Voice of America ignores Obama’s statement on Berlin Wall anniversary, U.S. contributions

BBG Watch Commentary

President Barack ObamaNovember 9 marks the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Mismanaged, U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America, in its usual good for government work fashion, ignored President Obama’s Statement on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and in its video report from Berlin on the anniversary failed to mention even in one sentence America’s enormous contribution to the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

These contributions, in addition to the Marshall Plan and NATO, also included radio broadcasts by the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty.

In his written statement, issued yesterday, November 7, and ignored by Voice of America News, President Obama said that the fall of the Berlin Wall “was a testament to the brave service of generations of West Germans, Americans and our fellow allies who stood shoulder to shoulder through a long Cold War.”

A video report on the anniversary, which VOA posted online, did not mention President Obama’s statement as it may have been prepared earlier by a European stringer. But the VOA report failed to mention any U.S. role in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The report made the fall of the Berlin Wall appear as a purely German historical event and focused exclusively on the Germans. In some respects, the report was interesting, but it failed to present a larger historical picture in which the United States played a leading role. If VOA is not going to do this, who will?

This is after all the Voice of America. We’re not saying that VOA needs to boast and focus exclusively on the United States, but in this case it once again failed to live up to the obligations of its Charter.

Another VOA report, “Berlin Wall Anniversary Sparks Look at History,” also failed to mention any U.S. role in contributing to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The report quoted a British historian who claimed that East German leaders had options other than building the wall and could have offered economic reforms and political freedoms. VOA did not challenge the British historian on his assertion which is clearly contradicted by historical evidence of the Soviet Union using military force against its allies when they tried to introduce reforms without Moscow’s approval. It happened in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. May we suggest to VOA that there are well known and highly regarded American historians of the Cold War who could have offered a more believable analysis. We can also think of several other British historians who are better known as experts on the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Yet another VOA report, “Fall of the Berlin Wall Marked End of Cold War,” also does not address American resolve in opposing the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This analysis attributes the fall of the Berlin Wall largely to actions of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev without mentioning President Reagan, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, Solidarity, and U.S. radio broadcasts to the Soviet block.

Gorbachev’s role was indeed important, but he was hardly the only historical figure who deserves credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall. In addition to well known Central and East European and Soviet dissidents, much of the credit also goes to the American people, various U.S. administrations, and U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. The same is true for America’s Western allies. None of this was mentioned in VOA reports about the anniversary.

The VOA report which gave credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall to Gorbachev again quotes the same British historian as saying that “the fall of the Berlin Wall had a very negative psychological impact on Russians, especially the elite. He cites as an example Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

We should all at this point feel sorry for Putin rather than for the millions of victims of the Soviet regime. The British historian told VOA “I think a lot of people felt like him [Putin], shared that experience of humiliation at the loss.” VOA could have asked a comment from Anne Applebaum, an American journalist, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who recently published an op-ed how Putin’s propaganda machine pushes the Russia humiliation narrative without any historical basis to support it. Her book, Gulag: A History (2003), on the Soviet prison system, was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize.

SEE: “The myth of Russian humiliation,” Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post, October 17, 2014.

Thank you Voice of America for promoting Putin’s self-serving myth with the help of a British historian.

The British historian extensively quoted in a VOA report also blamed the fall of the Berlin Wall for the emergence of Islamist terrorism. He again was not challenged on this point by VOA. Some of these assertions are not only incredible, it is also incredible that they are being aired by VOA without any attempt to balance them or to provide a broader historical perspective.

VOA: “The thaw in the Cold War allowed all these strange monsters – and we’re talking about probably Islamist terrorism and various other things – to emerge out of the kind of murk as the ice melted. And I think we’re still dealing with those problems,” said Taylor. “We have a world which is much more open. But in a way, that frozen world controlled fairly rigidly by two power blocs was, as long as you weren’t actually directly on the fault-line, was a safer place to live in. Whereas now anything can happen.”

All East and Central Europeans listening to a Voice of America broadcast or reading it online should at this point start demanding the return of the Soviet Union and empty food shops. The Russians already have Putin, but the Chinese should probably ask for the return of someone like Mao. The Iranians should be happy with what they’ve got. A stable dictatorship is obviously safer than democracy seems to be the message from this VOA report.

Was the period of the Cold War so stable as the British historian told VOA? What about the Korean War and the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of casualties, including tens of thousands of Americans, not to mention millions killed or starved to death in China, Russia, Cambodia, North Korea and in other communist-ruled countries?

As late as 2011, VOA was still capable of producing news reports that offered an in-depth analysis of the fall of the Berlin Wall with experts who knew what they were talking about. The expert being interviewed in this 2011 VOA video report is Gene Mater, a former news director at U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe in Munich.

VOA provided a link on its website to this 2011 video, but in 2014 it could not produce anything of the same depth and quality. VOA could not even report on what President Obama said in his statement. At least he got the historical perspective right and made some good points about Putin. Instead, VOA devoted a lot of time and attention to dubious assertions of a little known British historian without challenging or balancing any of them.

First of all, VOA should have reported on President Obama’s statement. In its reports on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin War, VOA should have mentioned at least in passing America’s strong opposition to Soviet domination of East-Central Europe and actions of several U.S. administrations, from President Truman to President Reagan, to bring about through peaceful means the end of oppressive regimes in the region.

In his statement, President Obama also made references to current Russian military aggression against Ukraine, which VOA should have reported, but did not.

President Obama said in his written statement:

“But as Russia’s actions against Ukraine remind us, we have more work to do to fully realize our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. In Europe and beyond—wherever citizens seek to determine their own destiny—we will be guided by the lessons of Berlin. Walls and oppressive regimes may endure for a time, but in the end they cannot withstand the desire for liberty and human dignity that burns in every human heart.”

Shame on VOA English News for ignoring President Obama’s statement although we understand that the VOA Newsroom is grossly understaffed and mismanaged. The current leadership of the Voice of America is incapable of making VOA operate within the VOA Charter. It also does not seem to know America’s and VOA’s own history.

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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 7, 2014

Statement by the President on the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

On behalf of the American people, I join our German friends and allies in marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like many Americans, I will never forget the scenes of East Berliners courageously taking to the streets, pushing past the guards and tearing down the wall that for so long had separated them from family and friends and the free world. Their triumph that night was a tribute to all those who had lost their lives over the decades trying to escape to freedom. It was a testament to the brave service of generations of West Germans, Americans and our fellow allies who stood shoulder to shoulder through a long Cold War. And it was a reminder that walls of concrete and barbed wire are ultimately no match for the will of ordinary men and women who are determined to live free.

Twenty five years later, we celebrate the progress that was made possible by the events of that November night. A united Germany plays a leading role in Europe and the world, and the United States is proud to count our German friends among our strongest allies. Nations across Central and Eastern Europe stand tall as proud democracies. Europe is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure. But as Russia’s actions against Ukraine remind us, we have more work to do to fully realize our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. In Europe and beyond—wherever citizens seek to determine their own destiny—we will be guided by the lessons of Berlin. Walls and oppressive regimes may endure for a time, but in the end they cannot withstand the desire for liberty and human dignity that burns in every human heart.

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