BBG Watch EXCLUSIVE
Evelyn Lieberman, who died on Saturday in Washington, is being remembered by former Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters as a defender of VOA’s editorial independence from interference by the State Department and the White House. She was also admired by rank-and-file VOA journalists for her ability to force some of the ineffective and unpopular managers to retire or have them transferred to less responsible positions.
Evelyn Lieberman served as VOA director (1997-1999). She was earlier Deputy Chief of Staff to President Clinton and banished Monica S. Lewinsky, a junior staffer who had an affair with the president, to a job outside of the White House. She was also the first person to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
While at the Voice of America, Evelyn Lieberman resisted pressures from the U.S. State Department, the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House to prevent VOA from broadcasting a television interview with Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing was concerned that the airing of the interview would be viewed by the Chinese government as a violation of an agreement that led to the release of Wei Jingsheng and might jeopardize future releases of Chinese dissidents. Thanks to Evelyn Lieberman’s firm position, the interview taped with Wei Jingsheng during his visit to the Voice of America in Washington in December 1997 was broadcast by the VOA Mandarin Service.
When VOA’s parent agency, USIA, was folded into the State Department in 1999 (VOA went to the Broadcasting Board of Governors), Ms. Lieberman became a senior adviser to the Secretary of State and was later nominated and confirmed as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Former Voice of America acting associate director Ted Lipien wrote that during a trip he took with Evelyn Lieberman to Moscow in the late 1990s, “she was extraordinarily careful not to do or say anything that the Russian government or Russian media could use to imply that VOA would step back from its mission of serving those who were deprived of free media or could not rely on their own media because of threats and corruption.” He described Ms. Lieberman as “one of the last VOA directors who had high-level White House access, public service experience, broad knowledge of foreign policy, and good political sense and management skills.”
Former Voice of America broadcaster, manager and Russia expert Jack Murphy wrote on his personal Facebook page:
JACK MURPHY: Evelyn S. Lieberman, a fine lady, whom I had the privilege of knowing and working with. R.I.P. She told it like it was. And when she sang out at VOA and IBB, she roared, sending the sniveling toadies running for cover. I loved her comment about Monica’s firing when asked about it by POTUS. “Ms. Lieberman recalled. “He said, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Who fired her?’ I said, ‘I did.’ And he said, ‘Oh, O.K.’ ”
Former Voice of America Russian Service broadcaster Marie Ciliberti commented:
MARIE CILIBERTI: “Tough lady. IMHO, a good VOA Director. Rather than make excuses for incompetent managers, she investigated allegations and sent many less-than-effective supervisors packing or transferred to other duties. There will be two different interpretations of her effectiveness: one from rank-and-file and another from certain people in management. RIP, Mme Lieberman.”