Cold War Radio Museum

The News Bureau room of the Office of War Information (OWI), November 1942, at about the same time Howard Fast started writing Voice of America newscasts. The photograph’s official caption said: “It is arranged much the same way as the city room of a daily newspaper. Here, war news of the world is disseminated. In the foreground, are editors’ desks handling such special services as trade press, women’s activities, and campaigns. The news desk is in the background.” Smith, Roger, photographer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.

VOA logo, 2019.
Yankee Doodle Voice of America (VOA) signature tune reportedly proposed by VOA chief news writer (1942-1943) Howard Fast who later received the 1953 Stalin International Peace Prize.

 “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…” 1

Howard Fast, 1953 Stalin Peace Prize winner, best-selling author, journalist, former Communist Party member and reporter for its newspaper The Daily Worker, decribing his role as the chief writer of Voice of America (VOA) radio news translated into multiple languages and rebroadcast for four hours daily to Europe through medium wave transmitters leased from the BBC in 1942-1943. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), pp. 18-19.

“The records of the men involved seem to indicate that should there be a divergence between the policy of the States and the policy of Soviet Russia, these men, with a large degree of control of the American machinery of war making, would probably follow the line taken by Russia, rather than the line taken by the United States.” 2

Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles in previously classified April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President, with enclosures, justifying the denial to issue U.S. passports for official government travel abroad to VOA Director John Houseman and other Office of War Information (OWI) employees suspected of being Soviet and Communist sympathizers.

“There are still too many of the old OWI [Office of War Information] employees working for the Voice, both in this country and overseas. I mean those writers, translators and broadcasters who so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically tried for many years to create ‘love for Stalin,’ when this was the official policy of our ill-advised wartime Government and of our military government in Germany. There is no doubt that all those employees were at that time deeply convinced of the absolute correctness of that pro-Stalinist propaganda. How can we expect them to do the exact opposite now?” 3

Journalist Julius Epstein quoted by Congressman George A. Dondero (R-MI) in Congressional Record, August 9, 1950. The quote was from the article which was published in the Evening Star Washington newspaper on August 7, 1950.

“They failed to acknowledge the human inclination to abuse power, ignored horrific consequences, and often rationalized Soviet barbarities as historically necessary. One of the benefits of examining the life of Howard Fast is that it enables us to make yet one more exploration into the hoary question of how this could have happened.” 4

Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).

“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.’” 5

Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director,  “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018.

“…starting in the first decade of the 2000s, the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, and the leadership of VOA’s Mandarin service began an annual meeting to allow embassy officials to voice their opinions about VOA’s content.” 6

A report of the Working Group on Chinese Influence Activities in the United States prepared by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Center on US-China Relations at Asia Society in New York, October 24, 2018.

“This dynamic, on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.” 7

American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), U.S. Persian Media Study, October 6, 2017.

“VOA has been too careful in avoiding anything that might look like a ‘anti-Russian’ bias….that could be regarded as a ‘pro-Russian’ (or, rather, pro-Putin) bias. 8

Nikolai Rudenskiy, Voice of America Russian Website Evaluation, 2011.
Joseph Stalin

Howard Fast – Voice of America’s Only Stalin Peace Prize Recipient

By Ted Lipien for Cold War Radio Museum

Oswego, New York. Howard Fast, author of “Citizen Tom Paine,” addressing high school students, June 1943. United Nations flags are on the stage during United Nations week. Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.
Howard Fast by Gerald Sorin

Who was the first chief news writer  for U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA), hidden for decades from history, who after leaving VOA and joining the Communist Party USA received the Stalin International Peace Prize worth over $235,000 in today’s dollars? Very few people know that the person who was in effect the first or one of the first Voice of America newsroom directors was a Communist sympathizer and later a Communist Party member. While at VOA, he defended Stalin and refused to believe that the Soviet leader was a mass murderer. When he received the Stalin Peace Prize, he was one of the best known Communists in America. He was later in a group of American Communists who cried when they read Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 speech describing Stalin’s crimes, but he would neither repudiate nor return his Soviet prize. He never expressed any regrets about anything he wrote for VOA and until his death defended his support of Communism, Stalin and Soviet Russia as historically necessary. 9

His granddaughter, Molly Jong-Fast (daughter of feminist writer Erica Jong of the Fear of Flying fame) recalled that the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a fellow Communist, wrote a poem about her famous grandfather, with a line, You who are jailed. I embrace you, my comrade…. 10 In the period of McCarthyite hysteria and paranoia, he was briefly jailed, but not for anything related to his much earlier work at the Voice of America. He had refused to disclose the names of members in a pro-Soviet front organization.

Voice of America Master Control Room and transmitters circa 1967.

Most Americans who are concerned about Russia and the influence of its propaganda on U.S. politics have never heard of him. Despite his once considerable fame and his key role as a pioneer Voice of America news writer, today’s VOA is silent about him. He was a best-selling American author, a contributor to a number of popular Hollywood movies, including Spartacus which was based on his novel, and a reporter for The Daily Worker, the main newspaper of the Communist Party USA.

The approaching 15th anniversary (March 12) of the death of a prolific writer (Near the end of his life, he had claimed to have written 75 books.) and VOA’s most famous Communist is likely to be completely ignored despite his great impact on the journalism of its early news programs. As a successful author of the best-selling historical novel Citizen Tom Paine, which received a front-page place in The New York Times Book Review, in 1942 he was put in charge of writing a 15-minute daily newscast for the premier four-hour Voice of America radio broadcast to Europe, referred to as “American BBC” because it was rebroadcast by medium wave on transmitters leased from the BBC and was translated into multiple languages except Russian.

The omission of Russian from early VOA broadcasts was not due to any lack of love for the Soviet Union and admiration for Stalin among its staff. Despite having dozens of other foreign language services, the Voice of America did not broadcast in Russian until 1947 because pro-Soviet U.S. government officials were afraid that Russian broadcasts might offend the Soviet leader. Not broadcasting in Russian or Ukrainian was a safer option, even though with pro-Soviet Communist sympathizers in charge of writing VOA news, producing radio programs and censoring information unfavorable to Russia, chances of offending Stalin were minimal. The first VOA news director would not have received the Stalin Prize if he had done anything to harm the Soviet leader’s reputation. He earned his Soviet award the old fashioned way by his hard work in promoting what one refugee journalist Julius Epstein who had escaped from Nazi Germany and worked for the Office of War Information called “Love for Stalin.” 11 One of the very few anti-Communists at the Voice of America during the war, as a young student in Austria, Epstein was briefly a member of the Communist Party but quickly became an opponent of Communism and wrote about it both in Europe and later in the United States before joining the U.S. propaganda agency. After the war, he tried to expose to Americans the legacy of Soviet influence over VOA broadcasts and was criticized by VOA and State Department officials as an immigrant troublemaker.

“I do not know of any other case which shows so clearly that the policies of the Voice of America have sometimes exactly the same effect as if they had been designed and carried out by a well-paid Soviet agent than the way the Voice treated Stalin’s cold-blooded murder of 15,000 [the figure known at that time] Polish officers who were massacred on Soviet soil in the spring of 1940. As I already mentioned, the OWI accepted Stalin’s big lies on Katyn (that the Germans had murdered the Polish officers) at face value and disseminated those lies all over the world. When, after the war, a large amount of irrefutable evidence became available, evidence to the effect, that not the Germans but Stalin’s own NKVD had massacred the Poles, in order to get rid of the most valuable future anti-Stalinists in Poland, the Voice of America kept silent.”  12

While still working at the Office of War Information, Julius Epstein had tried to warn his superiors about Communists being in charge of preparing Voice of America broadcasts. His warnings were, however, ignored and he himself was eventually pushed out of his job. For several years, VOA remained firmly in the hands of pro-Soviet propagandists.

Unlike Julius Epstein, the head of VOA news and the future Stalin Peace Prize laureate was a big shot at the wartime U.S. propaganda agency. He was selected for the job because of his earlier literary achievements and excellent writing skills combined with the right ideological outlook. He reported directly to the top management and bragged that “…the entire organization was in a sense my staff.” While he prepared VOA newscasts, he could have anything he wanted just by asking, he wrote in his memoirs and claimed credit for having selected as a joke Yankee Doodle for VOA’s signature tune. To his surprise and amusement, his idea, he claimed, was accepted by the management. His claims, however, should be be taken with a grain of salt. His granddaughter, Molly Jong-Fast, wrote that she was amused when in later years “a foreign news crew would come over and interview Grandpa for some documentary, because we just knew that 65 percent of everything he said was either a major exaggeration or a total fabrication.” 13

The chief VOA news writer during the war saw as his mission defeating Fascism and protecting the the Soviet Union, but he also described it later as a time of great adventure. Being already married, he admitted to having a brief romance at VOA with his “tall, dark, beautiful, and rich” secretary, whom, after the romance was over, he dismissively described as “my Bennington graduate, who couldn’t type.” In a rare display of frankness, he admitted to being arrogant while working at VOA, but excused it as unavoidable because of his “age and background.” 14

He could count on forbearance of the management by being a protégé of another famous early VOA figure, first director and future Oscar-winning actor John Houseman, who, according to a once secret State Department memo, hired his Communist friends to prepare the broadcasts. Despite being a promoter of Soviet propaganda and co-producer of the pioneer fake news radio drama The War of the Worlds, Houseman is still hailed today by VOA as a defender of truthful journalism, his own Communist background and love affair with Stalin completely ignored, but the name of his key assistant has been erased permanently from VOA’s official history and is never mentioned even in whispers. 15 Also hidden in obscurity are now two other early VOA Communists: Polish Desk journalist Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, and Czechoslovak Desk Director Adolf Hoffmeister. Arski was later an anti-U.S. propagandist and denier of Stalin’s crimes for the Communist regime in Warsaw and Hoffmeister was a diplomat for the Czechoslovak regime. 16 The Voice of America has also been silent in recent years about its anti-Communist broadcasters—those journalists, such as the legendary anti-Nazi Polish fighter Zofia Korbońska who in the later years of the Cold War helped to reverse the legacy of pro-Stalin VOA propagandists. 17

For those who may be wondering, I hasten to add that the journalist and Communist Party member for 12 years who in 1942-1943 was in charge of writing first Voice of America news broadcasts to Europe was not Angela Davis who had been an icon of anti-U.S. Soviet propaganda during the Cold War when she was in jail accused and later acquitted of being an accessory to murder. She was featured in two recent VOA programs without being identified as a Communist. VOA editors who either do not know the history of Communism or choose to ignore it, presented her as a praiseworthy American champion of human rights, but since she was born in 1944, she would have been too young to had worked for VOA in its early years. Angela Davis was a member of the Communist Party USA and its candidate for Vice President in U.S. elections in 1980 and 1984. As a proud Marxist even after Stalin’s crimes had become widely known in the West, she had—according to various sources, including Russian Nobel Prize-winning author of The Gulag Archipelgo Alexandr Solzhenitsyn who was censored for a few years by VOA in the 1970s—refused pleas for help for imprisoned Czechoslovak human rights activists and Soviet-Jewish Refuseniks. She was a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1979, not the Stalin Peace Prize, which was the prize that the former first chief writer of VOA news had received in 1953. 18

The pioneer of VOA radio newscasts and author of books which sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the Soviet Union was also not the American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow who is sometimes unjustly credited with helping to create VOA. Murrow would have been of the right age and could have worked at VOA in its early years, but he was not a Communist and was never employed by VOA as a news writer or in any other capacity.

Some Americans might have concluded from reading a recent Washington Post op-ed by the current VOA Director Amanda Bennett that Murrow was somehow strongly connected with VOA and responsible for truthful news reporting from the moment first VOA broadcast went on the air in 1942. Bennett wrote:

“‘Truth is the best propaganda, and lies are the worst,’ said Edward R. Murrow, who helped create VOA.” 19

Murrow, in fact, had nothing to do with the creation of VOA or its news during World War II. First VOA programs were created by extreme left-wing radicals: playwright and President Roosevelt’s speech writer Robert E. Sherwood, pro-Soviet journalist Joseph Barnes, Communist sympathizer John Houseman, and the future receipient of what could now be called “Stalin’s Fools Prize.”

Edward R. Murrow had nothing to do with them. Many years later, he was the United States Information Agency (USIA) director for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. VOA was then part of USIA but had its own presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed VOA directors. The Soviets would have never considered Murrow for either Lenin or Stalin Peace Prize or would they want to publish his books in the Soviet Union.

Edward R. Murrow knew history and was an honest news reporter who would have been appalled by VOA’s WWII pro-Soviet propaganda. He himself had tried to counter Soviet disinformation in his wartime radio reports from London despite the fact that the Soviet Union was at that time America’s important military ally against Hitler, having been earlier Hitler’s ally in starting WWII with the attack on Poland in September 1939. Unlike VOA journalists, Murrow cultivated contacts with democratic governments in exile in London and used their information about Stalin’s atrocities and plans for imposing Soviet-style Communism on Eastern Europe. Their information about Stalin being a mass murderer and about his contempt for all democratic values was absolutely true, but it was rejected out of hand by the wartime Voice of America as “anti-Soviet and anti-Communist propaganda.” The Soviet sympathizer who was the creator and writer of first VOA news bragged about it in his memoir, appropriately titled Being Red.

The Voice of America’s most important World War II first-line journalist, pro-Soviet propagandist and chief news writer in 1942-1943, now almost completely erased from VOA’ history except for his own memoir, a few old interviews, a biography by Gerald Sorin, and previously classified U.S. government documents, was no other than Howard Fast, a best selling author, member of the Communist Party USA from 1943 to 1956, and recipient of the 1953 $25,000 Stalin Peace Prize. Having given him the award which would have been worth over 235,000.00 in today’s dollars, the Soviets had to have been rather pleased with his past journalistic work for the Voice of America and his later reporting  for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker. 20

In his 1953 testimony before a congressional committee, Fast claimed memory lapses and took advantage of imprecise questions to avoid describing his job as the Voice of America chief news writer. He had no problems recalling this information for his Being Red memoir. Gerarld Sorin’s biography of Fast, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane, leaves no doubt that he played a key role in writing news for Voice of America broadcasters, many of whom were Communists.

“Fast wrote concise, dramatic pieces for broadcast, which were read by actors transmitting via BBC into Nazi-dominated Europe. … Eighteen of the twenty-three actors available for narration were Communists. 21 Fast was not just ‘impressed’ by them, he said, but ‘overwhelmed’ by his associates ‘knowledge’ and ‘sensitivity’.” 22

As he continued to write VOA news, Fast had hoped that he would be transferred to North Africa where new medium-wave radio transmitters were being constructed. Once they became operational, his job of writing radio news in New York would be eliminated. He received, however, bad news from new VOA director Louis G. Cowan that the State Department has refused to give him a U.S. passport for travel abroad because it suspected him of having strong Communist Party connections. The same thing happened to John Houseman, which forced him to resign, but Cowan apparently did not want Fast to leave and offered him a job as a writer of propaganda pamphlets. According to Fast, Cowan also told him that the FBI had unmasked several card-carrying Communists on the Hungarian Desk, the German Desk, and the Spanish Desk. Fast was angry, declined the new job offer and resigned to join the Communist Party and to pursue his journalistic and literary career outside of the U.S. government. Louis G. Cowan also held radically leftist views and pro-Soviet propaganda continued in VOA broadcasts under his directorship during the war. On January 21, 1944, he wrote a glowing recommendation letter for Howard Fast, the future recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, in which he stressed that accepting his resignation was “pure compliance with your wish — not at all what we want.”

“…what a fine job you have done for this country, the OWI, and the Radio Bureau [the Voice of America] in particular….Please accept my own sincere thanks and with that the gratitude of an organization and a cause well served. 23

Louis G. Cowan ended his letter to Howard Fast with a note that he was being greateful for his service at the Voice of America, not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of Office of War Information Director Elmer Davis, Overseas Bureau directors Robert E. Sherwood and Joseph Barnes, and former VOA Director John Houseman. Many people at the agency “have been inspired by your sincerity and your achievement,” Cowan added. Josef Stalin had to be also among those pleased with Howard Fast’s performance at the Voice of America.

Long after Howard Fast had left VOA, he became a victim of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt, but the blacklisting by Hollywood film studios, as well as his three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress for refusing to provide names of members of a Communist front organization, were not directly related to his World War II work at the Voice of America. At that time, VOA was only of minor interest to Senator McCarthy. By the early 1950s, real Communists were long gone from VOA and he was chasing ghosts mostly at the State Department. McCarthyism was, however, a shameful episode in American history which claimed many innocent victims. If they did not work as foreign agents, writers and journalists should not have been blacklisted, but Howard Fast’s support for Stalin and Communism at the Voice of America deserved have been more fully investigated and exposed instead of being hidden by VOA officials and friendly journalists.

An appropriate punishment would have been exposure and moral condemnation of Fast and Houseman as a warning to future VOA broadcasters and radio listeners. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Fast’s blacklisting did not last long and he quickly resumed his successful writing and publishing career. Meanwhile, millions of East Europeans, to whom Fast had tried to sell in VOA broadcasts the image of Stalin as a freedom-loving democrat, remained under brutal Soviet rule and a failing socialist economy for several more decades.

Fast eventually left the Communist Party in 1957, one year after Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes, but he remained unapologetic about his promotion of Soviet “news” in VOA’s World War II broadcasts. His memoir Being Red, published in 1990, is a testimony to his journalistic naïveté, profound arrogance and ability to manipulate readers into believing that to fight Fascism one had to become a Communist. For a journalist, he was supremely naive. In a 1998 radio interview, he described how staff members of the Communist Daily Worker cried when they read Khrushchev’s speech for the first time:

“And we heard this speech, and many of us wept. Because we did not know, and would not believe, the truth about the Soviet Union.
We had erected a Socialist state to our beliefs and to our dreams, and this for us was the Soviet Union.” 24

According to Fast, there was no third way between Fascism and Communism, but even while he was still writing news for VOA, American labor unions stopped their collaboration with the Office of War Information over complaints that pro-Soviet Communists were in charge of the VOA programs. The AFL-CIO, which refused to have anything to do with Communist like Howard Fast, was hardly a Fascist organization. 25

Even after leaving the Communist Party, Howard Fast was largely unrepentant and insisted that while at VOA he knew very little about Stalin and the Soviet Union. “We were a party of the United States,” Fast wrote about the Communist Party USA, failing to mention that for decades the Party’s leadership was receiving money from Moscow. In the 1990s, he still showed great pride about his key role as the first chief writer of VOA news, promoter of Russian propaganda via the Soviet Embassy in Washington and censor of “anti-Soviet and anti-Communist” information. It happened to be true information about Stalin’s genocidal crimes, such as the deaths of thousands of children deported with their parents to the Soviet Gulag. Other true news kept out of VOA broadcasts were the brutal executions of thousands of prisoners of war in Soviet captivity. In Being Red, Fast proudly declared that he had kept such information out of VOA broadcasts.

“As for myself, during all my tenure there [VOA] I refused to go into anti-Soviet or anti-Communist propaganda.” 26

Fast also condemned post-war U.S. government efforts to stop further Soviet aggression and to counter Soviet propaganda. These actions included the creation of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) to broadcast uncensored news and commentary to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but Fast wrote that Americans were also being targeted by the U.S. government.

“…starting with the end of World War Two, the American establishment was engaged in a gigantic campaign of anti-Communist hatred and slander, pouring untold millions into this campaign and employing an army of writers and publicists in an effort to reach every brain in America.” 27 

In fact, because of the abuses by the Office of War Information in attempting to spread Soviet propaganda not only abroad through Voice of America broadcasts but also to propagandize directly to Americans, the U.S. Congress passed the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act to restrict distribution of VOA and State Department programs in the United States. The Smith-Mundt Act also imposed much stricter security clearances for Voice of America staff.

Howard Fast was not alone in his selective use of facts to promote Communism and Soviet interests. He had a lot in common with the infamous pro-Soviet New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty who for years while reporting from Moscow hid from Americans the truth about the Stalinist genocide in the Soviet Union. Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize was never revoked. As for Fast, he was quite happy to have received the Stalin Peace Prize.

“The International Committee, headed by [French poet and longtime Communist Party member] Louis Aragon, awarded me the Stalin International Peace Prize. This consisted of a beautiful leather-bound diploma case, a gold medal, and $25,000 [about $235,000 in 2019 dollars], which revered our slide to poverty. …and considering the hundreds of thousands of my books printed in the Soviet Union, for which no royalties had ever been paid, the $25,000 aroused no guilts for undeserved gratuities.” 28

Considering that Howard Fast later received a handsome sum of money from Moscow, the early VOA radio news programs he prepared during the war must have been indeed well received by the Kremlin and by Communists everywhere. They also did tremendous harm to the truth and to millions of listeners to early VOA radio broadcasts. The damage of Soviet propaganda being forced at U.S. taxpayers’ expense by the Voice of America upon millions of wartime and post-war victims of Stalin’s rule over Eastern Europe was officially acknowledged and condemned by a bipartisan committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952, but that rebuke has also become part of the forgotten history. 29

Unsurprisingly, Howard Fast’s VOA newscasts were not well received by refugees fleeing Communist repression, including family members of Gulag prisoners lucky enough to be alive and able to listen to VOA broadcasts during the war, mostly those who had escaped from under Nazi and Soviet occupation. Howard Fast had helped to spread Soviet propaganda lies to wives, children and other family members of thousands of military officers and other Polish POWs secretly executed on the orders of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo in the 1940 Katyn Massacre. Anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Yugoslav partisans, democratic French, Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and anybody else who understood the danger of Communism and Soviet totalitarianism would have been equally appalled by Fast’s promotion of Stalin in VOA broadcasts as a friend of democracy and a guarantor of peace and progress. Even after Howard Fast was gone from VOA, its broadcasts continued to reflect Soviet propaganda. A Polish journalist and radio broadcaster Czesław Straszewicz who was in London during the 1944 anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising recalled in 1953 in an article published in Paris:

“With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the [1944] Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.” 30

The ideological blindness and journalistic shortcomings of early VOA officials and broadcasters were profoundly dangerous. Supreme Allied Commander and later U.S. President General Dwight D. Eisenhower accused them of “insubordination” for endangering the lives of American soldiers with their pro-Communist and pro-Soviet propaganda. 31 Both Howard Fast and his patron, first VOA Director John Houseman, himself a Communist sympathizer who hired Communists for key VOA broadcasting positions, eventually were forced to resign quietly from their Voice of America jobs under pressure from the FBI, the U.S. Army Intelligence and the State Department, but other Communists and Soviet sympathizers remained in charge of VOA and VOA news for several more years. A Slovak source told the CIA after the war that VOA’s pro-Soviet propaganda may have caused the death of some people in Czechoslovakia who chose to return from the West believing after listening to VOA broadcasts that they will not be harmed by the Communist regime. 32It was not until a few years after the war, when the Voice of America came under renewed bipartisan criticism from the U.S. Congress, that personnel and management reforms were initiated to change its programming. These reforms eventually turned VOA into a somewhat effective tool in exposing Soviet and communist propaganda in the later years of the Cold War. 

It is both possible and highly desirable for the United States to communicate effectively with the world through various forms of media outreach and public diplomacy, but to avoid the repetition of the same past mistakes, the true history of the Voice of America deserves to be much better known to more individuals in key U.S. government positions.

Current VOA managers and reporters, and anyone else working for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), should read Howard Fast’s memoir and the State Department’s previously classified World War II memos calling for the removal U.S. government officials and journalists suspected of promoting Russia’s interests when they came in conflict with America’s interests and values. This would also be a useful reading for the State Department’s Public Diplomacy and Global Engagement Center staff and anyone else looking at VOA’s current program content to Russia, China and Iran amid concerns that it has been corrupted by hostile propaganda and pressure from foreign regimes. 33

The enslavement by Stalin’s Russia of millions of people at the end of World War II proved that concealing the truth in the battle for the truth, and lying about it, can lead to disastrous results.



                               U.S. Senate,
    Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
                 of the Committee on Government Operations,
                                                      New York, NY.
    The subcommittee met, pursuant to Senate Resolution 40, 
agreed to January 30, 1953 at 10:30 a.m., in room 2804, U.S. 
Court House Building, Foley Square, New York City, Senator 
Joseph R. McCarthy, chairman, presiding.
    Present: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican, Wisconsin; 
Senator Henry M. Jackson, Democrat, Washington; Senator Stuart 
Symington, Democrat, Missouri.
    Present also: Roy Cohn, chief counsel; Donald Surine, 
assistant counsel; David Schine, chief consultant; Henry 
Hawkins; Julius W. Cahn, counsel, Subcommittee Studying Foreign 
Information Program of the Senate Committee on Foreign 


    Mr. Fast. Howard M. Fast.
    Mr. Cohn. And your address?
    Mr. Fast. 43 West 94th, New York.
    Mr. Cohn. And what is your occupation?
    Mr. Fast. A writer.
    Mr. Cohn. You are a writer. Are you the author of Citizen 
Tom Paine among other works?
    Mr. Fast. I am.
    Mr. Cohn. Mr. Fast, are you now or have you ever been a 
member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I must refuse to answer that question, claiming 
my rights and protection under the First and Fifth Amendments 
to the Constitution of the United States.\9\
    \9\ In his memoirs, The Naked God: the Writer and the Communist 
Party (New York: Praeger, 1957), and Being Red (Boston: Houghton 
Mifflin, 1990), Fast wrote that he had joined the Communist party in 
1943 or 1944 and resigned from the party in 1956.
    Mr. Cohn. Are you now a member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I refuse to answer that question for the same 
reasons I stated before.
    Mr. Cohn. When did you write Citizen Tom Paine, Mr. Fast?
    Mr. Fast. When did I write it? Or when was it published?
    Mr. Cohn. I am sorry. When was it published? That is the 
date I want.
    Mr. Fast. It was published, I believe, in April of 1943.
    Mr. Cohn. And at the time it was published, were you a 
member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I must refuse to answer that question also on the 
basis of the rights guaranteed to me by the First and Fifth 
Amendments to the Constitution.
    Mr. Cohn. During the period of time you were writing the 
book, while you were preparing the material and writing the 
book, were you a member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I refuse to answer that question, for the same 
reasons I stated before.
    The Chairman. Just so the record will be clear and that all 
the members and the staff understand, it should appear that the 
section of the Constitution to which the witness refers is the 
section which gives him the right to refuse to answer if he 
feels his answer may incriminate him.
    Mr. Cohn. Now, are you the author of any other books?
    Mr. Fast. Yes.
    Mr. Cohn. How many, Mr. Fast?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t know offhand.
    Mr. Cohn. Would you give us an approximation, please?
    Mr. Fast. I will name those of the books I can remember.
    Mr. Cohn. Would you do that?
    Mr. Fast. Place in the City, Conceived in Liberty, The Last 
Frontier, The Unvanquished, Citizen Tom Paine, Freedom Road, 
The American, Patrick Henry and The Frigate’s Keel.
    Do you want me to try to go through all of them?
    Mr. Cohn. Just continue on.
    The Chairman. As many as you can remember.
    Mr. Fast. Clarkton, The Children.
    The Chairman. Well, those are the ones you recall?
    Mr. Fast. My Glorious Brothers, The Proud and the Free, 
Spartacus. And that isn’t the end of it.
    Mr. Cohn. Mr. Fast. I would like to ask you the same 
question addressed to each one of these books which you have 
    At the time you wrote each one of these books, were you a 
member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I would refuse to answer that question on the 
same grounds that I stated before.
    Mr. Cohn. Would you refuse to answer that as to each and 
every one of those books enumerated, as well as to any other 
book you have written?
    Mr. Fast. Let me make my position plain. I will claim this 
privilege guaranteed to me under the Fifth and the First 
Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. In terms 
of any question which makes reference to the Communist party or 
organizations or periodicals cited in, let us say, the House 
Committee on Un-American Activities’ list of so-called 
subversive organizations.
    Mr. Cohn. Do you know a man by the name of Bradley Connors, 
    Mr. Fast. I don’t recollect the name.
    Mr. Cohn. I see. Do you know anybody currently employed in 
the State Department having any connection with policy?
    Mr. Fast. Do you mean have I met anyone? You see, this is 
such a broad question, and I don’t want to risk any chance of 
answering it incorrectly.
    Offhand, I can’t think of anyone I know who is employed in 
the State Department, policy-wise or otherwise.
    Mr. Cohn. Very well. Now, my next question is: Have you 
ever been convicted of a crime?
    [Witness consults with counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. Do you include a misdemeanor as a crime?
    Mr. Cohn. I would include a misdemeanor as a crime.
    Mr. Fast. I have, yes.
    Mr. Cohn. And what was it, and when?
    Mr. Fast. I was convicted of contempt of Congress in the 
federal court in Washington–when? My lawyer probably remembers 
the date better than I do.
    Mr. Cohn. And about when was that?
    Mr. Fast. I believe it was 1947.
    Mr. Wolf. I think so. I am not sure.
    Mr. Fast. Possibly about May of 1947.
    Mr. Cohn. What sentence did you receive?
    Mr. Fast. Three months and a fine.
    Mr. Cohn. Did you serve that term in jail?
    Mr. Fast. Yes.
    Mr. Cohn. Have you ever been arrested for any crime?
    The Chairman. Any other besides the one you mentioned.
    Mr. Fast. Well, arrest. Arrest in that sense? I don’t think 
    Mr. Cohn. In any sense, have you ever been arrested?
    The Chairman. Either arrested or convicted.
    Mr. Fast. I have been brought in on one occasion by an 
officer, for crossing a white line in Briarcliff.
    The Chairman. You could not know of any other crime of 
which you were convicted?
    Mr. Fast. I was never on trial at any other occasion that I 
can remember.
    The Chairman. Have you ever been consulted by anyone in the 
Voice of America?
    Mr. Fast. Now, I want to clarify this: You see, I know from 
the papers that this is a hearing on the Voice of America. I 
read that. When you say, “The Voice of America,” what do you 
    The Chairman. Well, we mean just that, the Voice of 
America. Let us make it broader. Have you ever been consulted 
by anyone in regard to any of our government information 
programs, regardless of whether it is the Voice of America or 
any other government information program?
    Mr. Fast. Consulted by someone?
    The Chairman. Yes.
    Mr. Fast. Yes, I have.
    The Chairman. Who have you consulted with?
    Mr. Fast. When you use the term “consulted,” I presume 
you mean discussed this question with me?
    The Chairman. Yes, using it in its broadest sense, any 
discussion you have had with any of the people over in any of 
the information programs.
    Mr. Fast. Various people who were a part of the Office of 
War Information, overseas radio division.
    The Chairman. Will you name some of them? Name all those 
you can remember.
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. Before I do that, I want to just clarify my 
position there. I worked in the Office of War Information.
    The Chairman. How long did you work in the OWI?
    Mr. Fast. I worked there, I believe, from November of 1942, 
from about November of ’42, to about November of ’43. That is a 
long time ago. My memory isn’t too certain on that. But I 
believe about then.
    The Chairman. In other words, about a year?
    Mr. Fast. About a year.
    The Chairman. And I assume your answer would be the same as 
it was previously, but I will ask you the question anyway.
    At the time you were working in the OWI, were you a member 
of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I would have to refuse to answer that question 
for the reasons previously given.
    The Chairman. Who hired you in the OWI? Who recruited you?
    Mr. Fast. What do you mean “recruited”?
    The Chairman. Well, would you just give us a description of 
how you happened to get the job in OWI?
    Mr. Fast. I want to again preface my remarks by saying this 
is ten years ago, and I am not too clear. It is over ten years 
ago, and my memory would play false with me. But as I remember 
it, I was at that time living in Sleepy Hollow, New York, with 
my wife, the same one I am married to now, and I received my 
draft notification, and this gave my wife and myself reason to 
believe I would be drafted within the next couple of months. So 
we closed up our house in the country and moved into town. And 
I knew some people then who were working at the Office of War 
Information, and I dropped up to see them, and I said—-
    Senator Jackson. Whom did you know?
    Mr. Fast. Let me finish this, and I will go to that–to 
fill in this interim period, I would like to do some work with 
the Office of War Information, and, “How do I go about 
applying?” And I think I was told how I go about applying, and 
I simply applied. This, I think-I am very unclear about it 
because it was so long ago.
    The Chairman. Mr. Jackson asked the question: Whom did you 
know there and whom did you consult?
    Mr. Fast. Excuse me.
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. You want to know who I knew before—-
    The Chairman. Yes. You told us a minute ago that after your 
draft notice came through, you knew some people in the OWI, and 
you went to see them and discussed with them the possibility of 
getting in the OWI. The question Mr. Jackson asked was: Who 
were those people?
    Mr. Fast. Again, I must preface this by saying my memory is 
unclear, due to the length of time.
    I believe I knew, or lese I knew by reputation, and he knew 
me by reputation, Jerome Weidman, the writer. Most likely by 
reputation. I don’t know whether I had ever met him before, as 
I remember it.
    The Chairman. Jerome Weidman was holding what position in 
the OWI?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t know, because this area of the Office of 
War Information into which I was brought to work, I remained in 
only a very short time, possibly only three weeks, and then I 
was transferred to the overseas radio division.
    The Chairman. You said he knew you by reputation. At that 
time, did you have a reputation as a Communist writer?
    Mr. Fast. I must refuse to answer that, too, on the same 
grounds stated before.
    But another point: Aren’t you asking me what another person 
    The Chairman. You said he knew you by your reputation. I 
want to know what that reputation was. Was that your reputation 
as a Communist writer? And I am going to direct you to answer 
that question.
    You understand, Mr. Fast, that we are not asking you to 
pass upon whether that reputation was an earned reputation or 
not. Many people have a reputation which they do not deserve.
    The question is: What was the reputation?
    Mr. Fast. You are asking me an exceedingly ambiguous 
question. You are asking me what my reputation was and I could 
not poll a reputation. In so far as I was aware of it at the 
time, my reputation—-
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast [continuing]. My reputation was such as to cause 
me now, when I refer to it, not to mean certainly my reputation 
as a Communist writer. In other words, when I refer to my 
reputation, that Weidman knew me by, I was not referring to a 
reputation as a Communist writer.
    The Chairman. I am not asking you at this time whether you 
were a member of the Communist party, but were you generally 
considered, in the writing field, in other words, did you have 
the reputation at that time, of being a Communist writer?
    Mr. Fast. I think you would be more suited to answer that 
question than I would, don’t you?
    The Chairman. Except that I am not under oath and not on 
the witness stand.
    Mr. Wolf. That is an advantage sometimes.
    Mr. Fast. I really can’t say. I just don’t know. I couldn’t 
say under oath, with any sense of clarity, what my reputation 
was eleven years ago. It was a reputation–I will say this–it 
was a reputation which was spelled out by Time magazine when 
they reviewed my book, The Unvanquished, and said that The 
Unvanquished was one of the finest American sagas to come out 
at the beginning of the war. Conceived in Liberty was reviewed 
everywhere throughout the country.
    The Chairman. Let us stick to this—-
    Mr. Fast. I am talking about reputation. Just a word or two 
more, and I will try and establish a little reputation.
    The Chairman. You may have a perfect right to answer every 
question in the way you think you should answer, but as we hit 
a certain point I may want to question you about it. Now, who 
reviewed the book for Time magazine?
    Mr. Fast. I have no idea. I don’t remember. But you can 
find in the files of Time magazine the review I referred to.
    No, not Time magazine. News Week magazine; I am sorry. Make 
that correction.
    The Chairman. I understand your answer to be that you do 
not know whether your reputation at that time was as a 
Communist writer. Either you do or you do not know that you had 
such a reputation.
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. As far as I know, that was not my reputation.
    The Chairman. Did you know that Jerome Weidman was a member 
of the Communist party at that time?
    Mr. Fast. I would have to refuse to answer that question, 
for the reasons stated before.
    The Chairman. Who were these other people that you said you 
knew in OWI at that time?
    Mr. Fast. You see, it is very hard for me to separate those 
I knew then from those I came to know in the later period. I 
was not acquainted with any considerable number. There must 
have been one or two others besides Weidman.
    The Chairman. I am not trying to pin you down to anything 
you cannot remember, Mr. Fast. I know that, as you say, it is 
difficult to say at this time who you knew ten years ago and 
who you might have gotten to know eight years ago. But in 
answer to a previous question, you said you knew some people at 
OWI at that time that you went to them and consulted with them.
    Mr. Fast. I went up to OWI itself. I went up to this 
    The Chairman. Outside of this man Weidman, who else did you 
consult with?
    Mr. Fast. You see, I couldn’t swear to that. At that time, 
when I went up to their office, I couldn’t swear whether I 
spoke to a man called Ted Patrick, who I believe was the head 
of this particular publications department. But as I say, it is 
vague, because I remained a very short time in this department, 
and my knowledge of the department is far vaguer than my 
knowledge of the department I—-
    The Chairman. Did you know Owen Lattimore?
    Mr. Fast. To my recollection, as far as I can recollect, I 
don’t think I ever met him; although it may be that I have, 
because I met many people at that time, and it did not leave a 
very lasting recollection.
    The Chairman. In other words, as well as you can recollect, 
you have never met Owen Lattimore?
    Mr. Fast. As well as I can recollect. It may be I was 
casually introduced to him as I passed through that office, but 
it doesn’t stand out very strongly in my recollection.
    The Chairman. Did you review any of his books and/or did he 
ever review any of your books?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t think I ever reviewed any books of his. I 
say, “I don’t think,” because in a long career, I have 
reviewed a great many books. And I also don’t think he ever 
reviewed a book of mine.
    The Chairman. Is it correct that in the writing field it is 
the accepted practice for one Communist to review the writings 
of another, and he in turn will review the writings of the men 
who review his book? Do you follow my question?
    In other words, let us say that you and I are both 
Communists, and we are writers. Is it the accepted practice 
that I would be reviewing your books and you in turn would be 
reviewing mine?
    Mr. Fast. I think I would attempt to invoke the privilege 
of the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer that question.
    The Chairman. Do you know which of your books were 
purchased by any branch of the government?
    Mr. Fast. This is also a complicated question to try to 
answer. Why don’t you make your question specific? It is a very 
general question, as it now stands.
    The Chairman. Well, do you know of any of your books that 
were purchased by any branch of the government? That is what I 
want to know.
    Mr. Fast. Well, you see, the reason I am slow to answer 
that is this: that according to my knowledge of my books—-
    The Chairman. If you have difficulty with that question, 
you can tell we why, and I will try to simplify it.
    Mr. Fast. What is that?
    The Chairman. I say if you have difficulty with that 
question, tell me why and I will try to simplify it.
    Mr. Fast. Well, there was the Armed Service Books Project. 
You may remember the books they had overseas with the two 
columns of type in them. I could not say now whether these 
books were published by the government or a private agency. It 
may have been a semi-official agency of the government. They 
were distributed through the army. Of those books, the armed 
service editions, the following of my books I believe became a 
part of the series: The Unvanquished my novel about George 
Washington, Patrick Henry and the Frigate’s Keel, and Freedom 
Road. I believe those three books, although, again, it has been 
so many years since I have looked at this.
    Now, there was another project—-
    The Chairman. You think those were the only three purchased 
by the armed services?
    Mr. Fast. Printed in their editions. I think so.
    Now, there was another project which the State Department 
engaged in more directly.
    Mr. Wolf. If I may clarify one thing, Senator, with regard 
to the previous question there may have been a 
misunderstanding. You mentioned something about “purchased by 
the armed services.” I think Mr. Fast made it clear that none 
of them were put out by the armed services.
    The Chairman. It was an armed services project. I 
understand your answer, Mr. Fast, to be that you do not know 
who purchased the books, who put them out. You do know this was 
an armed services project?
    Mr. Fast. This was a big reprint operation, which you 
probably know more about than I do. At the time I knew little 
about it, and now it is vague. They put out millions of books, 
as I remember.
    The Chairman. Then, going on to the State Department 
    Mr. Fast. Yes, on this State Department project–now, I 
recollect clearly the size and appearance of the books, but I 
don’t know too much about them at this date. The State 
Department took certain books of mine, possibly only Citizen 
Tom Paine, and reprinted them in many languages. I am not 
certain of the purpose; perhaps to stock libraries with.
    The Chairman. Do you remember, roughly, the date of this?
    Mr. Fast. I couldn’t guess. I would say maybe ’44 or ’45, 
but that is just the roughest kind of a guess.
    The Chairman. When did you write Citizen Tom Paine?
    Mr. Fast. Citizen Tom Paine was published, as I said 
before, in April of 1943.
    The Chairman. Was it 1944 or 1945 that the State Department 
reprinted a very sizable number of copies of that book and sent 
them throughout the world?
    Mr. Fast. Whether there was a sizable number, I don’t know. 
I have no recollection about any of the details of the 
reprinting of that book.
    The Chairman. You do know they translated it into many 
different languages?
    Mr. Fast. Yes, I know that, because I have in my files at 
home I believe Italian and French editions.
    The Chairman. And what income did you get from that 
    Mr. Fast. I have no recollection of that.
    The Chairman. How much money would you say you received 
either directly or indirectly, from the government, any 
government agency or any semi-official government agency, over 
the past ten years?
    Mr. Fast. That would be very difficult for me to say.
    The Chairman. Give us a rough guess, if you can.
    Mr. Fast. Well, if I worked a year at the Office of War 
Information–I believe my pay there was somewhere around eight 
thousand dollars a year, although I couldn’t swear to it.
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. I would guess that the total money received over 
the period you remarked about would be somewhere in the 
neighborhood of nine or ten thousand dollars.
    The Chairman. In other words, a thousand or two thousand 
dollars besides your salary?
    Mr. Fast. Now, wait a minute. I must amend that. I don’t 
know. I have no recollection of how much money I was paid from 
these books. Whether that money came from the State Department, 
I don’t know. This might change it somewhat. I also don’t know 
how much I was paid for the armed services editions, and 
whether that could be included as a part of the answer to such 
question, whether it was a private agency or a government 
    The Chairman. In other words, if you exclude the books that 
the State Department put out, and exclude the books put out 
under this armed services project, you had an income of about a 
thousand dollars or two thousand dollars from other government 
sources, other than your salary?
    Mr. Fast. I think so.
    The Chairman. Will you give us the source of that thousand 
or two thousand?
    Mr. Fast. You know, I am estimating very roughly when it 
comes to figures, because I could not check these. I worked 
during the war on a special project for the Signal Corps.
    The Chairman. Classified, was it?
    Mr. Fast. What do you mean by “classified”?
    The Chairman. Listed as either secret, confidential, or 
    Mr. Fast. I don’t think so. It consisted of preparing for 
them a script of a film which would portray certain scenes from 
the landing of the Pilgrims to modern America, in terms of a 
historical survey of the United States.
    The Chairman. Did you do any work for the Voice of America?
    Mr. Fast. You mean the OWI?
    The Chairman. No, the Voice of America, the VOA?
    Mr. Fast. I can’t seem to remember any. I can’t seem to 
remember any project after resigning from the Office of War 
Information that I did for the Voice of America.
    The Chairman. Did the Voice of America discuss with you the 
possibility of using your book, Citizen Tom Paine?
    Mr. Fast. They might have. You see, my books were used in 
so many ways at that time. I don’t really remember all of it. 
For instance, The Unvanquished was put on records, read by 
Eleanor Roosevelt, for the blind. My books or forms of my book 
s or dramatizations of my books were made in Europe, records 
were made of them, all sorts of things, because they suited a 
need at the time. So I just couldn’t keep track of them and 
wouldn’t know.
    The Chairman. Were you a social acquaintance of Eleanor 
    Mr. Fast. I wouldn’t say that, no. That would be unfair. I 
met her only once, I believe.
    The Chairman. You met her only once?
    Mr. Fast. I believe so.
    The Chairman. Roughly when was that?
    Mr. Fast. I believe I met her in 1940.
    The Chairman. Was that at the time she was considering 
putting out her book?
    Mr. Fast. What book?
    The Chairman. The one you just mentioned.
    Mr. Fast. I don’t know.
    The Chairman. You see, I do not happen to be a reader of 
your books, so when you name them, I have difficulty.
    Mr. Wolf. You missed something good.
    Mr. Fast. If you are interested in the history of the 
United States, it might be important to read them.
    The Chairman. The question was: Did you see her at the time 
she was considering this?
    Mr. Fast. No, this project on The Unvanquished was done by 
one of these Institutes for Blind people, and I think she was 
simply gracious enough to offer her services free of charge to 
read the book aloud.
    The Chairman. What was the occasion of your meeting with 
Mrs. Roosevelt?
    [Mr. Fast confers with his counsel.]
    Mr. Fast. I was along with a number of other people invited 
to the White House for lunch in late 1944.
    The Chairman. Who were the other people?
    Mr. Fast. Oh, I don’t remember. There were a great many 
people there.
    The Chairman. Do you remember any of them?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t know if I can certainly say I do remember 
any who were there. There were a number of people, but it is so 
long ago that I can’t say so-and-so was there. My wife was with 
    The Chairman. Do you remember whether any of the others 
were members of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I would have to refuse to answer that question 
too, for the reasons given before.
    The Chairman. Was Joe Lash at that party?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t know.
    The Chairman. Do you know anyone in the State Department 
today who is a member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I would have to refuse to answer that question 
for the reasons given before.
    The Chairman. Do you know anyone in the Voice of America 
who is, as of today, a member of the Communist party?
    Mr. Fast. I would have to refuse to answer that question 
also for the reasons stated before.
    The Chairman. You started telling me of the projects in 
which you received money from the government other than your 
service in the OWI. I believe I interrupted you with some other 
questions. Will you proceed with your answer to that?
    Mr. Fast. I think I mentioned the Signal Corps project.
    Now, you raise the question of the use of Citizen Tom 
Paine, and it strikes a vaguely familiar note, but I just 
couldn’t say “yes” or “no.” I might have received payment 
from the government for various use made of various material in 
my books. I cannot at this date specify or recall exactly.
    The Chairman. Would your books show that money you received 
from the government?
    Mr. Fast. My own books?
    The Chairman. Yes.
    Mr. Fast. Oh, yes. Yes.
    The Chairman. You will be ordered to produce those books, 
and we will give you sufficient time to do it.
    Mr. Fast. Over what years?
    The Chairman. What years would you suggest, Mr. Counsel?
    Mr. Cohn. Well, when did you go with OWI?
    The Chairman. Let us make it since 1940.
    Mr. Fast. Now, as far as OWI is concerned, I don’t know 
whether that money—-
    The Chairman. You will be ordered to produce the books.
    Mr. Cohn. I think 1940 would be a good date.
    The Chairman. From and including 1940 down to date.
    Mr. Wolf. I will note a protest to this proceeding. I want 
that on record.
    The Chairman. I would be glad to hear you on this.
    Mr. Fast. I must state here I do not know how far back my 
books go.
    Mr. Wolf. Unless there is some indication of the relevance 
of the books to the inquiry, the purpose of which is not yet 
stated on the record, as far as this particular hearing is 
concerned–first, with regard to the relevance, I have no way 
of telling whether this inquiry for what is, in effect, a 
blanket subpoena is within the realm of proper inquiry of the 
committee. I notice that the committee is not asking for those 
books of Mr. Fast which deal with income received from the 
government, but is asking for all his books and records for a 
period of some twelve years.
    The Chairman. May I say to counsel that I think you are 
correct that there is no right for the committee to get these 
books other than the books which show income from the 
government or from some semi-official agency or from some 
working in the government, and those will be the only part of 
your books we will order produced.
    Now, who hired you in OWI? Do you remember?
    Mr. Fast. No, I couldn’t say who hired me originally.
    The Chairman. Do you know who recommended you? Was it this 
fellow, Weidman?
    Mr. Fast. No. I couldn’t even say that with any certainty 
at this time. I know I filled out an application, and I 
received a letter subsequently saying they were happy to have 
me come and work for them.
    The Chairman. Do you know who you gave as reference at that 
    Mr. Fast. No, I don’t recollect.
    The Chairman. Do you have a copy of your application?
    Mr. Fast. I would doubt it. I would doubt that I made a 
copy at the time.
    Mr. Cohn. Do you know Raymond Gram Swing?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t think I do. I am not sure, but I don’t 
think so.
    Mr. Cohn. Do you know Harold Burman?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t recall knowing him.
    Mr. Cohn. Arthur Kaufman?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t recall knowing him.
    Mr. Cohn. Robert Bauer, B-a-u-e-r?
    Mr. Fast. I don’t recall knowing him. I may have met one or 
all of these people casually at one point or another, but their 
names don’t ring a bell.
    Mr. Cohn. Norman Jacobs?
    Mr. Fast. No, I don’t recall knowing him.
    Mr. Cohn. A man named Baxt, B-a-x-t?
    Mr. Fast. No, I don’t recall knowing him.
    Mr. Cohn. Jennings Perry?
    Mr. Fast. No, I don’t recall knowing him.
    Mr. Cohn. I have nothing more at the moment, Mr. Chairman.
    The Chairman. May I say to counsel that if your client 
cares to examine the transcript for typographical errors and 
correct those errors, he may do so. However, this is executive 
session, so we can’t send you the testimony. If you want to go 
over the record, you will have to come down to Washington.
    Mr. Wolf. Yes. If we are informed when they will be ready 
for examination.
    I think there is one other thing that should be stated for 
the record.
    The Chairman. First, let me say the transcript will be 
available Monday and thereafter. I would say that if you want 
to come down and check the record for errors, it should be done 
fairly soon, because the record may go to the printer. I don’t 
know. And after it once goes to the printer, you would be 
unable to make any corrections.
    Mr. Fast, I understand that you desire to make a statement.
    If you make a statement, I would suggest that you make it 
full and tell why you make it.
    Mr. Fast. I wish to make a statement of some of the facts 
surrounding service of the subpoena, and protesting the type of 
service as undignified in terms of this committee, unworthy of 
the government which this committee represents.
    At about ten o’clock my bell rang. I opened the door. There 
was a young man there. He said he had for Howard Fast a highly 
secret communication from “Al.”
    I said, “Al who?”
    He said, “Just from Al. Al said you would know.”
    I said, “Al who? I don’t know any Al.”
    He said, “Al. Are you Mr. Fast?”
    At that point, having no notion that there was a subpoena 
involved, having not been told that he was in any way an 
official, I said, “No.”
    He said, “Well, I will wait for Mr. Fast.”
    I said, “Wait outside.” And I closed the door.
    At about one o’clock in the morning following that, my bell 
rang. I went to the door. A voice said: “I am the assistant 
counsel for the House Committee on” or “for the Senate 
Committee on Operations, and I want to talk with you, Howard.”
    I said, “My name is `Mr. Fast.’ ”
    He said, “Okay, Howard. I just want to have a talk with 
you. Let me in.”
    I said, “I have no need to let you in. You cannot demand 
that I let you in. I don’t know you from Adam. Beat it.”
    He said, “No, I want to talk with you, Howard.”
    I said, “Beat it, or I will call the police.”
    At that point, he left. I called my lawyer. My lawyer 
advised me that legally I am within my rights in refusing to 
open the door at that hour of the morning to someone unless 
this person has a search warrant; whereupon, I went to bed. At 
about 1:30 there was a pounding on the door and a ranging of 
the bell, which woke my children and terrified them in the time 
honored Gestapo methods, and I came down there, and here was 
this offensive character again, and this time for the first 
time he stated that he had a subpoena with him.
    The Chairman. Would you say they were the GPU type tactics 
or NKVD type tactics also?
    Mr. Fast. I have read of these tactics in connection with 
the Gestapo. This is my choice of description, and this action 
I find offensive and unworthy of any arm of the government of 
the United States. I would have accepted service very simply 
and directly the following morning. There was no need to go 
through that procedure.
    The Chairman. We would like to get the complete picture of 
the attempt to service and the entire picture in the record.
    Mr. Cohn. We will do that.
    You said you called your lawyer that night and he gave you 
advice as to your rights; is that right?
    Mr. Fast. Right.
    Mr. Cohn. You called me up yesterday, asking for an 
adjournment of your appearance today?
    Mr. Fast. Yes.
    Mr. Cohn. Didn’t you tell me you had not been able to reach 
your lawyer, that you needed more time, because it was 
Lincoln’s birthday and you couldn’t reach him, and you needed 
an adjournment?
    Mr. Fast. My lawyer was out of town, down in New Jersey at 
his country home.
    Mr. Cohn. Do you deny telling me you couldn’t reach your 
    Mr. Fast. I don’t recollect whether I told you I couldn’t 
reach my lawyer, or my lawyer was out of town, or it was 
Lincoln’s birthday and lawyers were not available.
    Mr. Cohn. The fact was that you had talked to your lawyer 
the night before?
    Mr. Fast. No, I talked to his partner, Martin Popper, at 
his home.
    Mr. Cohn. He is your lawyer, is he not?
    Mr. Fast. He is not my lawyer. Mr. Wolf is my lawyer.
    Mr. Cohn. You have now told us you did consult with a 
lawyer the night before. Isn’t that a fact?
    Mr. Fast. I didn’t consult with a lawyer about a subpoena. 
I didn’t even know there was a subpoena involved.
    Mr. Cohn. Do you deny—-
    Mr. Fast. In fact, when I spoke to Mr. Popper, I said: 
“What do you think it is?” And he said, “I think it is a 
nuisance and nothing else, and if it continues, call the 
police.” I was not told there was a subpoena involved.
    Mr. Cohn. Now, when the gentleman returned to serve you 
with the subpoena, was he accompanied by anyone?
    Mr. Fast. A policeman. That is why I opened the door and 
accepted the subpoena.
    Mr. Cohn. Mr. Chairman, I think other witnesses can bring 
out the rest of the facts connected with the service.
    What time do you say this was, Mr. Fast?
    Mr. Fast. The first call was probably shortly before one 
o’clock in the morning, a few minutes before one, and the 
second time he came back it was about half past one in the 
    Mr. Cohn. You are quite sure of that, about half past one 
in the morning?
    Mr. Fast. I would think so.
    The Chairman. The first contact you had was about ten 
o’clock at night. Is that right?
    Mr. Fast. Yes, but I did not know he had any connection 
with the committee. I told you exactly what he said, in the 
hearing of my wife.
    The Chairman. And you talked through the door?
    Mr. Fast. No, no. I opened the door. People know where I 
am, and I open the door. I just don’t like to open it at one-
thirty in the morning, to someone who is pounding on it.
    The Chairman. I am talking about the ten o’clock meeting. 
Did you open the door then?
    Mr. Fast. Yes.
    The Chairman. And you said you were not Howard Fast?
    Mr. Fast. Yes. Because I was highly suspicious and a little 
nervous and a little frightened. He said he was from Al.
    The Chairman. When he returned and said he was the 
assistant counsel for this committee, did you open the door 
    Mr. Fast. No.
    The Chairman. Did you talk through the door?
    Mr. Fast. Right.
    The Chairman. And I am just rather curious to know why you 
refused to open the door when the assistant counsel for this 
committee said be wanted to talk to you.
    Mr. Fast. Because, as I said to him, I said, “If you have 
anything to say to me, say it during the day. Don’t come at one 
o’clock in the morning and tell me you want to have a 
conversation with me. That is outrageous.”
    The Chairman. Well, he first started to serve the 
    Mr. Fast. He did not state he had a subpoena to serve me 
    The Chairman. Let me ask the chief counsel: Do I understand 
one of your investigators started to serve the subpoena at ten 
at night, and finally by taking a policeman to the home of Mr. 
Fast, he accomplished the service about one thirty in the 
    Mr. Cohn. The times are somewhat wrong, Mr. Chairman.
    There is a long history of attempts to locate Mr. Fast. I 
think we can put that in through other sworn testimony.
    The Chairman. Mr. Fast, you are notified that you are still 
under subpoena, subject to recall.
    Mr. Fast. That states nine o’clock in the morning. It 
states the subpoena was served on me at nine o’clock in the 
morning. I can’t understand why the man did that.
    The Chairman. You are now informed that you are under 
subpoena subject to recall.
    We will notify your attorney when we want you to return. 
When do you want the records produced? I assume it will take 
Mr. Fast some time to get those records. Let me ask you: How 
much time would you consider a reasonable amount of time?
    Mr. Wolf. They are pretty old, you know.
    Mr. Cohn. We need them as soon as we can get them, as the 
Chairman indicated.
    Mr. Fast. What happens if I don’t have complete records?
    Mr. Cohn. That is an issue we can discuss then.
    Mr. Wolf. Would a week or ten days be enough?
    Mr. Fast. I think so. Do I have to appear with the records?
    The Chairman. We can notify your lawyer. I assume so. You 
will have to appear, I assume.
    You told us a few minutes ago that you had very complete 
records, and you indicate now—-
    Mr. Fast. I must make one correction.
    The Chairman. Let me finish, please–that you kept very 
complete records. That is what you said. You indicate now you 
may not have saved some of those records. For that reason we 
want you under oath when you produce the records. We want to 
question you about them.
    We will try in your case, as in the case of every witness, 
to set a date that will not create an undue hardship upon you 
or upon your attorney.
    I would suggest that you be prepared within a week to 
produce the records. We will not set a specific date now, but 
Mr. Cohn will contact your attorney.
    Mr. Cohn. I know his partner, Mr. Popper, from past 
    Mr. Cahn. Mr. Chairman, may I just ask one question, which 
was not quite clarified.
    I believe that counsel or the chairman had previously asked 
you, Mr. Fast, as to any acquaintanceship which you might have 
with individuals who are now or have been participants in the 
Voice of America radio operation or in other phases of the 
government’s information program, and I would like to resume 
that questioning now and ask: Have you within the past year or 
two years had any discussion of any nature with any individual 
whom you knew personally to be an official of the United States 
government or an employee of the government engaged in any 
phase of the information program, radio, press, or films?
    Mr. Fast. That is a very vague question, and I can’t 
possibly answer it certainly. It does not seem to my 
recollection that I have had, but I might have met, on this 
occasion or that occasion, such a person.
    Mr. Cahn. You do not know any individual today to be an 
employee engaged in radio, press, or film work for the United 
States government?
    Mr. Fast. Offhand, I can not think of any.
    The Chairman. Anything further?
    Thank you very much.
    Counsel will be in touch with your attorney.
    Mr. Cohn. The witness remains under subpoena.
    [Whereupon, at 1:15 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.] 34


  1. Howard Fast, Being Red (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), 18-19.
  2. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, The Welles memorandum is also accessible at: 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, Also see: Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 4, 2018,
  3. Epstein, Julius. Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950, A5744-A5745. See: Cold War Radio Museum, ‘Love for Stalin’ at wartime Voice of America, October 6, 2016,
  4. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 19.
  5. Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director,  “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018,
  6. A report of the Working Group on Chinese Influence Activities in the United States, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Center on US-China Relations at Asia Society in New York, October 24, 2018,
  7. American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), U.S. Persian Media Study, October 6, 2017,
  8. Nikolai Rudenskiy, Voice of America Russian Website Evaluation, 2011,
  9. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 330-333.
  10. Molly Jong-Fast, Girl (Maladjusted) (New York: Villard Books, 2006), 23. A writer herself, Jong-Fast pokes fun in her book at her grandfather and other members of her family. She noted that 83-year-old Fast married his secretary. About Neruda’s poem, she wrote: “It is by far Pablo Neruda’s worst poem,” and “Communism does not translate into good poetry.” (Author’s note: It is easy for Western journalists and writers who never had come close to millions of victims of Communism to make fun of it. Fast never admitted that his support in VOA programs for Communism and Soviet influence in Eastern Europe did anyone any harm.)
  11. Cold War Radio Museum, “How a refugee journalist exposed Voice of America censorship of the Katyn Massacre,” April 16, 2018,
  12. Epstein, Julius. “The O.W.I. and the Voice of America,” A reprint from the Polish American Journal, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1952.
  13. Molly Jong-Fast, Girl (Maladjusted), 179.
  14. Howard Fast, Being Red, 15-18.
  15. Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director was a pro-Soviet Communist sympathizer, State Dept. warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum, May 5, 2018,
  16. Ted Lipien, “Stefan Arski: Agent of Communist Collusion at VOA,” Cold War Radio Museum, April 14, 2018,
  17. Ted Lipien, LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot: Zofia Korbonska was underground resister, VOA journalist, The Washington Times, September 1, 2010,
  18. ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN, “Communism: A Legacy of Terror,” AFL-CIO Event, New York City July 9, 1975: 
    “There’s a certain woman here named Angela Davis. I don’t know if you are familiar with her in this country, but in our country, literally for one whole year, we heard of nothing at all except about Angela Davis. There was only Angela Davis in the whole world and she was suffering. We had our ears stuffed with Angela Davis. Little children in school were told to sign petitions in defense of Angela Davis. Little boys and girls, … 9 years old in schools, were asked to do this. Well, they set her free. Although she didn’t have a rough time in this country, she came to recuperate in Soviet resorts. Some Soviet dissidents — but more important, a group of Czech dissidents — addressed an appeal to her: ‘Comrade Davis, you were in prison. You know how unpleasant it is to sit in prison, especially when you consider yourself innocent. You now have such authority. Could you help our Czech prisoners? Could you stand up for those persons in Czechoslovakia who are being persecuted by the state?” Angela Davis answered: ‘They deserve what they get. Let them remain in prison.’ That is the face of communism. That’s the face of communism for you.”
  19. Amanda Bennett, “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018,
  20. For a longer biography of Howard Fast see: John F. Anderies, Howard Fast papers, University of Pennsylvania, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, May 16, 2016,
  21. Fast, Campenni interview, April 16, 1968; Fast on CBS Nightwatch, December 7, 1990.
  22. Gerald Sorin, Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012).
  23. Howard Fast, Being Red, 25.
  24. Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now, April 8, 1998, “Interview with Howard Fast,”
  25.  In 1943, American labor federations, the AFL and CIO, dominated by members of the Democratic Party, broke their collaboration with the Voice of America in producing programs about American labor because VOA broadcasters were communists and the mainstream American labor organizations were opposed to communism. The controversy became public and was described on the floor of the House of Representatives on November 4, 1943 by Rep. Richard B. Wigglesworth (R-Massachusetts) who was later U.S. Ambassador to Canada. “MR.  WIGGLESWORTH. I call as witness in this connection the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. I refer specifically to an article appearing recently in the World-Telegram. The gentleman from New York [Mr FISH] put the article in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, and you will find it in the RECORD of Tuesday, October 12, 1943, I shall not reinsert it, but here is the original of that article. You will notice the headlines. The leading headline is ‘Unions label O. W. I. radio program communism.’ That article very briefly asserts that the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations made a joint protest over 10 months ago to Elmer Davis to the effect that the O. W. I. overseas branch had been regularly broadcasting Communist propaganda in its daily short-wave radio programs. It states further that after months of futile negotiation the A. F. of L. and C. I. O. liquidated their labor short-wave bureau set up to collect nonfactual news to be turned over to O. W. I. as broadcast material.” 
  26. Howard Fast, Being Red, 23.
  27. Howard Fast, Being Red, 27.
  28. Howard Fast, Being Red, 318.
  29. The bipartisan Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, also known as the Madden Committee, said in its final report issued in December 1952: “In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circles a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee added: “For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.” The Madden Committee also said in its final report in 1952: “This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.” A major change in VOA programs occurred, with much more reporting being done on the investigation into the Katyń massacre and other Soviet atrocities, but later some of the censorship returned. Radio Free Europe (RFE), also funded and indirectly managed by the U.S., never resorted to such censorship, and provided full coverage of all communist human rights abuses. See: Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), 10-12. The report is posted on the National Archives website:
  30. Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, 61-62. I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.
  31. Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace 1956-1961 (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1965) 279. Also see: Ted Lipien, “President Eisenhower condemned biased Voice of America officials and reporters,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 5, 2018,
  32. Ted Lipien, “1953 CIA Source: People Died in Czechoslovakia Because of Pro-Communist Propaganda from Voice of America,” Cold War Radio Museum, January 4, 2019,
  33. According to a report of the Working Group on Chinese Influence Activities in the United States prepared by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Center on US-China Relations at Asia Society in New York, “starting in the first decade of the 2000s, the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, and the leadership of VOA’s Mandarin service began an annual meeting to allow embassy officials to voice their opinions about VOA’s content.” See: .The Hoover Institution and Asia Society report also said that “VOA personalities have hosted events at the embassy,” and one of VOA’s TV editors “even publicly pledged his allegiance to China at an embassy event.” The report cited “interview with VOA staff” as a source of this piece of information.

    The American Foreign Policy Council (AFCP) study commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in 2017 found that the Voice of America and Radio Farda within Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), both reporting to the BBG, which was later renamed as the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), practiced substandard journalism, resorted to censorship and repeated Iranian regime propaganda. The study concluded: “This dynamic, on the whole, perpetuated to audiences the appearance of pro-regime propaganda, rather than objective reporting, on the part of both the VOA and Farda.” See:

    Another independent BBG study done in 2011 found that the Voice of America Russian Service website had a “pro-Putin bias.” See:

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Pope John Paul II Shared Highly Negative View of Western Liberalism

Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday at the age of 89 in Moscow, was greatly admired by the late Pope John Paul II. According to Ted Lipien, the author of a recently published book, Wojtyla’s Women, How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church, both men shared a highly negative view of Western liberalism.


Like Solzhenitsyn, John Paul II was also convinced that the East Europeans, who for many decades had been forced to live under an atheistic system, have a much stronger attachment to religion than people in the West. In the mid 1980s, John Paul II published an encyclical, Slavorum apostoli, in which he presented a vision of a unified Europe with the traditional values of the Slavic nations and Eastern Christianity being incorporated into a common, Christian based European culture. In a 1993 interview, John Paul II further elaborated his view that the East Europeans are more willing to accept the idea of God as the “ultimate and absolute” source of human dignity: “The Easterner has realized this, the prisoner in the Gulag realized it, Solzhenitsyn realized it. In the West, man does not see this so clearly. He sees it up to a certain point. His awareness is to a large extent secularized. Not infrequently, he sees religion as something alienating.”


What the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said about the West in his commencement address at Harvard University in June 1978, corresponded closely to Pope John Paul II’s own beliefs, although some of those who are familiar with the conditions of life in pre-communist Russia, the Soviet Union, and in the West may question their reasoning. Solzhenitsyn concluded that “through intense suffering” Russia has achieved “spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” Solzhenitsyn observed further that many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society, and even despise it for not being sufficiently spiritual. According to Solzhenitsyn, “destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space,” and Western societies “appear to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, […] misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.” Solzhenitsyn also complained about too much personal freedom and too much legalism in the West, making an interesting comment in 1978 that “when a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists’ civil rights.” Solzhenitsyn described his remarks about the West as “bitter truth,” but he assured his Harvard audience that he was speaking not as an adversary but as a friend. He concluded that human beings in the West are weakening, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger, although at that time they were still being oppressed by communist regimes. John Paul II also believed that the struggle against Marxist totalitarianism had made Eastern Europe religiously more mature. After Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in the early 1990s from his exile in the United States, he continued to support a religious revival in Russia and remained highly critical of the West. The two men met in October 1993.


Solzhenitsyn’s prediction that the Western way of life was not likely to become the leading model for the rest of the world has been largely ignored by most middle class Russians and Central Europeans. Still, neither Solzhenitsyn nor John Paul II altered their belief that the Western liberal model poses tremendous dangers for the spirituality of people in the East. Asked in 1993 which part of Europe, the East or the West, has more to gain from the proposed reunification, John Paul II expressed fear that Eastern Europe faces a greater danger of losing its identity.


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



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.


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.

Lipien  JPII
Pope John Paul II with Ted Lipien (right) and VOA Director Ken Tomlinson (left) 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 (, a media freedom NGO. He is also a co-founder of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting ( 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.