Former Voice of America (VOA) director Sanford J. Ungar, who served under President Clinton from 1999 to 2001, said in response to a question during a panel discussion on February 3, 2022, organized to commemorate the 80th anniversary of VOA’s first broadcast, that the news about Howard Fast, a World War II VOA chief English news writer and editor receiving the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953, was merely amusing. Ungar implied that asking such a question could be proof of “McCarthyism.” Ungar is now director of The Free Speech Project at Georgetown University. Nicholas J. Cull, Professor of Communication at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, provided a scholarly assessment of Soviet propaganda influence at the Voice of America during the war. “Voice of America: Recognizing 80 Years – and Counting – of Independent Journalism” VOA-originated panel discussion may be viewed in full on YouTube. VOA is part of the $800-million U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
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However, the knowledge of the early collusion between Voice of America and Soviet propagandists merits a close examination, especially considering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2017, the then-Voice of America director Amanda Bennett appeared to question in a Facebook post whether it was a good idea to require the Russian media channel RT to register in the U.S. as a foreign agent. Bennett may become the next CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under President Biden if the U.S. Senate confirms her nomination.
Vladimir Putin’s Russian propagandists are now using the same disinformation tactics against right-wing Western politicians and journalists like FOX’s Tucker Carlson that the Soviet Union once successfully used against left-wing officials and journalists in charge of VOA during World War II and the early years of the Cold War before the Truman administration reformed VOA and fired the remaining Soviet sympathizers. However, Russians are now once again able to confuse poorly informed and naive journalists, both on the left and the right.
To make it perfectly clear, the right-wing politicians and journalists like Tucker Carlson are being duped and used by Russian propagandists, just as much as VOA’s Stalin Peace Prize winner Howard Fast was duped and used by the Soviet propagandists. Fast’s views were also promoted by Soviet propaganda, just as Tucker Carlson’s views are being promoted by Russian propaganda today. The disinformation tactics being used are to get Tucker Carlson to say to the American audience and through the Russian state media to Russian and world audiences what the Kremlin propagandists want him to say, and he is doing exactly that. The same tactics were used against pro-Soviet left-wing propagandists like Howard Fast.
When the Soviet media and the AP reported in 1953 on the Stalin Peace Prize for Howard Fast, they failed to mention his previous work for VOA. Stalin died in March 1953, a few months before Fast was honored with the prize named after the communist dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
After Khrushchev condemned Stalin in 1956, all Stalin Peace Prizes were renamed Lenin Peace Prizes. The wartime VOA pro-Soviet news chief was technically, therefore, the recipient of both, the Stalin Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize.
This historically significant Soviet recognition of a former VOA news editor has never been mentioned before by VOA’s past or current directors. Fast later condemned Stalin and left the Communist Party, but he never expressed any remorse for supporting the Soviet Union, Soviet socialism, and Soviet propaganda. Ukrainians and millions of other victims of Stalin’s crimes and their relatives, many of them living in Ukraine, might disagree that talking now about Howard Fast’s Stalin Peace Prize may merely “amuse” some people.
Furthermore, Fast’s work for the Voice of America has never been analyzed in books written by VOA-friendly scholars and former officials. His name does not appear in publicity materials produced by the management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded federal media outreach entity serving overseas audiences. They probably felt ashamed that President Roosevelt agreed at the Tehran and Yalta wartime conferences to give Stalin essentially a free hand in East-Central Europe, and that in its early years, the Voice of America supported the establishment of Moscow-friendly communist regimes.
The bipartisan U.S. congressional committee investigating the Soviet mass murder of thousands of Polish officers during World War II in the so-called Katyn Forest massacre identified Howard Fast as a pro-Soviet communist and criticized the early Voice of America broadcasts up to 1951. But Fast’s former links with VOA and the fact that the station initially employed many fellow travelers and communists became later part of one of the most successful cover-ups by the VOA management of the organization’s past scandals.
It was the Madden Committee, named after the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), that in 1952 exposed not only Fast but also several other Soviet sympathizers who used to work for VOA. Howard Fast became a target of the McCarthyite anti-communist reprisals and spent a few months in federal prison after being convicted of contempt of Congress. He was a bestselling writer of historical novels in the United States. His books were also popular in the former Soviet Union and in the Soviet bloc countries.
Even a better-kept secret is the true story of the 1944 forced resignation of the first Voice of America director, John Houseman, who later became an Oscar-winning Hollywood actor. Houseman, one of Fast’s chief patrons in the Office of War Information (OWI), hired many other fellow travelers and communists for VOA jobs.
Many of Houseman’s VOA hires were not forced out until after World War II. Refugee journalists from countries under communist rule eventually filled positions in VOA services broadcasting to East-Central Europe during the Truman administration. They are the ones who saved Voice of America’s reputation, but the VOA management rarely mentions their contributions. Former VOA officials tend to blame Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) for the Cold War firings at VOA, but most of the dismissals were initiated by the Democratic administration of President Truman who wanted to reform VOA and who supported the creation of Radio Free Europe as a more effective broadcaster in countering communist propaganda.
Several communists, Soviet agents of influence, and fellow travelers at the Voice of America were fired during World War II. No high-level VOA official, past or current, has ever disclosed or admitted that the otherwise very pro-Soviet Roosevelt administration forced Houseman to resign from his VOA position because of his excessive pro-Soviet sympathies and the hiring of communists at the Voice of America.
Under Houseman, journalists from Poland who later served the communist regime in Warsaw, Mira Złotowska (later Michałowska) and Stefan Arski (aka Artur Salman), had worked on the foreign language desks in the Overseas Division of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) in New York. Adolf Hoffmeister, a journalist from Czechoslovakia who was the chief of the VOA Czechoslovak Service, and other pro-Soviet, anti-Fascist refugees from Europe, also worked for OWI’s Overseas Division, where World War II Voice of America radio broadcasts were produced from 1942 to 1945.