Voice of America’s refusal to call Hamas attackers ‘terrorists’ helps to perpetuate violence | Ted Lipien in The Hill

A clip from raw footage posted by the Voice of America in 2017 without any balance.

VOA’s refusal to call Hamas attackers ‘terrorists’ helps to perpetuate violence | BY TED LIPIEN, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR FOR THE HILL

Here is some background reading for my latest op-ed in The Hill, in which I react to how Voice of America (VOA) senior journalists, editors, and managers, who are federal government employees working under the leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), have been trying to excuse brutal, deliberate murders of Jewish civilians in Israel, including women and children.

I thought I would share my family’s experience of what horrors contempt for human life can produce when journalists, academics, government leaders, and others are confused about what should be the most defended fundamental human values, as some U.S. government-hired journalists working for the Voice of America and their senior leadership in the U.S. Agency for Global Media appear to be in their reporting on the Hamas’ deliberate targeting and murdering of defenseless Jewish civilians.

As a young girl in German-occupied Poland during World War II, my late mother, Helena Maciaszek, had a Jewish friend about her age. One summer day in August 1942, my mother overheard her parents whispering that the Germans were planning to murder hundreds of Jews in their small town of Mszana Dolna. Her parents wanted to warn their closest Jewish neighbors but feared the Gestapo would kill them all, as they almost certainly would if they discovered who gave the warning. My grandparents’ house stood facing the school building, which the Gestapo turned into its command post. Still, my mother, who was then only ten years old, went to her Jewish girlfriend’s house with a message for her parents that the whole family should immediately go into hiding. But it was too late, and there was no safe place to go. The next day, the Germans killed my mother’s friend, her mother and father, and nearly 900 other Jewish men, women, and children. They did not spare pregnant women and infants. Much later, I realized that my mother was deeply traumatized and must have blamed herself for not saving her friend’s life. Sadly, I was too young to remember the Jewish girl’s name.

When I read how the Hamas terrorists deliberately killed the Israeli women and children in their attack on October 7, I immediately thought of my mother, her Jewish girlfriend, and hundreds of other Jews in my hometown. What Hamas did to the Israelis was the same as what the German Gestapo did to my grandparents’ Jewish neighbors.

What I saw following the October 7 Hamas’ slaughter of Jewish civilians was yet another astounding failure of leadership at the U.S. Agency for Global Media #USAGM, which oversees my former employer, the Voice of America #VOA and several other U.S. government-funded broadcasters. I was at one time VOA acting associate director, following a long career as a broadcaster, reporter, editor, and VOA Polish Service chief during the Solidarity trade union’s successful peaceful struggle for democracy, when we more than quadrupled our audience reach in Poland. I was also regional Eurasia marketing director for ten years in Munich and Prague, and VOA Eurasia Division Director in Washington in charge of radio and TV broadcasts to Ukraine and Russia. I also served briefly as president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in a non-political and non-partisan role, December 2020-January 2021.

Voice of America #VOA managers, editors, and journalists—generously and frequently praised by top VOA and USAGM executives, once described as the excellent leadership team—showed their hard work in finding reasons to excuse in VOA programs the murders and the kidnappings of Jewish women and children by Hamas terrorists. This shameful Walter Duranty Pulitzer Prize-winning “you-can’t-make-a-revolution-without-breaking eggs”-journalism that now looks for excuses for Hamas, combined in VOA’s past with deceiving the American public and foreign audiences about Stalin’s crimes against humanity and other Soviet war crimes, has a long history. Its origins can be found during the first years of the U.S. government-funded international broadcaster’s operations, when VOA programs were produced in the Office of War Information (OWI) in New York. During the Second World War, VOA’s “founding fathers,” editors, and journalists likewise tried to excuse and cover up Stalin’s atrocities for ideological reasons. Their naive personal beliefs about communism were influenced by Soviet propaganda to produce Duranty-style journalism. Duranty deliberately lied in his reporting about Stalin’s purges and the forced starvation of Ukrainians in the 1930s. Still, in 2003, the Pulitzer Prize Board, whose then membership reads like Who’s Who in American journalism, government, and academia, refused to take away Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize, insisting that he had not deliberately deceived New York Times readers despite all the evidence to the contrary. He most certainly did and covered up not only Stalin’s crimes but, with other American and British fellow traveler journalists, lied about Welsh reporter Gareth Jones, who reported the truth about the millions of Ukrainians who had died in the Holodomor starvation. 

There was no shortage of Walter Durantys in the early Voice of America. One of these fellow travelers, Dr. Owen Lattimore, who was in charge of VOA’s broadcasts to Asia, wrote in the December 1944 issue of National Geographic magazine a lengthy article about the Kolyma gold mines in Siberia, which he had visited on a trip with FDR’s Vice President Henry Wallace.1 Dr. Lattimore tried to dazzle American readers with his story how the Soviet government provided its “volunteer workers” with “greenhouse vitamins,” when, in fact, the real Kolyma workers were all Gulag slave labor prisoners dying by thousands from starvation, hard work, cold, and unimaginable abuse, in what a Russian dissident writer and a former Gulag prisoner, Varlam Shalamov, described in the second volume, Graphite, of his book, Kolyma Tales, as “Auschwitz without gas ovens.”2

Fellow traveler OWI officials and journalists also largely ignored the Holocaust in World War II Voice of America broadcasts, probably because Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did not care much about Jews.3 He was already planning anti-Semitic purges. “The Voice of America—the United States Government overseas radio broadcasting station founded in 1942—ignored the subject of the Holocaust throughout the Second World War,” historian Holly Cowan Shulman, the daughter of VOA director Louis G. Cowan (1943-1945), wrote in a 1997 article published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. She noted that U.S. government officials in charge of VOA were “either Jewish or philo-Semites,” but the radio station during World War II “said very little about the persecution of the Jews of Europe at all.”4

An American journalist, William Henry Chamberlin, who was the Christian Science Monitor Moscow correspondent from 1922 to 1934 and later in his career became a critic of communism, correctly observed that the OWI officials by their hiring decisions and promotions of ideologically loyal journalists determined the pro-Moscow propaganda line of the U.S. government-sponsored broadcasts. This practice of ensuring ideologically correct activist journalism has also been embraced by the senior management at the U.S. Agency for Global Media and VOA.

Chamberlin wrote:

Again and again, in the years after the war, I have noticed articles critical of American and favorable to Soviet policy, signed by former employees of the OWI. Certainly the obvious concentration of Soviet sympathizers in that key agency suggests grave negligence, if not design, in the matter of personnel selection. 5

Chamberlin also shared a personal experience of his dealings with the New York office of the OWI, where Voice of America broadcasts were produced. He received a request to write a radio program to be broadcast to the Netherlands East Indies about “the successes of Soviet industrialization and collective farming.”6 He thought that the American government should not spend money on promoting “the achievements of a foreign dictatorship,” especially since the topic had nothing to do with the war effort in the Far East.7 “After I made it clear that I would consider it necessary to emphasize the heavy cost of these experiments in suffering and human lives, the offer was dropped.” 8

The OWI official responsible, until the end of 1944, for Voice of America broadcasts to Asia and the Pacific region was Dr. Owen Lattimore. The first VOA chief news writer and editor, until the end of 1943, was a Communist Party activist, Howard Fast, who in 1953 received the Stalin Peace Prize.9

This history has been totally hidden by consecutive management teams at the federal agency in charge of VOA. Several years ago, I have noticed some VOA journalists glorifying violent communist figures, like Che Guevara, providing a platform for American communist Angela Davis as a defender of women’s rights (VOA not mentioning her former Communist Party membership, her refusal to help free imprisoned dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, and her Lenin Peace Prize), and the posting of reports with various excuses for supporters of terrorists, including one of the Boston Marathon bombers. VOA also started to repeat without challenge propaganda from regimes in Iran, Russia, and China.10

Still, I am very proud of my work in charge of the Voice of America Polish Service during the later period of the Cold War when we made every effort to discourage violence and helped to achieve the peaceful end of the Soviet domination and communism in Poland and in rest of East-Central Europe. But I am also ashamed that the Voice of America has once again returned to the Walter Duranty style of deceptive journalism and lack of concern for fundamental human values. You can read more about it in my op-ed in The Hill.

VOA’s refusal to call Hamas attackers ‘terrorists’ helps to perpetuate violence

  1. Curator, “VOA’s Owen Lattimore’s National Geographic Article on ‘Greenhouse Vitamins’ for Soviet Gulag Prisoners,” Cold War Radio Museum, accessed November 12, 2023, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/voas-owen-lattimores-national-geographic-article-on-greenhouse-vitamins-for-soviet-gulag-prisoners/.
  2. Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov, Graphite, 1st ed (New York: Norton, 1981), p. 130. Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales were translated from the Russian by John Glad, the late husband of a former Voice of America Russian Service broadcaster, Larisa Glad. John Glad also participated in some VOA broadcasts to the Soviet Union later in the Cold War period.
  3. Curator, “Why WWII Voice of America Ignored the Holocaust,” Cold War Radio Museum, accessed November 12, 2023, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/why-wwii-voice-of-america-ignored-the-holocaust/.
  4. Holly Cowan Shullman, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I Would Have Remembered’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television 17, no. 1 (March 1997): 91-103, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01439689700260641.
  5. William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade (Carmel: Amagi, Liberty Fund, Inc., 2008), p. 259.
  6. Ibid., p. 258.
  7. Ibid., pp. 258-259.
  8. Ibid., p. 259.
  9. Ted Lipien, “Created 70 Years Ago, Stalin Peace Prize Went in 1953 to Former Voice of America Chief News Writer Howard Fast,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), December 21, 2019, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/created-70-years-ago-today-stalin-peace-prize-went-in-1953-to-former-voice-of-america-chief-news-writer-howard-fast/.
  10. Opinion Contributor Ted Lipien, “Why Are US-Funded Journalists Defending Russia, Iran over the Hamas Massacre?,” The Hill (blog), October 13, 2023, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/4252199-why-are-us-funded-journalists-defending-russia-iran-after-hamass-attacks/.