Cold War Radio Museum Commentary by Ted Lipien In his February 26, 1962 speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America (VOA), President Kennedy discussed the necessity of freedom of information and complete truthfulness of the press, but he also argued that the Voice of America is different from private U.S. news media. He pointed…
August 1, 2019 is the 75 anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, a 63-day unsuccessful operation by the Polish resistance Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) to liberate Warsaw from Nazi German occupation. About 16,000 Polish fighters were killed and between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish civilians died, mostly from mass executions. After the Home Army capitulation in Warsaw, the Germans expelled from the city the entire civilian population. Thousands of the evacuees were sent to Nazi concentration or labor camps. The city was almost completely destroyed during the fighting and after the uprising in a deliberate German action of blowing up buildings.
But in line with Stalin’s negative view of of Polish anti-Nazi fighters who were not pro-Soviet Communists, World War II U.S. Voice of America radio broadcasts largely ignored the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, while most Americans and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who caved in to nearly all of Stalin’s demands, expressed support for the Poles’ fight for freedom. VOA’s early news writers, including future Stalin Peace prize winner, American Communist Howard Fast, did not practice journalism in the style of CBS wartime radio reporter Edward R. Murrow. They followed in the footsteps of Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty who, because of his pro-Soviet and pro-communist bias, shamelessly lied about the starvation and death of millions of people in Ukraine and in other parts of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule.
Some of Soviet sympathizers and Communists were hired by VOA’s first director John Houseman, a future Hollywood Oscar-winning actor. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence quietly forced him to resign in 1943 with the approval from the FDR White House, but many of his Communist hires remained until at least 1945. Some stayed on for a few years longer. Some went back to Eastern Europe to work as propagandists and diplomats for Soviet-dominated communist regimes.
But a different view of early Voice of America radio broadcasts was presented by current VOA director Amanda Bennett in a recent Washington Post op-ed: “Those broadcasts were lifelines to millions. Even more important, however, was the promise made right from the start: ‘The news may be good for us. The news may be bad,’ said announcer William Harlan Hale. ‘But we shall tell you the truth.’” Bennett insisted that Edward R. Murrow helped to create VOA. Based in London and working for CBS, he had absolutely no role and no influence over wartime VOA dominated by admirers of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Unlike early VOA officials and broadcasters, Murrow was not a journalist to be easily fooled by Soviet propaganda. 1
It took Zofia Korbońska, Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), Zdzisław Dziekoński, Jan Grużewski, Wacław Bniński and other VOA Polish Service Cold War era broadcasters and journalists who were former Warsaw Uprising fighters many years to undo the damage done by Soviet agents and sympathizers who had taken control of U.S. international broadcasting during World War II. Another VOA Polish Service broadcaster, my deputy Marek Walicki, witnessed the Warsaw Uprising as a young boy. Eventually, with the help of these journalists, VOA was perceived in Poland as a symbol of America’s commitment to freedom and democracy, but it required a change of staff, a change of management and a new vision for the organization that previously had betrayed American values.
The 1944 Warsaw Uprising was doomed because Stalin halted the Red Army offensive to allow the Germans to kill and crush anti-Communist Poles. As a result of concessions made by Roosevelt to Stalin and the presence on the ground of Red Army troops Poland fell under Soviet domination and communist oppression for nearly five more decades. The early Voice of America did not only betray Warsaw Uprising fighters and Poland, it betrayed more than 80 million people in all the nations which fell under Soviet rule.
During the Cold War, the Voice America eventually redeemed itself and broadcast truthful news behind the Iron Curtain. President Ronald Reagan paid tribute to former anti-Nazi Warsaw Uprising fighters, including those who later worked in the VOA Polish Service. During World War II, however, VOA Polish radio broadcasts prepared by admirers of Stalin and Communism, were filled with Soviet propaganda and hostile toward those who did not want to accept Stalin’s rule. They even largely ignored the Holocaust because Soviet propaganda, which they promoted, focused on the suffering and sacrifices of Soviet soldiers and civilians rather than the plight of Jews or other groups and nationalities. Some of the early OWI journalists, including Stefan Arski, a.k.a. Artur Salman, and Adolf Hofmeister, went to work for communist regimes in East-Central Europe. Before they left, these Soviet sympathizers and agents of influence made the life of a few honest VOA journalists extremely difficult. A VOA Polish Service broadcaster Konstanty Broel Plater resigned in 1944 rather than be forced to read Stalin’s propaganda lies to German-occupied Poland. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who was one of the most liberal members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet, in 1943 sent a secret memo to the White House with a warning that pro-Soviet fellow travelers and Communists employed in the Office of War Information have shown “bitter hostility” even toward “a considerable number of officials in the United States Government who are deemed inconvenient.” 2
This article, originally written in 2015, was updated for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.
- Amanda Bennett, Voice of America Director, “Trump’s ‘worldwide network’ is a great idea. But it already exists.” The Washington Post, November 27, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-worldwide-network-is-a-great-idea-but-it-already-exists/2018/11/27/79b320bc-f269-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html. ↩
- Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles April 6, 1943 memorandum to Marvin H. McIntyre, Secretary to the President with enclosures, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum Website, Box 77, State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944; version date 2013. State – Welles, Sumner, 1943-1944, From Collection: FDR-FDRPSF Departmental Correspondence, Series: Departmental Correspondence, 1933 – 1945 Collection: President’s Secretary’s File (Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration), 1933 – 1945, National Archives Identifier: 16619284. ↩
WWII Voice of America aired Stalin propaganda to cover up his role in Katyn massacre
From deliberate pro-Stalin WWII propaganda to careless “pro-Puntin bias” — Avoiding propaganda pitfalls at Voice of America
By Ted Lipien
Official documents declassified and released by the National Archives since 2012 show that during World War II and for years afterwards, the U.S. Government-run Voice of America external radio station broadcast Soviet propaganda and disinformation to Poland and to other countries throughout the world with the intention of covering up Stalin’s crimes. This was done primarily in the interest of supporting immediate U.S. military and foreign policy wartime goals set by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and other high-ranking U.S. officials. It was a far cry from the promise enunciated in what was later presented as VOA’s first broadcast on February 25, 1942 or about that time. The Voice of America did not adopt its full official name until a few years later but it was the same broadcasting organization, first within the Office of War Information (OWI) and after 1945 within the U.S. State Department (VOA staff was reduced in 1945, but many former OWI broadcasters continued to be employed by the State Department. Sometime in early 1942, a broadcaster announced in the first German U.S. shortwave radio broadcast to Germany: “The news may be good. The news may be bad. But we shall tell you the truth.”
WWII diplomatic dispatches and other accounts prove beyond any doubt that following the wishes of the Roosevelt White House, its own parent agency, the Office of War Information–but largely on their own initiative and through the work of some of its staffers who later joined communist regimes in Eastern Europe–the Voice of America, although it was not yet its official name at the time, was guilty of hiding, censoring, distorting and minimizing news about Stalin’s order to kill Polish military officers and other POWs, estimated to number over 20,000, in in what became known as the 1940 Katyń Forest Massacre near Smolensk and at other locations in the Soviet Union.
Former Voice of America (VOA) director and former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who died recently, told Voice of America two years ago that his most memorable moment at VOA was to visit the Polish Service and help arrange extensive news coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland when the country was still under communist rule during the Cold War. The Pope’s visit to Poland helped the suppressed Solidarity trade union to intensify its peaceful struggle for democracy and eventually resulted in the fall of communism. Father Stefan Filipowicz, a Chicago-based Jesuit priest and former director of the Polish Service at Vatican Radio, provided religious commentary from a VOA studio in Washington during the coverage of the papal visit. Live audio transmission from Poland was provided to VOA by Vatican Radio.
Ken Tomlinson and his wife Rebecca later traveled to Rome with VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien to meet Pope John Paul II who thanked the Voice of America for broadcasting news to his countrymen in Poland under communism.
Thanks to Ken Tomlinson’s support, funding from the Reagan administration and full bipartisan backing in the U.S. Congress, the Polish Service became one of the most successful language services in the history of VOA, with over 70% weekly audience reach in Poland in the late 1980s.
Photograph of President George H.W. Bush and Lech Wałęsa was taken a day before Solidarity leader’s historic speech to the joint session of the United States Congress on November 15, 1989. The historic speech delivered on November 15, 1989 by Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa to the joint session of the United States Congress was broadcast to Poland in a joint…
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