Latynosa-18716/1.
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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.
I.

Interweaving of Public Diplomacy and U.S. International Broadcasting

American Diplomacy

Interweaving of Public Diplomacy and U.S. International Broadcasting

A Historical Analysis

by Ted Lipien

Published in American Diplomacy, December 2011

Summary

U.S. policy makers have used traditional diplomacy, public diplomacy and government-sponsored journalism to promote America’s interests and to influence public opinion abroad. On the journalistic side, the so-called surrogate radios: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty – more independent and more confrontational – were established in the 1950s, while the Voice of America (VOA) – broadcasting since World War II – remained under greater control of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Gradually over many decades, VOA gained more journalistic freedom but still retained its semi-official status, while the surrogate radios dropped their link to the CIA as they continued their hard-hitting journalism in defense of democracy.

With the current efforts by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to de-federalize the Voice of America, it may be worthwhile to look at the history of the gradual divorce between public diplomacy and U.S. international broadcasting over the past several decades. Relying on my own perspective as a VOA journalist employed by the United States Information Agency (USIA) to broadcast radio programs to Poland during the Cold War, this article describes the disappearing links between the two cultures in frequent conflict with one another but also successfully working in tandem to advance U.S. interests and support for human rights.

Changing this model by privatizing VOA and undermining the independence and specialization of the surrogate broadcasters would be bad for both public diplomacy and journalism on behalf of the United States in support of democratic change abroad. This article offers a short history of how journalistic and diplomatic cultures interacted in U.S. international broadcasting with a focus on several key players.

Arthur Bliss Lane

When in 1948 former U.S. Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane (1894-1956) published his book “I Saw Poland Betrayed,” he put in two paragraphs about the Voice of America overseas radio broadcasts. A man of high social standing and strong convictions, he had resigned the previous year as U.S. Ambassador to Poland to protest the abandonment of Eastern Europe to Soviet rule at Yalta and to embark on educating Americans about the communist threat. While Lane was still ambassador, he had disagreed strongly though not publicly with FDR’s handling of Stalin and later bemoaned what he considered the Truman Administration’s insufficiently firm stand toward Moscow. Critical as well of his colleagues at State, he became convinced that the United States was not sending the right kind of message in diplomatic exchanges with the communist government in Warsaw, but also in VOA radio broadcasts to Poland. He retired at the relatively young age of 53 to be able “to speak and write openly, without being hampered by diplomatic convention.” Dean Acheson allowed him full access to the Department’s secret files to write his book, which turned out to be highly critical of U.S. foreign policy and the State Department.What U.S. Government-funded stations should broadcast, under what management and on whose behalf were the burning questions when Arthur Bliss Lane was writing his book, as they are now. When “I Saw Poland Betrayed” was published, the term public diplomacy was not yet invented. Some of its tools, however, were used by American diplomats to influence public opinion abroad and they were far more integrated into the official policy than in later decades.

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that the contents of what Voice of America communicated at that time directly to the Polish people over the heads of their Soviet-imposed government was set at the State Department in Washington. State Department officials forbade, for example, any mention in VOA programs of Stalin’s responsibility for the murder of thousands of Polish POVs in Soviet prison camps during World War II, referred as the Katyn massacre after the location of one of the camps where the murders took place. Offering the audience what it wanted to hear and could not get from its domestic media would have been good public diplomacy, but in those early years this concept was not yet universally accepted. An open dispute over the Katyn massacre would further complicate U.S.-Soviet relations. Some State Department officials preferred to keep this issue out of the public eye.

Arthur Bliss Lane understood, however, that VOA could support long term U.S. foreign policy goals in ways that could not be achieved easily through government-to-government diplomatic contacts or even through meetings of American diplomats with groups of private citizens. He became more and more convinced that under the State’s guidance, VOA programs were not even remotely appropriate for their intended audience. “My opinion of their value differed radically from that of the authors of the program,” he wrote. Still, he saw the Voice of America and later Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty as critical tools of public diplomacy “if appropriate material is used.”

Lane objected particularly to the Department’s policy in the 1940s of telling the people of Eastern Europe about the benefits of democracy in the United States. He thought that such programs showed a complete lack of appreciation of the psychology of those living under Soviet domination. “It was indeed tactless, to say the least,” he complained in his book, “to remind the Poles that we had democracy, which they also might again be enjoying, had we not acquiesced to their being sold down the river at Tehran and Yalta.” He wanted VOA to report more on the Soviet takeover of Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, but he also wanted to see a change in the official U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union.

While Lane disagreed with the State Department, he did not consider U.S. government-funded broadcasting as totally separated from traditional diplomacy. His concern about VOA programs to Poland showed that he viewed such radio broadcasts as important in supporting what he believed should be the right kind of U.S. foreign policy, certainly not something to be given up or ignored by policy makers. He not only understood the power of transnational radio, he was willing to use it to its full potential – not to help the U.S. to engage with the Soviet empire or to transform it, which would have been the traditional goal of diplomats, but to destroy it. His peer George F. Kennan, who articulated the policy of containment – with which Lane strongly disagreed because it did not call for encouraging a speedy liberation of Eastern Europe – likewise initially supported the expansion of U.S. radio broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain but with a somewhat different purpose and a longer timeframe. Lane would have been much happier with a single, clearly defined policy and a single public message.

Radio Free Europe

After his retirement from the Foreign Service, Lane became a public supporter of greatly expanding U.S. radio transmissions to the Soviet block outside of the State Department’s control. He believed that what the Voice of America was putting on the air did not only send a wrong message, it was not nearly enough to help topple the Soviet regime. He joined a group of prominent Americans who in 1950 created and supported Radio Free Europe (RFE), a station run by the CIA and staffed with East European émigrés. This group of organizers and supporters included General Dwight Eisenhower, General Charles Douglas (C.D.) Jackson, who later became President Eisenhower’s advisor on countering Soviet propaganda, the hero of the Berlin Airlift General Lucius Clay, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and former Under Secretary of State Joseph C. Grew, U.S. intelligence specialist Frank Wisner, future CIA Director Allen W. Dulles and many other distinguished members.Having achieved his goal of helping to create the surrogate radios, Lane spent the rest of his life trying to protect RFE and RL, but also VOA, from what he perceived as a pro-Soviet bias among some of his former State Department colleagues. He and many others like him became convinced that the U.S. military and intelligence communities had people who were professionally better suited to manage foreign language broadcasting as a strategic weapon against communist expansion and as a Trojan horse against the Soviet Union.

According to many former Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty officials, Bliss Lane was right. What made the station successful was ample funding but without the usual U.S. government institutional controls under which the Voice of America had to operate at that time. There was also an additional benefit of maintaining an appearance of having a privately-run radio station. When communist regimes raised protests with American diplomats against the content of the broadcasts, the State Department could claim that RFE had no official links to the U.S. Government, although practically no one believed such claims.

From the very beginning, the surrogate radio enjoyed far more editorial freedom than VOA broadcasters working in Washington. Still, RFE commentators were monitored by CIA officers who often told them what they should cover and how, a practice which diminished greatly over the years. It did last, however, until 1971 when Congress finally removed the CIA link. RFE was based in Munich, West Germany, in much closer proximity to Eastern Europe than VOA. From a journalistic perspective, this was very important at a time when there was no Internet or even the ability to phone news sources behind the Iron Curtain. Better funded and broadcasting more hours than VOA, RFE soon had a much larger radio audience in Poland, but the station – as RFE’s own clandestine surveys showed – was viewed by listeners as somewhat less credible than the more official and cautious Voice of America. RFE presented itself to its audience in Poland as a free Polish Radio. VOA remained an American government radio station broadcasting in Polish and in other languages. For the vast majority of radio listeners in Eastern Europe, Radio Free Europe offered far more interesting programs. Voice of America, however, was equally important because of its more official association with the U.S. Government.

Still U.S. Government-funded transnational radio journalism was not entirely government-controlled, even in its beginnings. While State Department and CIA handlers at VOA and RFE often played a key role in the immediate post World War II years, individual journalists and particularly language service directors were able to secure for themselves considerable leeway to report what they thought was right, far more so initially at RFE than at VOA. Lane understood the dynamics of independent journalism and the fact that a single editor, and especially a person directly in charge of a foreign language broadcasting service, can make a big difference. As he was working to establish Radio Free Europe, he was also looking for ways to replace some of the pro-Soviet broadcasters hired by the Voice of America during the Roosevelt Administration.

Zofia Korbonska: A Long View of U.S. International Broadcasting

Even after retiring from the government, Lane used his excellent connections to try to bring about a change of personnel at VOA, knowing that some of its World War II era editors are indeed Soviet sympathizers. During World War II and immediately thereafter, one of the editors of VOA’s Polish radio programs was a communist journalist who later moved to Warsaw and became the regime’s chief anti-American propagandist. While still employed by the U.S. Government, he and some on his team produced programs that supported the Kremlin’s position against the anti-communist Polish government in exile in London, to which Bliss Lane was named as the U.S. Ambassador based in Washington. During the war, Lane received frequent complaints from Polish diplomats in Washington that VOA was uncritically promoting the Soviet version that the Nazis had been responsible for the murder of Polish officers in Katyn.Still aware of the pro-Soviet tone of VOA Polish broadcasts two years after the war, Bliss Lane helped Zofia Korbonska, a famous anti-Nazi and anti-communist resister, to get a job at the Voice of America after she and her husband, Polish democratic politician Stefan Korbonski, had defected to the West in 1947. Prior to joining VOA, Korbonska had been a war hero, a reporter and a radio broadcaster. She risked her life daily, gathering news and sending coded radio messages from Nazi-occupied Poland to London. Those messages were then transmitted back in news bulletins by shortwave radio from Britain by a station that many Polish listeners assumed was based in Poland. She was just the right kind of person to help VOA become effective in broadcasting more relevant news from America to Poland.

Korbonska used her experiences of fighting the Nazis and the Communists to try to change the content and the tone of VOA Polish programs. She and other editors often managed to ignore instructions from FSOs who were technically their bosses but who seldom understood enough Polish. They tried to sneak in more relevant news with a sharper anti-communist message. In later years as the policy of engagement with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe took hold, Korbonska continued to poke holes in pro-detente statements by U.S. officials and academics, often using irony that could not be easily detected by American managers. She also steadfastly resisted attempts by some U.S. officials to start treating the communist regime in Poland as a legitimate government. She believed that these regimes would eventually collapse, not because of the policy of engagement or convergence, but because of their own internal weakness. It was fine for U.S. diplomats to engage in negotiations if they had to, but the role of VOA – she argued – was to hold a high moral ground and give hope to the people in Poland.

I had the pleasure of working with this remarkable woman for many years. Most VOA language service broadcasters agreed with her views, although there were some who did not as U.S.-Polish official exchanges intensified. When in the 1970s one VOA journalist accepted an invitation from the Polish Embassy in Washington to a diplomatic reception marking the anniversary of the founding of the communist government, she and many other Polish Service broadcasters would not speak to him for months.

After a distinguished career as a broadcaster with the VOA Polish Service, Zofia Korbonska retired in 1985 and died in Washington D.C. in 2010 at the age of 95. She understood the long-term value of radio broadcasting and strategic public diplomacy far better than some of the FSOs who supervised her. But she also realized that working at the Voice of America was a two-way process, with U.S. diplomats and journalists trying to influence and outsmart the other. As much as she resented State Department’s interference with the broadcasts, she understood the value of VOA’s special U.S. Government status. Radio listeners in Poland tuned in to VOA broadcasts because they reflected America’s official views in addition to anything else journalists like Korbonska managed to include. She was grateful for America’s moral support for her native country and for VOA broadcasting to Poland.

RFE’s Jan Nowak: Courage to Resist Official Policy

While VOA struggled, Arthur Bliss Lane continued to support the work of the more independent Radio Free Europe and helped to raise funds for its operations. One of those soliciting private donations for RFE was Ronald Reagan. These campaigns did not succeed in producing the millions of dollars needed to keep the station on the air. The money had to come from Congress and was hidden in the CIA budget. With it came restrictions and instructions of various kinds but of a more general and sophisticated nature than those at the Voice of America in Washington. Émigré journalists were told that they did not have to agree with or support every single U.S. policy provided that their broadcasts served long term foreign policy interests of the United States.But even this more strategic and nuanced approach did not save individual editors and language services at RFE from having to disagree frequently with their American managers. Some, like Jan Nowak, the legendary director of the RFE Polish Service, often openly defied the management’s instructions and survived, although at least one U.S. ambassador to Poland, Jacob D. Beam, wanted to have him fired and RFE broadcasts to Poland terminated for being too critical of the Polish communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. Vice President Richard Nixon, to whom Beam complained about RFE, reportedly told him that besides fostering good relations with the government, an American diplomat also has a duty to maintain a close relationship with the people of the country where he serves. Beam later served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union.

A single diplomat, a wrong person in charge of a broadcasting service, blatant censorship, a demand to terminate broadcasts – each can destroy years of journalistic and public diplomacy work. Not everybody at RFE or at VOA was as independent or as wise as Jan Nowak. Ironically, during the 1956 workers’ riots in Poland and afterwards, Jan Nowak adopted a cautious approach, which helped Gomulka gain power and diminished the threat of a Soviet military intervention. The RFE Hungarian Service during the uprising in Hungary the same year aired more militant broadcasts. Some have argued that if CIA officers, who by then no longer believed in the quick fall of communism in Eastern Europe, had a handle on what the Hungarian Service was putting on the air, they would have censored statements that may have encouraged the hopeless and bloody uprising and the subsequent Soviet invasion. On the other hand, the Eisenhower Administration’s public statements on the events in Hungary were also highly confusing. RFE’s role in the Hungarian Uprising and the CIA’s involvement with the broadcasts are still a subject of some controversy.

There was, however, one real benefit of having CIA close at hand at the surrogate radios. The CIA was also there to protect Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty from infiltration by communist intelligence agents and agents of influence. Not all were caught; some managed to find work at the radios, but no major damage to RFE programs and reputation was done. Interestingly, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is now in charge of U.S. international broadcasting, has practically no capability of protecting its journalistic workforce from such infiltration, even though it now has large numbers of employees in Russia and in other countries known for still engaging in this kind of mischief. Used to operating in the world of U.S. commercial broadcasting, BBG executives sometimes forget the high stakes of the international war of ideas. The BBG also has no money to translate into English much of the foreign language output for post-broadcast review, which prevents top managers from identifying problems before they escalate. The airing of statements from Holocaust deniers on Alhurra TV, the BBG’s new television service to the Middle East, is a good example of what can happen when a U.S. Government-funded broadcaster has no clear official or surrogate identity and lacks sufficient editorial oversight.

Legacy of Arthur Bliss Lane

For Arthur Bliss Lane the 1950s were not a happy period personally and professionally. His only child, Peggy, died at a young age from pneumonia when he and his wife were visiting her in San Francisco. He became active in the Republican Party but was not able to translate his involvement into a radical policy change toward the Soviet Union. Despite the pre-election rhetoric, the policy of containment remained in place during the Eisenhower Administration. After joining the Republican National Committee, Lane courted East European ethnic communities in the U.S. for the GOP and tried to undermine without success the State Department’s reluctance to confirm Stalin’s responsibility for the Katyn massacre – an issue which resonated well with the Polish American voters and the U.S. Congress.As far as VOA broadcasts to Poland were concerned, the Katyn story became a barometer of the State Department’s involvement with editorial policy. Even many years later, when such involvement was already minimal, some VOA editors tried to censor a news reference to the Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre. Due to the protests from Polish Service journalists, however, a clear attribution of the crime to Stalin was restored in subsequent newscasts. As far as I know, in that particular incident no FSO was involved. It appeared to be an internal VOA squabble. It was, however, a case of a long-term damage from the history of previous interference with the Katyn story by the State Department. It was a sad legacy of the early decades of VOA broadcasting to Poland.

At least initially and for several decades after his death, it seemed that Arthur Bliss Lane was a failure as anti-Soviet and anti-communist crusader. He was not given any prominent role in the new Eisenhower Administration, his political star had waned and he became more disillusioned when Eisenhower extended an olive branch to the Kremlin after Stalin’s death in 1953. Increasingly short-tempered and in poor health, he began to associate more and more toward the end of his life with the most militant anti-communists like Senator Joseph McCarthy. It would not be until the Reagan Administration that Lane’s vision of managing U.S.-Soviet relations would be given a serious try. By then, however, the Soviet Union was a crumbling giant. It is not easy to know to what extent the more cautious approach of professional diplomats during the early decades of the Cold War helped to weaken the Soviet power and made Reagan’s policy less risky and ultimately successful.

Arthur Bliss Lane was definitely different from typical FSOs of his time who executed the policy of containment, many of whom – as I had a chance to observe much later – were not temperamentally and professionally prepared for the world of journalism. A biographer later observed that Lane, who despite being in a few important posts never rose to the very top ranks of State Department officials, was not temperamentally suited to be a diplomat. His biographer thought that Lane would have been happier and more successful in politics and journalism, which was in fact what he did after retiring from the Foreign Service.

Most of Lane’s colleagues at State and USIA who were plunged into a government-run but nevertheless media institution like the Voice of America found it difficult to suppress their diplomatic instinct for restraint and control. If they had, it could have been bad for their careers. It’s not that most did not appreciate what the power of free radio could do for the United States in countries without free media; they were afraid to use it because it could upset diplomatic relations with other governments and bring upon them the wreath of their superiors. Some thought that the Soviet system could be reformed from within and resented most VOA and RFE broadcasts. Others wanted to undermine Soviet communism gradually and saw the usefulness of these broadcasts as long as they did not interfere with their immediate policy initiatives. Very few diplomats were willing to accept the proposition that independent journalism, but still seen as practiced on behalf of the American Government and the American people, could bring about the ultimate collapse of communism in the Soviet block much faster than traditional diplomacy and should be used without direct interference from government officials.

When Arthur Bliss Lane died in 1956, he was viewed by the State Department establishment as an extremist despite his considerable accomplishments, both in his diplomatic career and afterwards. One of his old friends, Ambassador John C. Wiley, observed that the chief trouble with Bliss Lane was that he had “never accepted the principle that a diplomat should learn to tolerate his own government.” But Lane was greatly admired by anti-communist leaders in Poland and VOA and RFE journalists familiar with his protests against the Yalta Agreement. More significantly, some of the future advisors to Ronald Reagan agreed with Lane’s belief in pushing back communism in Eastern Europe with a combination of military strength and a war of ideas. Lane’s book, “I Saw Poland Betrayed,” was translated into Polish and published by the underground Solidarity press in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, for a long time after Lane’s death, the links between the Voice of America and the foreign policy establishment had remained quite strong throughout the early decades of the Cold War, causing many frictions between VOA editors and State Department and USIA diplomats. Not all, however, was doom and gloom. The journalists who helped to create VOA during World War II did manage at least to establish the principle that VOA news should be always accurate to maintain credibility. Public pressure from anti-communist figures like Arthur Bliss Lane, Congressional interest in U.S. broadcasting and the work of journalists like Zofia Korbonska and Jan Nowak helped to encourage more hard-hitting reporting. Foreign language editors did what they could to include human rights messages in their programs. Just being able to hear Voice of America broadcasts in their languages was a moral boost for the people of Eastern Europe even if some of the content seemed out of touch with local realities. Being associated closely with the U.S. Government was both VOA’s curse and its blessing.

William A. Buell, Jr.: A Well-Respected FSO at VOA

Not all FSOs working at VOA in the early years were treated by the journalistic staff as an undesirable element. Some were remembered fondly by former language service employees as good managers and innovators. Others even tried to defend VOA’s editorial independence.

William A. Buell, Jr., who died in November 2011, was director of the Polish Service from July 1965 to July 1966. Born in 1925, he served during World War II as a fighter pilot, graduated from Princeton and entered the Foreign Service in 1951. After tours in Taiwan, West Germany, Belgium, Togo, where he was Deputy Chief of Mission, and Paris, where he was Consul General, Buell served four years (1960-1964) at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw as Chief of the Economic and Political Sections. He spoke reasonably fluent Polish. Some of his VOA predecessors, naturalized American citizens who were not FSOs, followed all State Department instructions to the letter and were viewed by the staff as unbearable tyrants. His arrival at VOA was greeted as a breath of fresh air.

According to an email Bill Buell wrote in 2010 to Jaroslaw Jedrzejczak, the unofficial historian of the VOA Polish Service, the manager whom Buell replaced at the Voice of America made a mistake of not hiring a relative of a Polish American politician. The politician pulled strings to have the service chief removed and to transfer Buell from State to VOA. Zofia Korbonska described Bill Buell as a true gentleman. Another former VOA Polish Service broadcaster Roza Nowotarska remembered that he allowed for the first time short music programs to be aired – something that the previous management for whatever reason would not tolerate. I joined VOA in 1973 and did not know Bill Buell personally. Some of the old timers recall that he was not particularly strict in enforcing programming instructions coming from the State Department or USIA.

Bill Buell subsequently became the Polish Desk officer at State and Director of the Office of Northern European Affairs. Following his retirement from the Foreign Service, he worked as a legislative assistant to Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III and after 1977 spent ten years at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the first two years as RFE Director in Munich and later as Senior Vice President of RFE/RL in Washington. He was one of many officials who moved back and forth between the broadcasting entities.

VOA Under USIA

In the 1960s and 1970s, the State Department continued to exercise its influence to various degrees through FSOs placed in key VOA managerial positions. Their numbers and seniority, however, kept declining as the policy of engagement with the Soviet Block countries took off and a VOA posting was becoming less and less attractive for their Foreign Service careers. Not even USIA officers, specializing in public diplomacy but viewed as second class citizens by some of their colleagues at State, considered a VOA job as a desirable posting. In later years, institutional interference with the editorial content of VOA broadcasts diminished and depended more on the personalities of U.S. ambassadors and other FSOs. Those who took themselves more seriously, were less sophisticated and more insecure in their jobs interfered more than others. Meanwhile, the funding for VOA was being cut and remained low until the onset of the Reagan Administration.The FSOs who saw themselves more as political officers than benign managers were not the only problem for VOA foreign language service journalists. The VOA management, which by then included many non-FSOs, also made it difficult for language services to originate their own reporting, no doubt to prevent further clashes between themselves and State or even the White House, but also to maintain a central monopoly on news reporting. For decades, VOA foreign language broadcasters were denied access to wire services and forced to translate centrally-produced English news and correspondent reports. While there is always a need for some central news output, regionalization and targeting of news to specific countries was essential for success and was lacking at VOA until the early 1980s.

In that kind of environment, delivering relevant news similar to what Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were able to offer was initially a big challenge. This was especially difficult for VOA language chiefs because they had access to classified cables from U.S. embassies and the State Department. They could see what was going on in the region better than some of the VOA correspondents and central news division writers who did not receive cable traffic or on principle refused to review it. This led to many clashes between VOA language services, which demanded more relevant news, and the central news service, which was unable and sometimes unwilling to produce it. Sympathetic central news editors, especially those with ethnic ties to Eastern Europe, tried to be helpful, but they themselves got in trouble with their superiors as did at least two USIA officers whose career advancement was delayed because they sided with VOA journalists in disputes with the State Department.

During the Vietnam War, there was more censorship from the Pentagon and the White House, targeting largely the central news service whose reports were then translated by the language services. Poor funding, lack of sufficient regional specialization in the VOA central newsroom, and an attempt by the English Service to mirror U.S. domestic media coverage made the life of VOA language services very difficult. Due to interference coming from all sides, the end product was not as credible or as effective as it otherwise might have been, but VOA was still viewed abroad as more authoritative and relevant than it is now.

Eventually, the incidents of censorship declined, but during the era of detente one FSO was still able to prevent the VOA Russian Service from reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s works on the air – something that Radio Liberty could do without restrictions. During the Watergate scandal, however, the Voice of America reported objectively on all aspects of the story. VOA correspondents no longer had to seek U.S. Embassy permission to travel to various countries, use diplomatic passports, or to submit their reports for a prior review by U.S. ambassadors, although the State Department still tried to stop VOA from interviewing PLO officials. As late as 1976, during the anti-communist demonstrations in Poland, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw had asked VOA to not overplay the story, but this time VOA news editors went with it despite the warning. Regarding Solzhenitsyn, a few years after the initial censorship, the VOA Russian Service scored a broadcast coup during the Reagan Administration when Solzhenitsyn agreed to read excerpts from his latest book which were broadcasts in special 38-part series.

VOA Director Ken Tomlinson and VOA Polish Service chief Ted Lipien with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

The VOA Polish Service did not receive as much scrutiny from State and USIA officials as the Russian Service. In 1976, I was able to interview Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, future Pope John Paul II, when he visited the United States. I did not know whether the service chief Marian Woznicki and his deputy Zdzislaw Dziekonski had to have a clearance for the interview from the State Department or their VOA higher-ups. They probably did. It is also possible the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw might have suggested that VOA should ask for this interview. Such requests were not infrequent at that time and often involved Polish democratic leaders and cultural figures sent to the U.S. under various Embassy programs.

What we did know was that Cardinal Wojtyla would not have been able to give a similar on-air interview to RFE without risking a retaliation against himself and the Catholic Church in Poland. Later we found out that he was communicating secretly with RFE Polish Service director Jan Nowak, but Wojtyla could not allow his name to be used on the air as a source of information. The interview confirmed to me once again the value of having both VOA and RFE broadcasts to Poland. Finally, also in 1976, the U.S. Congress passed a law which guaranteed VOA its editorial independence while instructing it to explain U.S. foreign policy to international audiences – thus still acknowledging VOA’s public diplomacy function. The law, also referred to as the VOA Charter, made it essentially illegal for ambassadors, lower-ranking FSOs or any other U.S. government official to try to prevent accurate and objective news reporting by VOA. It also gave U.S. diplomats a convenient excuse to dismiss protests from foreign governments unhappy with the contents of VOA programs. VOA had finally moved closer to the independent status previously enjoyed only by the surrogate broadcasters while still retaining its American and semi-official brand.

”Let Poland be Poland” and the Reagan Years

Since the Voice of America was still part of the United States Information Agency, the link between foreign policy, public diplomacy and broadcasting remained, which became more obvious during the Reagan Administration. The USIA Director was still able to fill key VOA management positions. After President Reagan took office, a few VOA managers viewed by the new administration as insufficiently anti-Soviet were transferred to other less responsible jobs and language services were given access for the first time to more resources and more freedom to report on their own.While some central news editors saw these changes as interference, censorship and propaganda, instructions from USIA to carry Reagan’s anti-communist and anti-Soviet pronouncements did not bother most VOA language service chiefs. Being at that time in charge of the VOA Polish Service, I turned into a combination of a surrogate and American broadcaster — in my opinion, the best programming mix for a semi-official media outlet like VOA. Our reporters were in almost daily telephone contact with Solidarity and other opposition figures in Poland, many of whom became later top government officials in democratic Poland. We also interviewed hundreds of prominent Americans and West Europeans who supported the Polish Solidarity trade union movement. VOA broadcast religious services from a Polish American church in the D.C. area without worrying about any constitutional restrictions and quoted extensively from news dispatches of American newspaper and television correspondents based in Warsaw. There were music and satirical programs as well. VOA Director Eugene Pell approved the Polish Service requests to send our own reporters to Paris and Rome to be in contact with exiled Solidarity activists and Catholic Church leaders who were close to Pope John Paul II. There was ample funding thanks to USIA Director Charles Wick and President Reagan’s Soviet affairs advisor at the National Security Council John Lenczowski. VOA language services broadcasting to Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and other communist-ruled countries could not have been happier.

On the other hand, many of our colleagues in the central English news service were upset with instructions from USIA to broadcast presidential speeches and to give them full coverage. Part of the White House public diplomacy strategy at that time were also covert activities, disinformation, psychological warfare and military components, of which we were vaguely aware but in which we did not participate. There were reports that the VOA Polish Service was ordered to play specific music selections as secrets signals to underground opposition leaders in Poland. These reports, which even made it into a couple of books, were false. There is no doubt, however, that the Reagan Administration engaged in such activities and was proud of it. John Lenczowski would later call the integration of all strategic communication methods against the Soviet Union “a full spectrum public diplomacy.” By the end of 1980s, for the first time VOA Polish programs, with fewer on air hours, had more listeners in Poland than Radio Free Europe.

When General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law in December 1981, a top USIA official who called me at home only wanted to know what I needed to expand VOA Polish broadcasts from three and a half to seven hours daily. But while some key positions were filled by USIA Director Charles Z. Wick, who was a close friend of President Reagan, other USIA officers still serving at VOA were by no means big fans of Reagan’s policies. When Charlie Wick gave orders to produce a 90 minute television program “Let Poland Be Poland,” which featured statements of support for the Polish people from President Reagan and numerous other world leaders as well as appearances by Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and other celebrities, one USIA Foreign Service Officer exclaimed in a panic “We’ve to got to stop him [Wick].” I also remember another FSO who was my immediate superior, being horrified after watching Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech. He was, however, a very nice man who never tried to interfere with what the Polish Service was reporting and gave us all the resources we needed to do our job. My contribution to “Let Poland Be Poland” was quite small. I convinced Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel Prize Polish poet living in exile the United States, to participate in the program. He was apparently put off by the Hollywood producers who were solely responsible for the public diplomacy extravaganza. VOA broadcast to Poland the audio portion of the “Let Poland Be Poland” program.

At that time, I also experienced what became perhaps the last and somewhat unusual attempt by the State Department to interfere with VOA Polish programs. The Polish Service phoned and interviewed Solidarity leader Lech Walesa after he had been released from detention by the Jaruzelski regime but still kept under police surveillance. The next day I was called by the VOA Director Gene Pell, who later became President of RFE/RL. He informed me that the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw had doubts whether the person interviewed by VOA was really Lech Walesa.

It was immediately obvious to me that perhaps because of some sensitive negotiations with the Jaruzelski regime to lift the martial law restrictions on the Polish people or because of the usual diplomatic restraint, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw did not want us to talk to Lech Walesa at that particular time. Being unable to forbid us to contact him because of the 1976 VOA congressional Charter, I thought the Embassy came up with a creative excuse to discourage such interviews. Peter Mroczyk, the person who interviewed Walesa, was formerly one of his advisors in the Solidarity movement, and neither he nor I had any doubt he was talking with Walesa. To his credit, Gene Pell, formerly an NBC correspondent, smiled and told me to be careful, but he did not try to prevent further phone interviews with Polish opposition figures.

Peter Mroczyk later followed Pell to RFE/RL to take charge of its Polish Service. I later went with Vice President George H. Bush to Poland and interviewed both him and Lech Walesa. The communist regime allowed at that time VOA correspondents to visit Poland, while such visits were still denied to RFE/RL journalists. I worked completely on my own and the White House staffers did not try to influence my reporting. The Solidarity leader and future Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of independent Poland thanked me for VOA programs. In the 1980s, I also met Pope John Paul II during a visit to Rome with VOA Director Ken Tomlinson. The Pope also told us how much he appreciated what VOA was doing for his countrymen in Poland.

During the Reagan years, I felt that the link between U.S. public diplomacy and broadcasting was finally working without undue interference and censorship. I could ignore phone calls from low level State Department officers who from time to time still made weak attempts to influence our programs. I had a WikiLeaks-like view of what was going on behind the scenes, easy access to important news sources and support from top level USIA officials without them looking over my shoulders – an ideal situation for a journalist. I was also lucky to have a very able deputy Marek Walicki who formerly had worked for many years for the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe.

But other service chiefs who treated seriously various restrictions issued by this time mostly by higher-level VOA managers had a much more difficult time. Their situation did not improve when the United States Information Agency was abolished and the Broadcasting Board of Governors was created in 1995. Many lost their broadcasts and their jobs. I had learned another lesson from that experience: if money is tight and government or corporate bureaucrats are in control without a powerful institutional patron or domestic constituency to check on them, they will not hesitate to cut even the most critical programs serving U.S. interests abroad to save their positions and to do what they think is right based on their limited experience and parochial interests. Unfortunately, victims of human rights abuses abroad and those seeking uncensored news in Russia and China do not vote in American elections.

Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy and the BBG

In the 1980s and beyond, my contacts with FSOs were on the whole positive and useful to me as a journalist. When Poland was still under martial law, I always received many good news tips from two Polish Desk Officers at State, Christopher R. Hill and Daniel Fried, who later became U.S. ambassadors to Poland. Most of the time I initiated these calls, and they never tried to influence our political news coverage. I also had good help from USIA Cultural Officer in Poland John H. Brown who later resigned from the Foreign Service in protest against President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq. Publicizing U.S. Embassy-sponsored cultural events was an important service for our listeners who saw them as signs of America’s interest in them and as another way of undermining the communist regime. Quite a number of Public Affairs Officers serving in Poland appreciated the role of VOA Polish Service reports showing that despite official relations with the regime in Warsaw, various U.S. Embassy programs were designed to show America’s support for the Polish people and to encourage a democratic transformation.After I left my journalistic job at VOA in 1993, I had the pleasure of working in Munich, Germany, with another Foreign Service Officer Csaba Chikes. He was probably one of the last FSOs directly supporting U.S. international broadcasting in a full time position. At that time, the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials discovered that their new strategy of placing programs on local radio and TV networks often required help from U.S. embassies. Having an experienced FSOs with extensive contacts within the U.S. Foreign Service community was enormously helpful.

But soon after the elimination of USIA, the somewhat integrated public diplomacy approach that worked so well under Reagan was never again tried, not even after 9/11. By then there was no longer a USIA and the BBG served as a buffer between the Administration and the broadcasters. But as far as I was concerned, interference with the news and editorial content ceased to be a major problem even before the BBG was created. As the Board was gaining more independence from the foreign policy establishment, its political visibility in Washington and funding, however, began to wane without a strong institutional sponsor and prominent outside supporters.

Members of the bipartisan Board, recruited largely from the private media and entertainment sector, focused on expanding the audience among the youth in the Muslim world. Without sufficient new funding, a large number of VOA language broadcasts were eliminated to pay for Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. Although set up on the surrogate station model – Sawa and Alhurra never attracted the mass audiences that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty enjoyed during the Cold War. However, the BBG went a step further and completely silenced VOA programs in Arabic targeting the intellectual elites. News broadcasts that could be identified closely with the United States and also served U.S. public diplomacy needs in the region were considered by BBG members with commercial radio and TV experience as no longer necessary. It was left unclear to what extent these stations are surrogate or represent official and unofficial American views.

The American VOA brand and official links to the U.S. Government were viewed by some within the BBG as a liability. A music format, successfully used by American stations on Norman Pattiz’s Westwood One network, was chosen for Radio Sawa. Norman J. Pattiz and Edward E. “Ted” Kaufman were the two key Democrats who developed this plan with the support of the then BBG Republican Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson. Unlike RFE in the 1950s, in the new era of the Internet and satellite television the two new surrogate stations were based in the United States.

Nearly all current and former VOA and RFE/RL journalists I have worked with described to me the transition from the previous arrangements to the BBG model as a change for the worse. Some told me that even though they themselves experienced various forms of restrictions on their journalistic work under the previous regimes, they were able to engage in more effective pro-human rights reporting, especially in the later decades. Consultants and bureaucrats replaced realpolitik diplomats. They could change programs and their content far more quickly and drastically than FSOs in previous decades. There was no USIA to save the public diplomacy work of VOA language services that were set by the BBG for elimination. There was no one like Arthur Bliss Lane or George Kennan to offer a consistent vision of what the new broadcasts to the Middle East were to achieve. The attention moved away from the message to program distribution and salesmanship.

Few among the new generation of individuals in charge of U.S. international broadcasting had vast experience in foreign policy, diplomacy, military strategy, and human rights. What the current BBG members bring to the table is their knowledge of commercial U.S. broadcasting and the entertainment industry. Such individuals were also employed when VOA and RFE were first created, but with the exception of a few like John Houseman, a Hollywood actor who was the first Voice of America director, they were not placed in the top decision-making roles. Those were reserved for high-level government officials from State, CIA, and USIA, or prominent former journalists like Edward Murrow and John Chancellor – all with years of experience in covering international affairs.

Audience measuring calculations of BBG officials, adopted from the world of commercial broadcasting, led to the ending of VOA radio and TV broadcasts to Russia in 2008. The tone of Radio Liberty Russian broadcasts changed after BBG-hired consultants determined based on audience surveys that most Russians viewed RL as “hostile” toward Russia. If it were not for a strong intervention from Congress, BBG officials would have also ended VOA radio and TV to China in 2011.

What Next?

While some VOA journalists may think that it would be better to have a complete separation between broadcasting and public diplomacy, political realities dictate that they themselves can only be effective and supported with public funds if U.S. international broadcasting is to some degree linked to the foreign policy and national security parts of the U.S. Government. These links, while risky in some respects, also helped to give a certain stature and focus to U.S. international broadcasting. They don’t have to be direct or allow for censorship of any kind, but there is a need for a long term view and approach that the current commercial culture of the BBG is lacking. As with public diplomacy messages, which should promote America’s long term values and interests, U.S. Government-funded broadcasting as well as new media content, should not be changed, stopped and resumed every time new BBG members are appointed. At the very least, more BBG members should be recruited from within the human rights and international affairs communities rather than from the commercial media and the domestic political circles.

The dual model of U.S. international broadcasting with independent surrogate broadcasters and the Voice of America, each having a different mission and operating under different rules, served well the needs of the United States Government, the American people and radio listeners behind the Iron Curtain. It worked initially much better for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, but once the Voice of America’s editorial independence was protected by law in 1976 and VOA news reporting decentralized during the Reagan Administration, the dual arrangement became even more effective in promoting human rights, media freedom and understanding of America.

After the United States Information Agency was abolished and the Broadcasting Board of Governors was created, this successful model was first weakened and may now be completely dismantled, with the Voice of America and U.S. public diplomacy being the primary losers. If America were a smaller nation, not seen internationally as the leader of the free world and the only country capable of effectively standing up to dictators, it might be ideal to have a BBC-like, journalistically independent international and domestic multimedia broadcaster, well-funded and easily identified abroad as the voice of the American people and to some degree the U.S. Government but also able to offer targeted and hard-hitting news and commentary to countries without free media.

As a journalist, I would prefer the BBC model, but unfortunately, it is not an arrangement that will work well in America or in America’s interest for a variety of historical and political reasons. A complete privatization, centralization of news gathering and the removal of at least informal links between the Voice of America and the foreign policy community and U.S. public diplomacy will harm the cause of supporting media freedom, human rights and democracy abroad. U.S. national security interests abroad will also be harmed by this proposal. Under the de-federalized, corporate and centralized model, getting funding for U.S. international broadcasting would become even more difficult, if not impossible.

Unlike Great Britain and the rest of Europe, the United States does not have a strong tradition of public broadcasting that serves well both domestic and international audiences. What may make political and business sense in other countries is not necessarily good public policy in America, which has international obligations, including military ones, that smaller democratic nations do not have. American taxpayers are not likely to support another CNN or NPR-like media outlet for international and domestic audiences, which is what the Voice America might become under the de-federalization plan. It is hard to imagine what a corporate VOA would represent to those abroad who seek not just uncensored news but primarily look for a proof of America’s moral support for their struggle.

Someone, somewhere — whether they are U.S. diplomats, political figures, corporate officers, or journalists — will have to decide what goes into U.S. Government-funded broadcasts and to where they should be directed. A corporate model being proposed by the BBG could offer either Fox News or a combination of NPR and CNN. It will be almost certainly the latter. The current BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson, the author of the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, is a former CNN executive. Former CNN managers and reporters already occupy several key posts at the BBG. But in terms of changing the world, it is not the model of hard-hitting, pro-human rights journalism that helped the U.S. win the Cold War. It is a formula more suitable to manage the decline of U.S. influence abroad than to help the victims of oppression establish free press and more democratic governments.

A corporate VOA would still not be able to compete with BBC or CNN. International audiences already have CNN and AP, they do not need another similar network or a news agency. What they need is a Voice of America that speaks not just to their minds but also to their hearts, and does so with some authority and support of the American people. A de-federalized, corporate VOA would lack both the stature and the ability to meet such needs and expectations.

The BBG is also proposing to remove the Smith-Mundt Act’s restriction on domestic distribution of its programs, although private broadcasters in the U.S. are not strictly speaking prohibited from using these programs if they obtain them on their own. What the BBG is not allowed to do is to actively market its output in the U.S., which is a good thing. Currently all VOA content is in public domain. This would change if VOA were to be de-federalized. What the U.S. Congress should do is to insist that all U.S. international broadcasting material, including that of the surrogate stations, be placed in public domain and available to anyone who wants to use it. The surrogate broadcasters like RFE/RL currently copyright their output even though it is fully paid for with public funds. Putting their content in public domain would be a good change, de-federalizing VOA and Radio and TV Marti would not.

Allowing the BBG to actively distribute and market its programs domestically, to operate as a taxpayer-funded corporation, to become another CNN or NPR, is a politically risky proposition without any merit. Such an entity would lack any public support, especially during the current period of very tight budgets. Thanks to the First Amendment, the private press has always played a check on the power of the big government, which may explain why there is no-BBC-like public broadcasting giant in the United States, and public funding for PBS and NPR remains controversial. Americans view with suspicion any U.S. government-funded domestic media. This suspicion extends even to international broadcasts. But if properly used, censorship-busting radio, TV and Internet programs targeted abroad do save American lives by making military interventions less likely. It is one of the best and least costly investments in making America safer. It comes from supporting free flow of information where it is most needed to undermine dictators and encourage democracy. Domestic distribution of programs would only create a controversy and distract those in charge from their primary mission abroad.

Starting with its name and its nine part-time CEOs, the BBG itself is a dysfunctional body. The commercial culture, which has replaced the foreign policy, public diplomacy and human rights culture of previous decades, has not worked very well for U.S. international broadcasting. No one with any knowledge of the history of broadcasting and public diplomacy wants to see interference with journalistic freedom that in the past made the Voice of America less successful than it could have been. U.S. ambassadors and other State Department officials should not exercise a veto power over what goes on the air. But a complete divorce of U.S. international broadcasting from the experience of the U.S. Government’s foreign affairs community is politically unwise and will not be good for America or the world. While the BBG should be reformed or replaced, the dual model of surrogate and Voice of America broadcasting should remain with strong protections against government interference with editorial content but kept within the U.S. foreign policy and national security structures. The system of checks and balances that developed between U.S. Government broadcasters and government officials toward the end of the Cold War, although far from perfect, gave the United States the ability to send both authoritative and journalistically bold messages targeted to specific countries and to the whole world. It might be wise to study this history before rushing into a new arrangement.bluestar

After leaving VOA, where his last position was acting associate director, Ted Lipien founded Free Media Online (FreeMediaOnline.org), a media freedom NGO. He is also a co-founder of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB.org). His book “Wojtyla’s Women: “How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church” was published by O-Books in the UK in 2008.