BBG Watch Commentary
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski who died last week at age 89 showed keen interest in U.S. broadcasting to the Soviet block during the Cold War and was a strong supporter of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL), where he did research as a young scholar, as well as the Voice of America (VOA), where he participated in many radio and television programs, mostly after he left U.S. government service. A fluent Polish speaker, he was often interviewed by VOA’s Polish Service. In the early 2000s, he was also along with Vaclav Havel a member of the International Advisory Board for VOA’s multimedia project New Europe Review which no longer exists.
As a high-level official in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, Dr. Brzezinski was well aware of VOA management’s shortcomings. He considered RFE and RL as more useful tools in promoting human rights and democratic changes in the Soviet block, but he was also pushing for for management reforms to improve VOA. Contrary to conventional belief, censorship of VOA programs, then as well as now, often originated not at the White House or at the State Department but was frequently self-imposed by poorly informed, inexperienced or timid VOA officials and editors.
When in 1978, the Voice of America censored a news report relating to the World War II Soviet execution of thousands of Polish military officers, known as the Katyn Forest massacre, Zbigniew Brzezinski who was then President Carter’s National Security Advisor took behind the scenes actions to make sure such censorship would not happen again.
A reference to Dr. Brzezinski’s inquiries about censorship at the Voice of America can be found in a declassified memo, dated June 21, 1978, from Paul B. Henze who was Dr. Brzezinski’s assistant at the NSC in charge of oversight of U.S. international broadcasting and coordination of U.S. efforts to prevail in the Cold War without an actual war. In the early 1950s, Paul Henze was one of the key advisors at Radio Free Europe. He worked at the CIA before and after his RFE assignment.
THE WHITE HOUSE
June 21, 1978
MEMORANDUM FOR ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI
FROM: Paul B. Henze
SUBJECT: Evening Report
Radios: Found on checking into Jack Anderson column on VOA censorship of Katyn story that it is all too true; at fault is deputy chief of VOA’s Polish desk, said to be a very limited man. Peter Strauss had had twelve protest calls from members of Congress by mid-morning! He has promised investigation and corrective measures. Moynihan is particularly irate. Doubt that you need to get into it directly at this point, but a couple of congressmen should have called you as a result of effort I launched in response to your original request.
Both VOA and RFE/RL had initially only brief reports on Dr. Brzezinski’s death. VOA posted a four-paragraph AP report, while Russia’s RT had a full-length obituary.
For Dr. Brzezinski’s eulogy at a memorial service for Mr. Henze, held on 17 July 2011 in northern Virginia, see: PAUL HENZE (1924-2011).
Also see: Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Speech (in Polish) at Funeral Mass for Zofia Korbonska who was a heroine of the Polish underground resistance against Nazi occupation, participant in the Warsaw Rising of 1944, political activist against Communist rule after World War II, and former Voice of America Polish Service broadcaster.