BBG Watch Guest Commentary

A World War II Polish ambassador in Washington exposed pro-Soviet bias at U.S. propaganda agency and Voice of America (VOA), previously secret diplomatic cables show. Some newspapers, including the Washington Post, have reported without any evidence to back it up that the Trump White House is threatening to turn today’s VOA into a propaganda agency for the president. What liberal media is not reporting is that today’s VOA, still run by Obama appointees and its entrenched bureaucracy, continues to engage in highly biased and partisan news reporting, which contrary to recent media accounts, is not at all in support of the Trump administration or pro-Russia, but strongly and in some cases viciously anti-Trump well into his presidency.

The author of the introduction to the paper on the Voice of America during World War II argues for non-partisan and politically neutral VOA in the 21th century, which would be capable of presenting and explaining American life and values to the world in an objective and comprehensive manner. In its part on Voice of America’s history, the paper reveals unpublished and previously classified Polish diplomatic cables showing how Poland’s ambassador Jan Ciechanowski engaged in a behind-the-scenes battle to counter Soviet propaganda and influence in the United States during World War II.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s cables from Washington to London, while already available online for some time, have never been analyzed until now in a published article about coordination of Soviet and U.S. propaganda in VOA wartime radio broadcasts. Newly declassified U.S. government documents also show that contrary to often repeated but false claims of VOA’s commitment to accurate and objective news reporting from its very beginning, VOA was in fact established as a war propaganda outlet for the U.S. government and served for several years as a tool of Soviet propaganda in the hands of VOA’s pro-Stalin officials and staffers. As a bipartisan Congressional committee, which looked at the wartime Voice of America broadcasts said in its final report issued in 1952, “this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circle a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.”


Voice of America Today and During World War II

As the Russian propaganda threat is again being discussed in numerous U.S. media articles today and in the U.S. Congress, while fears are also raised that any new U.S. government anti-propaganda measures could turn into government efforts to propagandize to Americans, this article looks at how the Soviet propaganda during World War II was incorporated into U.S. government-funded Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts as well as into U.S. government’s domestic propaganda and censorship activities which were later judged by a bipartisan congressional committee to be detrimental to America’s long-term interests and values.

It is always useful to study history because especially when it comes to propaganda, it often repeats itself. In his speech in Warsaw on July 6, U.S. President Donald Trump talked about several key events in Poland’s long history as a victim of aggression from Germany and Russia, often undertaken by mutual agreement between these two powers. Early in World War II, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also made high sounding declarations of support for Poland’s freedom and democracy, only to sell Poland, a war ally, down the river to Stalin at wartime conferences at Teheran and Yalta in 1943 and 1944, justifying his decisions by military expediency and his naive vision of preserving world peace in cooperation with the Soviet dictator, whom he called Uncle Joe. What President Trump will do to fulfill the themes of his Warsaw speech remains to be seen, but his was one of the most impressive speeches on topics of Polish history any U.S. president has made since Ronald Reagan. It may have been in fact the best U.S. presidential speech on Poland’s history.

President Trump delivered his speech on July 6th at the monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. The place has a deeply symbolic meaning not just for Poland, Germany, and Russia, but also for U.S.-Polish relations. Sadly, during World War II, President Roosevelt and especially the Voice of America largely ignored the Warsaw Uprising because Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wanted it to be ignored. Already during and after the war, the uprising by Poland’s non-communist underground Home Army (Armia Krajowa or AK) was condemned by communist leaders and scholars in the Soviet Union and in Poland as a futile and costly gesture by reactionary forces loyal to the non-communist Polish Government in Exile, which the Soviet propaganda described as fascist. The Polish Government in Exile in London was in fact a broadly-based democratic government which operated an effective underground state and an anti-Nazi underground army in Poland. Several decades later, Russian propaganda is also using the fascist label against opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the military intervention in eastern Ukraine. (During the war, VOA did not broadcast in Russian because Russian-language broadcasts were viewed by VOA officials as potentially offensive to Stalin, but VOA did broadcast in Polish since 1942.)

Joint victory parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the invasion of Poland in September 1939. In the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein.

In his Warsaw speech, Trump also made a specific reference to the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact), which started World War II, and to one of its outcomes, the Soviet invasion of Poland launched on September 17, 1939. By contrast, on the anniversary of the Soviet WWII invasion of Poland, Trump’s predecessor, President Obama, mindlessly announced in 2009 the withdrawal of the U.S. missile shield from Poland as one of his “Reset” policy initiatives toward Putin’s Russia. Some of the “Reset” measures had been since reversed by the Obama administration itself when relations with Russia soured after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Crimea was in some ways similar to Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, together with RT and SPUTNIK propaganda justifications for annexing another country’s territory.

Despite mainstream media speculations full of panic about Russia’s influence with the Trump administration, the president has not endorsed any of the questionable “Reset” policy initiatives of his predecessor nor has he done anything about VOA which remains firmly in control of officials known to be staunch and highly partisan Democrats.

During the Obama presidency, there was little or no panic among Left-leaning U.S. mainstream media when the president announced his “Reset” policy, and no panicked reporting by VOA on the topic, even though President Obama received a warning from former Polish President Lech Walesa and former Czech President Vaclav Havel. The “Reset” policy, based on false assumptions about Vladimir Putin and Russia, turned out to be a fiasco. It is worth noting that during his speech in Warsaw, President Trump made a point of greeting former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa who is disliked by some of the supporters of the current right-of-center Polish government. It was a perfect speech regardless of its ultimate outcome during the Trump presidency, which contrary to Voice of America reports does not seem to be collapsing.

President Trump also did not make a mistake in Warsaw of calling any Nazi concentration camp “Polish,” as President Obama did with reference to Auschwitz in one of his speeches during his presidency. It was presented by the Obama White House as a speechwriter’s mistake, but the Voice of America, together with most media, paid almost no attention to these Obama public diplomacy gaffes in relation to Poland’s history. However, when Trump earlier this year said that “fake media” is “the enemy of the people,” VOA immediately published a long historical analysis, far out of proportion to what was a clearly partisan tweet. Trump was shown by VOA as potentially planning to arrest and even execute American journalists. The VOA report compared his words and the democratically-elected U.S. president himself to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. It seems that at least one foreign authoritarian leader (in Cambodia) fell for the VOA narrative when he cited the VOA report as a justification for his threatened crackdown on his country’s journalists. In its naivety, the VOA management presented this as proof of VOA’s effectiveness when it was in fact a proof of its failure. In their obsession with Trump and their hatred for him, some VOA newsroom reporters have failed to follow the VOA Charter and to use intercultural communication skills to present a true and comprehensive picture of entire America and U.S. foreign policy clearly and accurately to international audiences.

Trump also mentioned in his Warsaw speech the 1940 Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish military officers who in 1939 became prisoners of war in Soviet Russia — a genocidal Soviet war crime which, as far as we know, President Obama never mentioned during his presidency. President Reagan did. In one of its most shameful and long-lasting mistakes, VOA had promoted the Soviet lie about the Katyn massacre during the war and for some years after 1945 censored the Katyn story. VOA officials never apologized for this censorship, even after being formally criticized for it after the war by a bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress.

World War II was a period of the greatest triumph of Soviet propaganda in the United States and unprecedented Soviet influence over U.S. policies achieved through lies and deception with the help from some high-level U.S. government officials and many VOA reporters. Since the early 1950’s, not much has been said about this World War II foreign power interference achieved through willful cooperation of some of the most prominent and influential Americans with full approval from the sitting U.S. president. Nothing what Donald Trump may have done or failed to do compares to the complete sellout by FDR of a wartime ally to the Soviet Union and VOA’s censorship and propaganda in support of this policy that placed a large part of Europe in the hands of the Soviet dictator without even trying to explore peaceful measures to prevent it. There are no references in history books about VOA to Kathleen Harriman (later Mortimer) who during the war was a correspondent in Moscow for the Voice of America employed by VOA’s parent agency, the Office of War Information (OWI). At the request of her father, W. Averell Harriman, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s pro-Soviet ambassador to Moscow, she went with a group of journalists on a tour of the Katyn massacre site organized by Soviet officials in 1944. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Kathleen Harriman wrote an official memorandum for the U.S. government confirming the false Soviet narrative that Polish officers were murdered by the Nazis.

Considering the current Russian propaganda campaign, led by President Vladimir Putin, to distort the history of Soviet and Russian aggression toward Russia’s neighbors, Trump’s address in Warsaw was one of the best anti-propaganda speeches ever made by any U.S. president. While not exactly in the same category as President Reagan’s powerful “evil empire speech,” Trump’s Warsaw speech represented nevertheless one of the strongest indirect comments on Soviet duplicity, as well as an indirect but powerful counter to current Russian government’s disinformation campaigns.

The official but now supposedly journalistically independent U.S. government media outlet, still fully taxpayer-funded Voice of America where I once worked, however, did not focus at all on any of these important historical themes in Trump’s speech in Warsaw. VOA did not even bother to post it live on Facebook, as many U.S. and non-U.S. media outlets did. VOA together with its parent agency have become vast bureaucracies, costing U.S. taxpayers annually close to a billion dollars. Despite the BBG having a larger budget than the U.S. propaganda agency’s budget during the war and throughout much of the Cold War, VOA has lost much of its international prestige and much of its audience. This is especially true in countries, including Russia, China, and the Middle East, where sober, sophisticated and unbiased news and presentation of basic and nonpartisan American values is especially needed. VOA’s executives’ claims to having the largest audience ever by including programs, which are often self-censored to be placed placed on foreign networks, including networks in countries that have free media, are viewed by many critics as pointless and deceptive.

Lacking effective leadership and a clear sense of mission, VOA fails to connect with online audiences abroad. Many of VOA’s online comments are from Trump critics in the U.S., showing that VOA has found its confirmation bias audience for VOA English-language programs not abroad but in the United States, from where about half of online traffic originates for VOA’s English-language content. Having hinted a few days earlier in a news report highly praised by the current VOA director, an Obama administration appointee, that the U.S. president might be mentally unstable, VOA offered late and pedestrian coverage of Trump’s visit to Poland. In touting that news report a few days before Trump landed in Poland, the VOA director wrote in a public Facebook posts that “there at VOA we are working hard to really reflect all the voices in this country and not just a selection of them. For one thing, it’s our job. For another, we think it’s the right thing.”

But there is no denial that for quite a few VOA newsroom reporters, Donald Trump finally has replaced the Soviet Union as the main enemy of democracy and freedom. VOA director herself in an earlier e-mail to her staff noted as significant a one-sided VOA Spanish Service report in which an illegal immigrant described Trump as a man of “hate and prejudice.” The VOA Spanish Service failed to cover live President Trump’s major foreign policy speech on Cuba delivered recently in Miami.

Since what the Voice of America has been showing in recent months is an unprecedented level of biased and partisan VOA reporting on top of already substandard news coverage of recent years, a comment for VOA director’s Facebook post challenged “it’s our job” claim because VOA’s job is indeed to represent all of America, but it must be done in a comprehensive, sophisticated and understandable fashion, specifically for foreign audiences. The exchange of comments with who appears to be her spouse can be followed here.

During World War II, the Voice of America certainly did not engage in crude criticism of President Roosevelt, but operated similarly to how it operates today without much accountability. It was just as scandal-ridden and criticized by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as it is today. The only time VOA fulfilled its taxpayer-funded mission truly well was doing the Cold War, from about 1952 through the end of the 1980s — a historic accomplishment noted by both former Secretary of State Clinton and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), both of whom have been advocating structural reforms of the BBG, some of which were eventually signed into law by President Obama during the last weeks of his presidency. In the more distant past, VOA had been especially effective during the presidency of Ronald Reagan who, like Trump, was also greatly disliked and even despised by a sizable large group of VOA managers and newsroom reporters, while at the same time being enthusiastically embraced by most of VOA’s foreign language broadcasters who came from then communist-ruled countries. VOA’s audience in Poland increased from about 10% before Reagan to well over 50 percent during his presidency.

In the 1980s, operating under the umbrella of the United States Information Agency (USIA), VOA still had a large number of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) well-read in history as senior and mid-level managers. They tried hard and usually succeeded to remain professional and non-partisan. There were also then quite a few newsroom reporters with extensive international experience selected through highly competitive exams and less prone to engage in reporting swayed by partisan passions.

Under the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its loose management standards, these former managers and journalists have been replaced over the years in key positions with friends of partisan BBG Board members and VOA officials, who in turn hired or influenced hiring of some of their friends who had lost their jobs in the private media sector. In the last eight years, these VOA and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) hires came mostly from CNN because of previous links to CNN of some of the former BBG members and senior VOA executives. A few most recent hires at VOA show past connections to the Washington Post.

Likewise, during World War II, equally unaccountable Voice of America attracted almost exclusively some of the most Left-wing media and Hollywood hires in the U.S. Then and now, they were not representative of the whole spectrum of U.S. political opinion, from moderate Left to moderate Right, and no force in and outside of the government could prevent them from pursuing their own personal political agenda at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

Unlike VOA of World War II and during the USIA period, however, former high-level VOA officials, once nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, did not advertise publicly their partisan political preferences on clearly controversial domestic U.S. political issues being regularly covered by VOA, such as abortion or immigration, as they do now while warning VOA reporters to remain objective. In many other respects, however, the wartime Voice of America was very similar to the hyper liberal, well left-of-center and poorly-managed VOA of today. Also, unlike VOA of World War II and during the USIA period, some of the high level BBG and VOA officials engage in corporate business activities in countries like China and Russia, which creates at least an appearance if not actual conflict of interest. An American businessperson cannot hope to make money in China or Russia while annoying local authoritarian rulers.

Coincidently, the next monthly Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) lunch forum in partnership with the Washington D.C. Office of USC’s Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership & Policy, which is scheduled for 12 noon on Monday, July 10th, will have as its topic “How the Voice Has Changed: Looking Back at the Origins of the Voice of America.” The speaker will be historian Holly Cowan Shulman, author of The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I would have remembered’” and “John Houseman and the Voice of America: American Propaganda on the Air.” The forum will take place at the American Foreign Service Assn., 2101 E Street NW in Washington, D.C.

The Voice of America of today has largely reverted to how it operated during World War II when it became a propaganda platform in favor of the Soviet Union and the “progressive agenda” of America’s far Left. The difference now is, ironically, that almost overnight after the 2016 presidential election, Russia has become the enemy number one for the American Left, which it definitely was not for VOA and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) or one of its surrogate entities, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), when President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially pursued the “Reset” policy with Putin only a few years earlier, and certainly not during World War II. (RFE and RL were not created until the 1950s and for several decades of their greatest effectiveness operated separately without any links to VOA.)

During the Obama administration, VOA likewise became a propaganda tool for promoting Obama’s policy initiatives toward Iran and Cuba in many one-sided reports and commentaries without hardly any internal protests among its newsroom journalists, as some VOA reporters have complained privately. Even though it is funded by all U.S. taxpayers and remains a public government institution, the Voice of America today, as it was during World War II, has become almost a private domain of a small group of government officials and newsroom reporters who are far to the left of the center and are convinced that at times they know better than even the White House or the President of the United States what ideals our country should represent to the world and what U.S. policies should be pursued and promoted abroad. Even Secretary Clinton had to conclude in 2013 that the Broadcasting Board of Governors has become “practically defunct” as an organization charged with representing the United States to the world and engaged in information war with America’s enemies. Today, as during World War II, VOA management is accountable to practically no one, although the President still proposes its budget and the Congress approves it.

Some of the Congressional, State Department and U.S. press criticism of OWI management and journalistic practices during World War II is eerily similar to criticism of the current Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Voice of America, as not only Hillary Clinton but also others, both Republicans and Democrats, have accused them of inadequate response to propaganda and disinformation from countries like Russia, China and Iran. A few years ago, BBG officials even conceived the idea of conducting in a public opinion poll in Russia-occupied Crimea without seeking permission from Ukraine whose sovereign territory was invaded by Russia. The poll’s faulty results were reported by the Voice of America without questioning the validity of surveys conducted under foreign occupation and without even once mentioning the Crimean Tatars and others opposed to the Russian rule. An independent journalist and scholar of new media in Russia, Dr. Nikolai Rudensky, pointed out in an 2011 study for the Broadcasting Board of Governors that the Voice of America Russian Service website was journalistically deficient and showed a “pro-Putin bias.”

Officials in charge of VOA during World War II also thought that they knew better than anybody else what was good for the United States, the war effort and world peace. This is what scholar of U.S. World War II propaganda Holly Cowan Shulman, who is the daughter of one of the early VOA directors, Louis G. Cowan, and the sister of a later VOA director, Geoffrey Cowan, wrote about the early Voice of America propagandists in her book “The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945” published in 1990 by The University of Wisconsin Press:

“Sherwood, Barnes, Wartburg, and Johnson, and their like-minds colleagues the Overseas Branch [OWI’s Voice of America] believed that propaganda could mold and influence foreign policy. Propaganda, in other words, was not merely an expression of policy made by others. The propagandists believed they could make their own version of American foreign policy come true. They believed they were right; they argued that they understood the foreign influence of American policy ways that the State Department, and even the president, did not; and they used the Voice of America to enter the foreign policy debate between members of the Roosevelt’s administration.”[ref]Holly Cowan Shulman, The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945, 91.[/ref]

While during World War II, VOA carried Soviet and far left propaganda, during the Obama administration and even now VOA has been airing pro-Iran, pro-Cuba, and even crude pro-North Korea propaganda, often with no or minimal balance. Some of it was fake news, such as North Korean denials carried by VOA as an exclusive story that Pyongyang had nothing to do with the initial political hacking scandal, which was the Sony Corporation office e-mail hack.

While now together with most of the left of center mainstream media, VOA in general is anti-Putin, in some cases often to the ridiculous extreme as if mocking its own propaganda, nevertheless, Russian government’s propaganda seeps in from time to time into VOA and even Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty programs. Perhaps the most glaring example under the watch of current BBG and VOA executives was a Russian tank cat video. Before VOA picked it up, most likely in response to directives to use private media techniques to improve VOA’s continually dismal social media engagement statistics, the Russian tank cat video had been used earlier for propaganda purposes by Russia’s RT and SPUTNIK media outlets.

It is hard to say whether this is happening though lack of competent leadership and shortage of experienced journalists or through some sinister design. VOA and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda to Iran are suspected by critics of having been infiltrated by Iranian agents of influence of sympathizers, just as the WWII era VOA was definitely infiltrated by a few Soviet agents and employed countless sympathizers with Soviet policies and Stalin’s leadership. One of the admirers of Soviet “progressive” policies was VOA’s first director John Houseman. A less known historical fact is that his request for a U.S. passport to travel to Europe on VOA’s official business was denied by the State Department because of VOA programs to Western Europe touting the Soviet line. They were too pro-Soviet even for FDR. Houseman was eventually forced to resign and later blamed his troubles on the Polish Government in Exile and the Polish Americans. Likewise, his boss, OWI director Elmer Davis, who personally wrote a VOA commentary defending the Soviet lie about the Katyn massacre, which was broadcast both abroad and in the United States, after the war, while reluctantly admitting his mistake, launched an attack on a Polish American member of the U.S. Congress who questioned his competence and judgement.

While the transcript of Elmer Davis’ Katyn broadcast was already made public by a committee of the U.S. Congress in 1952, a recording of his broadcast was only recently discovered in the WNYC New York public radio station’s online audio archives.

There is, however, one big difference between World War II-era Voice of America and today’s VOA. During World War II, the Voice of America, while serving as a propaganda tool for President Roosevelt and his policies, generally avoided any partisan attacks on Republican candidates for president or other Republicans. The Voice of America today has become partisan within the last year to a degree simply unprecedented in its entire history. The VOA director and BBG Board members have been told on a few occasions that some of the VOA reports, which the VOA director had praised, were not at all well-balanced, well-written, well-edited or providing a clear, unbiased explanation of American politics to international audiences already exposed to plenty of hostile anti-American propaganda.

A recent VOA report asked: “Or are we seeing a mentally unstable and increasingly unpopular former reality TV personality lashing out at media critics with vicious, vulgar tweets in a desperate attempt to divert attention from his collapsing presidency?” [Emphasis added.] A defender of the report said that one of its critics failed to understand that the first and second paragraphs in the VOA report represented opposing exaggerated views of the president and the media. That may have been the reporter’s intention, but for the Voice of America to suggest in this form to international audiences that the President of the United States, who has his finger on the nuclear button, may be “mentally unstable” is both deeply confusing and extremely troubling if there is no verifiable news report of any medical proof of it from doctors who had examined him personally. One can hardly believe possibly highly politically biased doctors who are speculating about Trump’s mental health while watching him on TV. If this speculation deserved to be included, the VOA report should have pointed out that such partisan and completely unsupported claims from the American Left have as much veracity as partisan claims from the Right that former President Obama was born in Kenya or that he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. It is a complete nonsense not worthy of VOA.

Donald Trump is also not just “a former reality TV personality,” as the VOA report said. As one critic of the BBG/VOA management pointed out, he is also known to be a smart businessman. How does a person like him become suddenly “mentally unstable” at his age?, the critic asked. As to the Trump presidency collapsing, the critic suggested that this may be nothing more than biased wishful thinking on the part of some in the U.S. tax-funded VOA. For the Voice of America to engage in this kind of speculative “reporting” for international audiences, which VOA did not do during the Watergate crisis (VOA’s Watergate coverage received praise for fairness and balance), is both irresponsible and dangerous.

Another recent VOA report quoted a partisan (this time a highly conservative figure but strongly and consistently anti-Trump) asserting that America may soon fall under Trump just as ancient Rome did. Many Americans may also know that this is partisan nonsense, otherwise they would be selling their homes and leaving the country in droves, but it was included as a concluding paragraph of a VOA news report for international audiences as if it were possibly true.

Donald Trump with Nazi swastika GIF – a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter’s personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.
Donald Trump penis GIF – a screenshot from a Voice of America reporter’s personal but publicly accessible Facebook page.

There is a way of presenting such U.S. partisan attacks in VOA programs in accordance with the VOA Charter — as, for example — in completely separate U.S. media reviews in which every significant charge is properly challenged and refuted by the opposite side — but many VOA reports fail to explain these partisan wars well and put them in a proper context for international audiences.

When it comes to vicious and vulgar social media posts which show a deep bias: some VOA reporters, who are U.S. federal government employees drawing salaries paid by all U.S. taxpayers, have publicly called Donald Trump “A Joke.” One of them even used a description with an “F-word” in a personal but publicly seen Facebook post. Another one, in a public gathering of VOA newsroom employees, part of which were streamed on Facebook, made a joke about Melania Trump of a sexual nature. Another one ridiculed Trump’s daughter. VOA reporters have never before publicly lampooned any former U.S. presidents, including President Obama, Mrs. Obama and their family. It would have been appalling if they did. Such selective attacks show a definite bias on their part unless President Trump is another Hitler or Stalin, as some VOA newsroom reporters seem to think. There were also personal Facebook posts by VOA reporters showing Donald Trump with a Nazi swastika and as a male sex organ, as well as a VOA foreign language versioned video, subsequently removed by VOA, in which a Hollywood personality called Trump “Pig,” “Dog” and other similarly insulting names without any balance or context from VOA, or any counter-response, as required by the VOA Charter. Is it just possible that a person, even the President of the United States, may be somewhat bitter after such media attacks without being “mentally unstable” when he in turn attacks his critics?

When Donald Trump delivered his speech in Warsaw on Poland’s history, he did not appear to be a person showing any visible signs of mental instability. He had delivered a similar speech to the Polish-American Congress (PAC) in Chicago during the 2016 election campaign, which also contradicted many of the mainstream and VOA media reporting about him, Putin and Russia. (Hillary Clinton was also invited by the PAC but did not accept the invitation and consequently lost the Polish American vote.) The Voice of America did not report at all on Trump’s Chicago trip in 2016 even though it was full of references to what might be his future foreign policy.

If there is by now a McCarthyite-like psychosis in current American political life and media reporting, it has infected a lot of mainstream Left-wing politicians and media people, including VOA. Some of the strongest critics of Vladimir Putin and his aggressive policies agree with this observation. But just as Senator Joseph McCarthy had discredited anti-communism by his wild accusations in the 1950s, (at that time there were no longer any communists at VOA, but he claimed that there were; they were there earlier when it counted the most for Stalin and the Soviet Union) the liberal media, which should play an important balancing role, can discredit even the most justifiable charges against Putin or his agents of influence in the United States by making made-up and ludicrous charges. This is exactly what Putin’s propaganda machine is counting on. The Voice of America has fallen for this trap as well as even some of the most respectable American and European journalists and analysts, but fortunately not everybody.

While no one can be certain whether President Trump will in fact drive a hard bargain with Putin and not betray promises made to Poland and other NATO allies, as President Obama did without any subsequent hysteria on the part of mainstream liberal media or charges of treason, Trump’s Warsaw speech deserved far more and far better coverage from VOA than it received, if only because of its strong anti-Putin propaganda message. But VOA is not what it used to be, not even what it used to be during World War II despite its pro-Soviet propaganda at that time. WWII pro-Soviet VOA propaganda has now been replaced by anti-Trump propaganda. VOA’s numerous programs on immigration present a caricature of American life, full of ethnic tensions and racism. To prove their point that immigrants in the United States are living under a constant threat of violence or even death, VOA even interviewed some of the relatives and fiends of the Boston Marathon bombers and presented their factually false and exaggerated claims without any balance or challenge.

The Voice of America, under its Charter, is required to be reflective of the mood and behavior of the entire country. But VOA’s obsession with the extreme and marginal far-Right while ignoring the extreme and marginal far-Left is clearly visible. A search of the VOA English news website shows only one result for “Antifa,” a far-Left group responsible for much of the limited and largely insignificant but highly violent anti-Trump protests. A similar search of the VOA website shows numerous reports for “Alt-Right.” Immigration is an important issue, but it is not the only issue Americans care about on a daily basis. Normal life, generally free of ethnic or religious tensions, continues in the United States, but another search of the VOA news website showed hundreds of reports on U.S. immigration topics, most of them, highly emotional, one-sided or not particularly sophisticated.

For all practical purposes, the Voice of America has become a private news organization of the individuals and some of the journalists who are in charge of its programs, just as it was during World War II. This is certainly not good for the United States and wider U.S. security and other vital national interests. And what could be more telling about the partisan bias at the Voice of America than the fact that for the first time in VOA’s history on the 2016 U.S. election night, the VOA management had two already written and ready for broadcast not one but two reports about one candidate (Hillary Clinton) being the winner and none for the other major candidate who won the election (Donald Trump). The day after the vote, the first messages to the staff from the agency and VOA heads failed to mention the name of the wining candidate — also an unprecedented omission in VOA’s history. The latest scandal at VOA is the loss of much of its credibility in China after VOA’s senior leaders ordered shortening of an already planned and announced live interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui. Instead of admitting its mistake and apologizing, the senior leadership put five VOA Mandarin Service frontline journalists on administrative leave.

Polish Ambassador’s Fight With Pro-Stalin Voice of America and Soviet Propaganda in the U.S.

By Ted Lipien

Polish envoy Jan Ciechanowski with family in front of the Polish Embassy in Washington in 1925.

Anybody looking for evidence of widespread and effective Russian interference in American politics and considerable influence within the U.S. government needs to look no further than what was the World War II era Voice of America. The U.S. wartime mega propaganda agency, the Office of War Information (OWI) included since 1942 a radio broadcasting division which became later known as the Voice of America. From the very beginning, both the OWI and its Voice of America radio broadcasts were generating plenty of controversy in Washington, much of it now forgotten and omitted from many historical accounts. But during the war and into the early 1950s, pro-Soviet propaganda and Soviet influence among VOA staffers was the subject of many congressional speeches and newspaper articles, most of them highly critical of the Voice of America and its federal parent agency.

Voice of America reporting during the war was in fact closely coordinated with Soviet propaganda by one of VOA’s founders, Hollywood playwright and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech writer Robert E. Sherwood, and the coordination was conducted for the most part with full approval from FDR. It was no secret that VOA engaged in pro-Soviet propaganda, which one critic, a former VOA journalist, later described as “Love for Stalin.” Officials and VOA writers deceived international public opinion and at that time also many Americans since their programs were distributed in the United States, by covering up Stalinist crimes and Moscow’s true intentions with regard to Eastern and Central Europe. At one point during the war, even the AFL and CIO, a U.S. labor federation that could hardly be accused of being reactionary, severed its cooperation with the Voice of America and accused its leadership of being dominated by communists and communist sympathizers.

Perhaps only a few of OWI’s employees were members of the Communist Party, but many of them, and especially their bosses, pushed the Soviet line, sometimes to the detriment of U.S. interests. By 1942, both Poland, represented by the Polish Government in Exile based in London, and the Soviet Union, were America’s allies in the war against Nazi Germany. By that time, the Soviets who earlier in the spring of 1940 had secretly murdered over 20,000 Polish military officers as well as Polish government leaders and intellectuals, were already hard at work trying to discredit the democratic Polish government, as well as democratic governments in exile of other Nazi-occupied European nations, including Greece and Yugoslavia. Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government when the mass graves of murdered Polish officers were discovered by the Germans in the spring of 1943. The Voice of America under its strongly pro-Soviet director, Hollywood actor John Houseman, immediately adopted and promoted the Soviet lie that the Germans were responsible for the murders. Even the U.S. State Department urged VOA to be cautious in accepting the Soviet version, but the warning was ignored by those in charge of VOA. At the same time, VOA’s parent agency, the Office of War Information, intensified its illegal efforts to censor American media outlets, mostly of Polish-American and other ethnic origin, which were reporting that Stalin had ordered the mass murder of Polish prisoners of war and was planning to turn Poland into a Soviet satellite state. They were right on both charges, but their honest reporting was viewed by the OWI censors as detrimental to the war effort.

The Polish Ambassador to Washington Jan Ciechanowski who represented the Polish Government in Exile during the war was responsible for exposing the Soviet influence within the Office of War Information and the Voice of America to members of Congress and mainstream American media. As a traditional diplomat, he worked mostly behind the scenes, and his activities in fighting Soviet propaganda never became well known, even after the war. But thanks to his efforts, the Office of War Information nearly lost all of its funding from Congress in 1943 over management scandals and domestic media censorship that he helped to expose through behind-the-scenes actions. Eventually, only part of the OWI budget was cut for OWI’s domestic service, but Congress sent a strong message of displeasure with the agency over the pro-Soviet activities of its officials.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s then secret diplomatic cables to his government in London, which are now archived at the Hoover Institution, describe in detail the extent of pro-Soviet WWII Voice of America propaganda (VOA was not yet then widely known by its current name; the diplomatic cables refer to OWI’s overseas and domestic media activities) and the staffing of the OWI Polish desk by pro-Soviet activists and writers. The cables also reveal Ciechanowski’s protests to the State Department and his lobbying among members of Congress to stop OWI’s pro-Stalin propaganda and illegal censorship of U.S. media.

This is the first time information from Ambassador Ciechanowski’s secret diplomatic cables about the pro-Soviet activities of the U.S. propaganda agency during World War II is being reported in significant detail in English. Jan Ciechanowski (1887-1973) was an economist and a distinguished Polish diplomat in London and in the United States before the war. He served in Washington during the war. One of his last diplomatic acts before the United States Government withdrew its recognition from the democratic Polish government in London and recognized the Communist-dominated government in Poland was to point out to State Department officials that their initial decision to make the formal announcement on the 4th of July 1944 was less than appropriate to make on America’s Independence Day. The United States made the announcement on July 5th. After In 1947, Jan Ciechanowski published his diplomatic memoirs, “Defeat in Victory,” in which he describes his battle with the Office of War Information and its Voice of America officials and staffers to counter Soviet propaganda and censorship. After the war, he continued to live in exile in the United States until his death in 1973.

Ambassador Ciechanowski’s actions described much more frankly and in much greater detail in his WWII cables had only a temporary and rather minimal effect on VOA’s pro-Soviet propaganda at the time, but they prompted Congress in 1943 to cut the OWI’s budget for domestic activities, which included censorship of U.S. domestic media. After the war, the bipartisan Madden Committee (named after Democratic lawmaker from Indiana Ray Madden and charged with investigating the Katyn massacre) found these U.S. government media censorship activities to be completely illegal. (OWI was also responsible for producing films in support of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry.) OWI’s key functionary responsible for domestic U.S. media censorship, including silencing of Polish American radio programs in Detroit and Buffalo, which broadcast the truth about Katyn, was future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston. As a result of Ambassador Ciechanowski’s relentless behind-the-scenes actions, members of Congress and U.S. media started to ask publicly questions about OWI activities and VOA programs. The management, staffing and activities of these propaganda organizations become very controversial and eventually led to the abolishment of the Office of War Information in 1945, placing of the much reduced Voice of America under the State Department, and the passage of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 which placed restrictions on U.S. government’s domestic propaganda and established strict hiring procedures to avoid employment of foreign agents.

Contrary to the legend of the U.S. government-funded and run Voice of America as the purveyor of nothing but the truth, no matter how bad the news was for the United States, WWII VOA was a powerful propaganda tool of the White House, but mostly for its own officials and staffers. VOA broadcast Soviet disinformation and covered up Stalin’s crimes, not just the brutal killing of over 22,000 Polish officers, other POWs and political and intellectual leaders, but also executions and deportations of hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians from the Polish territory occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939 in accordance with the Secret Protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. While other European countries, including Greece and Yugoslavia, were also targets of pro-Soviet VOA propaganda, this paper focuses on Poland. The head of wartime VOA Czechoslovak Service, Dr. Adolf Hofmeister, after the war went back to Czechoslovakia and joined the communist government as its ambassador to Paris. The wartime VOA Polish Service also had its famous defector to the communist side, Stefan Arski.

In his July 13, 1943 cable to Edward Raczyński Foreign Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, Ambassador Ciechanowski wrote:

“I would like to inform the Minister of an action I am undertaking to call attention of the American public opinion, Congressional circles and some American government circles which have an objective view of Soviet affairs, to the biased attitude of the [U.S.] government propaganda bureau, the Office of War Information (OWI), toward Polish-Soviet issues.”

“Initially, when American propaganda offices were headed by Colonel Donovan (Coordinator of Information) and Archibald MacLeish (Office of Facts and Figures), the Embassy had very close relations with these two offices and their friendly view of Poland’s cause could not be questioned,” Ambassador Ciechanowski reported to his government. “The situation worsened from the moment when the C.O.I. and O.F.F. offices were combined under the leadership of Elmer Davis, a journalist little familiar with European issues, crude, completely committed to the idea of using commercial advertising methods — in the American style — in political propaganda,” Ciechanowski’s cable continued.

According to Ciechanowski, Elmer Davis’ shortcomings and advertising methods scared away from OWI some of the best American journalists to be replaced by mediocre reporters “completely subservient to Davis’ politicized assistants.” Ciechanowski described Davis’ closest assistants as “pronounced sympathizers of Russia and communism.” He listed Robert E. Sherwood, James Cowles, James P. Warburg and Joseph Barnes.

“Polish affairs were placed in the hands of a group of Polish citizens manifesting their pro-Soviet stand,” Ciechanowski wrote. He said that he had personally protested to Elmer Davis, but that his his protest had no effect. He also reported that Ambassadors from Greece, Holland and Yugoslavia made similar protests about communist influence at the OWI reflected in Voice of America broadcasts abroad, also to no avail.

Ciechanowski pointed out later in the July 13, 1943 cable that as a result of his complaints Elmer Davis hired Dr. Ludwik Krzyżanowski, a Pole friendly to the Polish Government-in-Exile, to work at the OWI headquarters in Washington (Voice of America programs to Poland were done mostly by the pro-Soviet team in New York). Ambassador Ciechanowski noted, however, that Dr. Krzyżanowski by himself may not have had enough influence to stop pro-Soviet propaganda. Dr. Krzyżanowski indeed could not make much of a difference in the bureaucratic government agency committed by its senior leadership and through the work of many of its staffers to promote appeasement of Joseph Stalin, which was in any case the official U.S. policy set by President Roosevelt and his closest advisors, including Elmer Davis. Dr. Ludwik Krzyżanowski (1906-1986), who had come to the United States in 1938 to be cultural attache of the Government of Poland, was later professor in the Department of Slavic Studies in Columbia University of New York, New York University, and Editor-in-Chief of “The Polish Review” – a scholarly Quarterly of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.

As relations of the Polish Government-in-Exile with Russia worsened over the Katyn Massacre, “the OWI’s attitude toward us started to worsen more and more,” the Polish Ambassador reported. He wrote that OWI officials refused help with arranging a special U.S. nationwide broadcast to commemorate the May 3rd Polish Constitution Day in 1943 even though the Embassy arranged for Congressional leaders of both parties to speak. These observances came a few weeks after the Germans announced the discovery of the Katyn graves of thousands of executed Polish officers and the OWI and VOA started to push the Soviet propaganda line that the murders were committed by the Nazis. Acting on its own, however, the Embassy managed to get the Columbia Broadcasting System to give airtime for the special program on all stations on its network. Ambassador Ciechanowski then explained how the OWI censored in overseas Voice of America broadcasts Polish Government’s statements about the Katyn Massacre while airing Soviet statements.

“…our relations with the press were not damaged by OWI’s hostile attitude. On the contrary — adjusting efforts by directly contacting the media while avoiding the O.W.I. produced better results than going through an intermediary. But in spite of this, the OWI made our life difficult, especially during the period of the “Katyn Affair,” by withholding through censorship all of our major statements while letting the Soviet ones go through.”

President Roosevelt was convinced that pro-Soviet propaganda activities and censorship of Stalin’s political and war crimes were necessary to keep Russia as America’s ally against Germany and later Japan. The Office of War Information was a huge federal bureaucracy accountable to no one except its director Elmer Davis and through him to President Roosevelt. VOA became so unabashedly pro-Soviet that eventually it eventually drew the wrath of many members of Congress, U.S. press, and even the State Department and, in one case, the White House.

In 1943 OWI officials planned and partially conducted among Polish Americans what was presented as a public opinion survey, but which included pointed pro-Soviet questions. Some of them implied that Poland, which was then a military ally of the United States with her troops fighting alongside the Western allies, should consider agreeing to Stalin’s territorial demands. Other questions seemed to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London with which Washington still maintained full diplomatic relations. At that time, Ambassador Ciechanowski continued to meet regularly with State Department officials, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and had meetings with President Roosevelt, as did visiting Polish Government-in-Exile prime ministers Władysław Sikorski and later Stanisław Mikołajczyk until Washington broke relations with the London-based Polish Government in July 1944. U.S. media commentators critical of OWI’s activities declared the poll to be intentionally biased in favor of Russia.

In a column published on August 20, 1943 in Washington’s Times-Herald, newspaperman John O’Donnell wrote:

“The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.

Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”


“Freedom might well shriek if some of the descendants of that original liberty Pole [General Tadeusz Kosciuszko] were faced with these latest OWI questions to Americans with Polish names. … the questions are framed with a strictly pro-Russian slant, in our opinion.”

As a result of public criticism and pressure, including a protest from the U.S. State Department and members of Congress, the OWI was forced to stop its polling of Polish Americans. But Elmer Davis and VOA broadcasters continued to ignore advice from high-level State Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle who warned them not to place the blame of the Katyn massacre on the Germans and to avoid the entire controversy as much as possible.

Even before the controversial poll was launched in 1943, the U.S. Congress drastically reduced the OWI domestic division’s budget as criticism of the mega propaganda agency grew nationwide and legislators expressed their strong disapproval of the agency’s foreign and domestic activities. Detailed information about the OWI poll was given to U.S. press and members of Congress by Ambassador Ciechanowski and Polish diplomats in Washington and in other major U.S. cities.

Overseas audiences were not the only ones being mislead by the U.S. Government with pro-Soviet propaganda. During World War II, the Office of War Information engaged in censoring private commercial Polish American broadcasters who were accurately accusing Stalin of ordering the 1940 massacre of thousands of Polish officers and other POWs at the Katyn Forest near Smolensk and at other locations in the Soviet Union.

Sometime in April 1943, OWI director Elmer Davis wrote a special radio commentary in which he blamed the Katyn Massacre on the Nazis. The State Department was at the time advising the OWI to avoid reporting on the Katyn story altogether “if at all possible” because the evidence was inconclusive.

This kind of news censorship would have been bad enough, but Elmer Davis and the Voice of America made it even worse and gave full support to the Soviet lie. Davis later claimed he was convinced the Germans were responsible for the murders. He, however, almost certainly had access to information that the evidence pointed strongly to the Soviet responsibility for the crime. As a journalist, he could have easily asked questions of the right sources, including State Department officials, Ambassador Ciechanowski, and some American reporters who covered the Soviet Union from Washington, New York or Chicago. “Mr. Davis, therefore, bears the responsibility for accepting the Soviet propaganda version of the Katyn massacre without full investigation,” the bipartisan Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which investigated the Katyn Massacre, concluded in its final report in 1952,

Not satisfied with censored VOA news, another OWI official, Alan Cranston who later became U.S. Senator from California, used illegal tactics to pressure commercial U.S. broadcasters to drop Polish American radio programs on which the truth about Katyn was being told. These activities were also investigated by the Select Committee after the war and declared to be illegal.

But even during the war, OWI’s pro-Soviet bias, its handling of the Katyn story in overseas Voice of America broadcasts, Elmer Davis’s commentary, censorship of Polish American radio stations and finally OWI’s public opinion poll became known, largely though the efforts of the Polish Embassy. They outraged the Polish American community and their representatives in Congress. Speaking on the floor of the House in 1943, members of Congress revealed that some OWI managers lacked any experience in foreign affairs and some of OWI journalists were open Soviet sympathizers if not actual members of the Communist Party. A few of WWII Voice of America broadcasters and contributors later joined Communist governments in Eastern Europe. A few were later identified through the Venona counter-intelligence program initiated by the United States Army Signal Intelligence Service (a forerunner of the National Security Agency) as actual Soviet agents or Soviet agents of influence.

Voice of America Polish desk commentator, Artur Salman, who also wrote under the pen name Stefan Arski, left VOA and the United States after the war and went back to Poland. He became a chief anti-American propagandist in Warsaw writing articles virulently attacking the U.S. Congress for its investigation of the Katyn Massacre. Voice of America’s censorship of the Katyn story in one form or another continued into the late 1970s. That was not the case with U.S.-funded surrogate broadcasters Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. They were able to broadcast the whole truth about Katyn in newscasts, interviews and historical programs. They were created after the OWI was broken up and the Voice of America, then under the State Department, proved ineffective in responding to Soviet propaganda.

History seems to repeat itself, although the current problems with the Voice of America and the Broadcasting Board of Governors appear to be mostly a result of mismanagement and incompetence rather than any deliberate actions to help Vladimir Putin. As in 1943, members of Congress took notice, especially after then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the BBG in 2013 as “practically defunct.” Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced bipartisan bills to reform U.S. international broadcasting, proposing to eliminate much of the BBG bureaucracy and to keep Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and other surrogate broadcasters independent as they were during the Cold War. Defenders of the status quo want to keep the current bureaucracy despite its failures and to expand its powers. If OWI’s history provides any lessons, a mega federal government propaganda agency is impossible to manage and can be a real danger to long-term U.S. foreign policy, domestic U.S. politics, public diplomacy and security interests abroad, but separate and highly-focused Voice of America and surrogate media entities, when properly managed, have played an important role in opposing censorship, countering propaganda and advancing freedom and democracy.


Copy of the first page of Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski’s cable from the Polish Embassy in Washington to the Polish Government in Exile in London, dated August 27, 1943.




July 13, 1943

To Minister of Foreign Affairs in London

I would like to inform the Minister of an action I am undertaking to call attention of the American public opinion, Congressional circles and some American government circles which have an objective view of Soviet affairs, to the biased attitude of the government propaganda bureau, the Office of War Information (OWI), toward Polish-Soviet issues.

This above topic has already some history behind it. Initially, when American propaganda offices were headed by Colonel Donovan (Coordinator of Information) and Archibald MacLeish (Office of Facts and Figures), the Embassy had very close relations with these two offices and their friendly view of Poland’s cause could not be questioned. Polish affairs were in the hands of such Americans as: Edgar A. Mowrer, Betty Carter, A. Oldes, Lee House and several others. With their help, the Embassy was able to organize several propaganda campaigns of first-rate significance of which the Minister is aware, such as: the 3rd of May [Poland’s Constitution Day] observances last year throughout the entire United States, publication of the booklet “Tale of a City,” excellent press coverage of the visits by Prime Minister General Sikorski, etc. The Embassy also relied on the friendly attitude of the leadership and officials of the propaganda offices in its daily, very frequent interventions, suggestions, and delivery of materials to the press and radio commentators, etc.

The situation worsened from the moment when the C.O.I. and O.F.F. offices were combined under the leadership of Elmer Davis, a journalist little familiar with European issues, crude, completely committed to the idea of using commercial advertising methods — in the American style — in political propaganda. Davis, aware of his ignorance, left political affairs in the hands of its assistants, such individuals as: Robert E. Sherwood, James Cowles, James P. Warburg, Joseph Barnes — all, without exception, pronounced sympathizers of Russia and communism, and — in the case of Cowles and Barnes — Willkie’s traveling companions on his trip to Russia and top promoters of the policy of “appeasement” toward Stalin.

Davis’ ignorance and advertising methods scared away from O.W.I. many of some of the most serious journalists who had been recruited before by Colonel Donovan and MacLeish, for example Henry F. Pringle, a well-known writer for the “Saturday Evening Post”; Ph. Hamburger, a commentator for the famous “New Yorker” and the author of our booklet “Tale of a City; Edgar A. Mowrer, I. Visson and fifteen others who had left the O.W.I. under some scandal. The chief of the O.W.I. press section, outstanding former editor of the “San Francisco Chronicle,” Paul Clifford Smith, our sincere friend, also resigned.

The O.W.I. started to attract mediocre journalists completely subservient to Davis’ politicized assistants mentioned above. Polish affairs were placed in the hands of a group of Polish citizens manifesting their pro-Soviet stand, such as T.N. Hudes, Al. Hertz, Art. Salman, M. Zlotowska and politically disoriented because of her long-term absence from Poland Mrs. Irena Balinska. She reports to Joseph Barnes, a declared communist, preparing flyers and propaganda publications designed for distribution in Poland.

As soon as this situation developed, I personally called Mr. Davis’ attention during a special visit to the inappropriate selection of Polish personnel. Despite his promises, my intervention produced no results. Similar interventions by Ambassadors from Greece, Holland and Yugoslavia– countries whose O.W.I. desks are staffed by communists and army and navy deserters, etc.–also met the same fate.

As our relations with Russia worsened, O.W.I. attitude toward us started to worsen more and more. For example, we were refused help in organizing this year’s 3rd of May radio program to be broadcast in the United States nationwide despite willingness by Congressional Majority and Minority leaders, McCormack and Martin, to record speeches. This, however, did not prevent us from moving forward with the program. Thanks to our personal contacts, the Columbia Broadcasting System gave us airtime needed on all stations on its network within two days. As the Minister knows from my report on the 3rd of May observances (No. 337a/SZ-114 from June 10, [19]43) the program was excellent. Similarly, our relations with the press were not damaged by O.W.I.’s hostile attitude. On the contrary — adjusting efforts by directly contacting the media while avoiding the O.W.I. produced better results than going through an intermediary. But in spite of this, the O.W.I. made our life difficult, especially during the period of the “Katyn Affair,” by withholding through censorship all of our major statements while letting the Soviet ones go through.

I have been exerting pressure on the O.W.I and will continue to exert it through several avenues. First of all, I inform the State Department about each confirmed O.W.I.’s biased report. However, the State Department is powerless. Secondly, I maintain very friendly relations with Mr. George Creel, currently the editor of the “Collier’s” weekly, the chief of American propaganda during the previous war and President Wilson’s close associate. Thanks to his position and his previous activity, Creel who is a very courageous man and, unlike Davis, very informed, in his direct talks with Davis points out mistakes and is not shy with sharp criticism. Additionally, Creel has access to leading members of the Senate, such senators as Bridges, Tydings, Byrd, and presents them with all of our complaints against the O.W.I. without revealing their source.

Thirdly, and finally — I am conducting my action through members of Congress who are of Polish descent. The Minister can be informed in detail by reading the attached “Congressional Record” (from June 17, 1943).

Our intensified pressure on the O.W.I., especially in regard to the disastrous selection of the Polish staff, convinced Elmer Davis to look for a Polish citizen whose views are close to our official propaganda in the United States. The person selected was Dr. Ludwik Krzyzanowski, a former P.I.C. employee, editor of “New Europe.” Presently, Dr. Krzyzanowski works in Washington at the O.W.I. headquarters and maintains a close contact with us. In his view, the attack on the O.W.I. in Congress, led in large part by us and by Creel and which resulted in a significant cut in the institution’s budget, sobered some O.W.I. elements and convinced them to slow down the tempo of official pro-Soviet American propaganda. He does not believe, however, that this will last long. The O.W.I.’s staffing is too one-sided to expect changes in its political stand without major removals which are unlikely at the present time.

Our cooperation with Dr. Krzyzanowski is developing satisfactorily, but it remains to be seen whether he will have sufficient influence to neutralize, at least partially, the very strong anti-Polish trends within the O.W.I., especially in light of the pro-Soviet attitudes of the group of Polish citizens employed there whom I have described above.

Our pressure warned O.W.I.’s pro-Soviet elements that they cannot continue their bias with impunity. Our careful monitoring of O.W.I’s actions will determine our future actions.


J. Ciechanowski
Ambassador of Poland


Capitol Stuff

By John O’Donnell

Times-Herald, Washington, D.C., August 20, 1943

“The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.

Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”


“Freedom might well shriek if some of the descendants of that original liberty Pole [General Tadeusz Kosciuszko] were faced with these latest OWI questions to Americans with Polish names. … the questions are framed with a strictly pro-Russian slant, in our opinion.”



New York, NY August 21, 1943



American public opinion was shocked by an article by John O’Donnell in the Daily News about the mysterious investigation conducted by the OWI through the Denver University.


Americans of Polish extraction give expression to their thoughts on politics by the way of casting their votes on election day; they give expression to their feelings with their blood in Africa, Alaska, Guadalcanal, etc. They know more about Hitler and Stalin than the O.W.I. can or cares to tell them. To the theorists and propagandists of the O.W.I., Russia, the Russians, communism and Stalin’s designs are merely clay with which they are playing. To the Poles these are realities. Tragic realities indeed — not theories, not politics.

We have been watching O.W.I.’s disturbing meddling and mysterious activities among the foreign born groups and have repeatedly expressed our resentment and our worry over the reaction. We must bear in mind that the O.W.I. is a part of our Government; that the O.W.I. speaks in the name of America and acts in the name of our Government not only when addressing nations enslaved by Hitler, but also when meddling here at home.”


It should be stressed that during World War II, the Voice of America was not trying to deny the Holocaust as it was trying to deny Stalin’s crimes, but in presenting Stalin as a liberator, a newly-converted democrat, and a guarantor of democracy in liberated Europe, it had little time left for stories specifically on the Jewish genocide. In the last years of the war, Soviet propaganda directives were incorporated into propaganda directives for VOA through the exchange arranged by the OWI officials. The driving force behind this coordination of propaganda with the Soviets was one of VOA’s “fathers,” liberal American playwright Robert E. Sherwood.

During the war, Sherwood was a top OWI program director and also Roosevelt’s speechwriter. He “boldly proclaimed that America had to fight Nazi propaganda with American propaganda,”[ref]Holly Cowan Shulman, The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945, 5.[/ref] which under his watch quickly became his own propaganda, based on what he thought President Roosevelt would want, mixed with Soviet propaganda. Repeating the Soviet propaganda line, Sherwood advised VOA journalists in his “Weekly Propaganda Directive” dated May 1, 1943 that some Poles may be cooperating with Hitler, even though Poland was probably the only Nazi-occupied country where such cooperation was nonexistent.

“Some Poles are consciously or unconsciously cooperating with Hitler in his campaign to spiritually divide the United Nations.”[ref]Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box820[/ref]

He also warned VOA “not to commiserate them or apologize to them” because “Almost every European nation emphasizes its periods of martyrdom and its historical difficulties.”[ref]Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box820[/ref]

The “Propaganda Directive” was designed to prevent VOA journalists from blaming Stalin for the Katyn Forest massacre of the Polish war prisoners, but its propagandistic and anti-humanitarian message could just as easily be applied to any group suffering persecution under the Nazis and the Soviets, including Jews. The propaganda message Sherwood wanted VOA to promote was that the Soviet war effort against the Nazis was more important than the martyrdom of any single group or any other considerations. Sherwood’s 1943 “Propaganda Directive” includes a single reference to the Polish Jews being killed in Nazi extermination camps.

“Play up the Nazis’ cruel treatment of Jews,” Sherwood wrote. But he also showed his callous disregard for the truth and for humanitarian concerns.

“Use the retribution theme to make the loss of 10,000 Polish officers recede into the background. Of course,the 10,000 officers [executed on Stalin’s orders] must not be mentioned.”
[ref]Robert E. Sherwood, Director, Overseas Branch, Office of War Information; RG208, Director of Oversees Operations, Record Set of Policy Directives for Overseas Programs-1942-1945 (Entry363); Regional Directives, January 1943-October 1943; Box820[/ref]

As Holly Cowan Schulman points out, U.S. government officials in charge of the Voice of America were definitely not anti-Semitic. Robert E. Sherwood and OWI director Elmer Davis were not Jewish, but VOA director John Houseman and several other OWI and VOA officials were American Jews or Jewish refugees from Europe. To many of them, however, their personal ideological commitment to opposing Nazi Germany and fascism and their fascination with the Soviet Union as a model of social justice and Stalin as a great leader were far more important than any other loyalties. They ignored not just the Jewish Holocaust. They also ignored the murder of thousands of Polish officers carried out on the orders of Stalin in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk and in other locations in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1940. In line with the Soviet propaganda and directives from Robert E. Sherwood, the Voice of America immediately blamed the mass murder of the Polish war prisoners on the Nazis even though the U.S. State Department warned VOA to stay clear of the controversy because the evidence of the Soviet guilt was already very strong. Elmer Davis himself wrote and recorded a commentary supporting the Soviet denial of responsibility for the mass murder.

The Soviet propaganda directives shared by Sherwood with VOA during the later years of the war did not focus on the Jewish question, but they included plenty of charges of anti-Semitism and fascism advanced against all critics of Soviet policies, including loyal U.S. allies, their leaders, and their soldiers fighting the Nazis. Jan Karski, a Polish underground army (Home Army – “AK”) emissary from German-occupied Poland who had described to President Roosevelt the methodical persecution, starving and extermination of the Jewish population, was politely listened to, but his accounts were dismissed as possibly exaggerated and were largely ignored. As an anti-communist democrat, Karski would be clearly among those whom the Soviet propaganda accused of being anti-Semitic and supporting the Nazi cause. While in Poland, Karski was imprisoned briefly by the Gestapo but was rescued by the Polish underground. Before being sent abroad to brief British and American leaders and media, he visited the Warsaw Ghetto to document the German atrocities against the Jews. 1982, Yad Vashem recognised Jan Karski as Righteous Among the Nations. In 1994, he was made an honorary citizen of Israel in honor of his efforts on behalf of Polish Jews during the Holocaust.



June 17, 1943

Mr. LESINSKI: “The Foreign Language Division of the O.W.I. is under the direction of Alan Cranston. … The result of his costly efforts in the Office of War Information–pardon me, War Interference–is such that none of his press releases contain any mention concerning the activities of the exiled governments–even though they are our Allies and signatories to the Atlantic Charter. Insofar as Mr. Cranston is concerned these exiled governments do not exist–nor do they exist as far as Soviet Russia is concerned.”


Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski

Defeat in Victory

The Polish Ambassador to Washington Jan Ciechanowski wrote in his 1947 book “Defeat in Victory”:

“Of all the United States Government agencies, the Office of War Information [where Voice of America was placed], under its new director, Mr. Elmer Davis, had very definitely adopted a line of unqualified praise of Soviet Russia and appeared to support its shrewd and increasingly aggressive propaganda in the United States. The OWI broadcasts to European countries had become characteristic of this trend.”

“As a high light of this pro-Soviet psychosis, which was being actively instilled in the minds of American public opinion from official quarters, I should mention the refusal I got from the OWI when I asked this agency to help me in obtaining the rectification of maps of Poland which then appeared in the current issue of the Encyclopedia Britannica Atlas.”

“While agreeing with me that a rectification was desirable, considering that these maps showed a final incorporation into Russia of the territories given by Hitler to the Soviets during the Russo-German honeymoon in 1939 and 1940, the OWI officials contended that any rectification might annoy the Soviets and this they were not prepared to risk.” (pp. 115-116)

“But, curiously enough, while some government departments realized the danger of unduly encouraging Soviet-Russian appeasement, some of the new war agencies actively conducted what could only be termed pro-Soviet propaganda.”

So-called American propaganda broadcasts to occupied Poland were outstanding proofs of this tendency. Notorious pro-Soviet propagandists and obscure foreign communists and fellow travelers were entrusted with these broadcasts.”

“I protested repeatedly against the pro-Soviet character of such propaganda. I explained to those responsible for it in the OWI that the Polish nation, suffering untold oppression from Hitler’s hordes, was thirsting for plain news about America and especially about her war effort, her postwar plans, and her moral leadership, that Soviet propaganda was being continuously broadcast anyway to Poland directly from Moscow, and there seemed no reason additionally to broadcast it from the United States.”

“When I finally appealed to the Secretary of State and to divisional heads of the State Department, protesting against the character of the OWI broadcasts to Poland, I was told that the State Department was aware of these facts but could not control this agency, which boasted that it received its directives straight from the White House.” (pp. 130-131)

(Ambassador Ciechanowski’s account of his conversation with U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles after Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile on April 26, 1943. Stalin objected to Poland’s request to the International Red Cross for an independent investigation of the Katyń massacre.) “On my part, I drew Mr. Welles’s special attention to the necessity of curbing the exaggerated pro-Soviet tendency of OWI propaganda at this delicate moment.”

“He promised he would try to do so.” (p. 161)

“Contrary to OWI and fellow-traveler propaganda, American public opinion was becoming apprehensive that the Soviets were not turning out to be an ideal of ‘radical democracy’ and beginning to wonder if it was not more judicious to seek reinsurance in world affairs in a more natural association between the two English-speaking democracies.” (p. 201)

In the atmosphere of silence inspired by the OWI on all Soviet-Polish matters, the publication of excerpts from the Polish and Soviet declarations suddenly revealed to public opinion the existence of an acute Soviet-Polish problem.”

“This revelation coincided with the rising anxiety that, contrary to officially inspired enthusiasm, the Teheran meeting had not been the unqualified success it was made out to be. I frequently heard expressions of criticism of the President for his ‘secret diplomacy,’ and suspicious that, behind the curtain drawn around Teheran, secret agreements had been concluded. The approach of the election campaign was making public opinion noticeably more alert and critical.” (p. 264)

(Ambassador Ciechanowski’s account of his 1944 conversation with Louis Fischer, an American writer and expert on Soviet affairs.) “In his opinion, the President and American official circles had become so personally engaged in pro-Soviet propaganda that it was difficult to imagine how they could ‘go into reverse’ at this time, when internal political considerations were playing such a big part.” (p. 267

1943 – 1952

Kathleen Harriman, OWI

According to former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Arthur Bliss Lane, Kathleen Harriman’s report was the only one in the Katyn file at the State Department at the end of the war. She testified before the Katyn Committee under her married name Mrs. Kathleen Mortimer. In her testimony, she tried to minimize her OWI work and said that she had not reported from Katyn for OWI. It was her official report to the U.S. Government that caused confusion and mislead officials in Washington, but her conclusion that the Soviets were innocent of the mass murder was exactly what her father, President Roosevelt and Stalin wanted to hear.

According to Polish officer Captain Jozef Czapski who was one of the few not killed by the Soviet NKVD secret police and was charged by the Polish Government in London with a futile search for the missing soldiers, Mr. Harriman’s report to the U.S. Government did tremendous damage.

The State Department also could not provide its diplomat going to Warsaw in 1945 as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet-dominated regime in Warsaw numerous other U.S. and Polish reports pointing to the Soviet guilt for the Katyn murders. Numerous U.S. military and diplomatic reports shedding true light on the Katyn massacre were classified, hidden or seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. The only report the State Department could show to Ambassador Bliss Lane in 1945 was written by an OWI-VOA freelancer Kathleen Harriman who at the time was only 26 years old.


Julius Epstein

Congressional Record

A Jewish refugee from Austria Julius Epstein who had worked as a Voice of America journalist and was pushed out for criticizing his pro-Soviet bosses and colleagues made this observation after the war:

“I mean those writers, translators and broadcasters who so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically tried for many years to create ‘love for Stalin,’ when this was the official policy of our ill-advised wartime Government…”[ref]Julius Epstein, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950. A5744-A5745.[/ref]


The Madden Committee

In its “Final Report” published in December 1952, the Madden Committee concluded:

“1. In submitting this final report to the House of Representatives, this committee has come to the conclusion that in those fateful days nearing the end of the Second World War there unfortunately existed in high governmental and military circle a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.

For reasons less clear to this committee, this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. Most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did. It is undoubtedly true that hindsight is much easier to follow than foresight, but it is equally true that much of the material which this committee unearthed was or could have been available to those responsible for our foreign policy as early as 1942.

And, it is equally true that even before 1942 the Kremlin rulers gave much evidence of a menace of Soviet imperialism paving the way for world conquest. Through the disastrous failure to recognize the danger signs which then existed and in following a policy of satisfying the Kremlin leaders, our Government unwittingly strengthened their hand and contributed to a situation which has grown to be a menace to the United States and the entire free world.”[ref]The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances on the Katyn Massacre (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952) 11-12.[/ref]


U.S. State Department and Elmer Davis

After Joseph Goebbles’ propaganda machine announced the discovery of the Katyn graves on April 13, 1943, a note dated April 22, 1943 addressed to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle included a warning for the OWI to exercise caution in reporting on the Katyn story. Voice of America was at that time OWI’s overseas broadcaster.

State Department Note on Katyn April 22 1943 Berle

“Mr. Berle:

Mr. [Elbridge] Dubrow said Mr. [Ray] Atherton told him that he thinks the O.W. I. should not get mixed up in this Polish officers question in any way, if it can possibly be helped.”

Elbridge Dubrow and Ray Atherton were high-level State Department officials responsible for European affairs.

The State Department was by then aware that the OWI Director, American radio journalist Elmer Davis, and the Voice of America leadership, were already fully engaged in blaming the Katyn massacre on Nazi Germany.

OWI Memorandum Promoting Elmer Davis' Katyn Broadcast April 17 1943

OWI meeting notes of April 17, 1943 advised staff:

“The Elmer Davis broadcast should be liberally used to introduce this item [Katyn].”

“The news is bad for Germany; our enemies therefore fall back on fabrications: exaggerated U-boat claims, atrocity stories such as that of the Polish officers.”

OWI April 17, 1943 meeting notes continued:

“The Polish atrocity story has already received good play but should not be completely dropped. We have given sufficient treatment to direct denials of the German claim. We should now devote our efforts to exposing the whole claim as a German plant which fits into the present German pattern.”

Elmer Davis initiated his broadcast for the Voice of America even though another memorandum from the Department of State dated April 22, 1943 warned:

“…a propaganda campaign which OWI wishes to start in order to counteract the German propaganda story regarding the alleged execution of some 10,000 Polish officers by the Soviet authorities. It is felt that because of the extremely delicate nature of the question of the alleged execution of these Polish officers, and on the basis of the various conflicting contentions of all parties concerned, it would appear to be advisable to refrain from taking any definite stand in regard to this question.”

A State Department memorandum dated April 23, 1943 suggests that OWI officials may have told U.S. diplomats that they were not planning to blame the Katyn massacre squarely on the Germans and tie it to German atrocities committed in Poland. This could have been an attempt to mislead Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle. In his subsequent Voice of America broadcast, OWI director Elmer Davis did exactly the opposite of what the State Department memo said. He blamed the Germans for the Katyn massacre and tied it to German atrocities committed earlier in Poland.

U.S. State Department Note Related to Katyn Massacre April 23 1943

In a U.S. domestic broadcast on April 30, 1943, Elmer Davis asserted:

“The Germans are known to have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Poles after the fighting was over [in 1939]. If they found a camp full of Polish prisoners, when they attacked Russia [in 1941], it would have been the most natural thing in the world for them to murder them, too — if not at the moment, then later, when they needed the corpses for propaganda.”

The same Elmer Davis broadcast was heard overseas on the Voice of America on May 3, 1943, which happened to be Poland’s Constitution Day.


Rep. Timothy P. Sheehan

While the bipartisan committee blamed the Roosevelt administration officials, including Voice of America managers and broadcasters, of operating under “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and our own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis,” [ref]Ibid., 11. (View the report cited.)[/ref] a supplementary statement inserted into the Select Committee’s Final Report by Rep. Timothy P. Sheehan also noted more forcefully:

“Roosevelt’s misjudgment that Russia would honor her agreements, in spite of the factual record of her past broken promises, has proven to be the major error in our entire foreign policy. In setting this policy, our Government, through the State Department, the Army Intelligence (G-2), the Office of War Information, and the Voice of America, followed the policy line so that the American people were misled.” [ref]Ibid., 14-15. (View the report cited.)[/ref]


The Madden Committee and Elmer Davis

On September 18, 1951, the United States House of Representatives established the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence, and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, known as the Madden Committee after its chairman, Rep. Ray J. Madden, a Democratic congressman from Indiana. One of its purposes was to determine whether any U.S. government officials had engaged in covering up the news of the massacre.

When questioned in 1952 by the Madden Committee, Elmer Davis said he did not remember discussing Katyn with high-level State Department officials or seeing the memorandum to Assistant Secretary Berle. He also said that he was convinced at the time that the crime had been committed by the Germans and only changed his opinion after the war when more information about Katyn became available. Elmer Davis was questioned by John J. Mitchell, the Madden Committee’s chief counsel.

Mr. Mitchell. Mr, Davis, you have told us previously that on overall policy and on high-level policy matters, you discussed those with Mr. Hull and Mr. Welles. I would like to ask you now whether you ever discussed this matter specifically at this time with the Department of State or any official therein?

Mr. Davis. I don’t remember. I may say, Mr. Counsel, that this was not one of the major issues that I had to deal with at that time, from my point of view. To a Pole it was certainly the most important issue in the world, but to me, as to the head of every department or agency of Government, about that time of year the principal question was how his budget was- going to get through Congress, and that absorbed most of my time. So whether I asked advice on this question from either Mr. Hull or Mr. Welles, I don’t remember. I don’t recall seeing this memorandum from Mr. Berle, although it is conceivable that I might have. I don’t know.

Elmer Davis refused to accept any responsibility and instead lashed out at his critics who had warned him during the war about Soviet propaganda in Voice of America programs and Soviet sympathizers working at the Office of War Information.

Elmer Davis was especially dismissive of the late Congressman John Lesinski, Sr. (D-MI) and former Polish Ambassador to Washington Jan Ciechanowski. Elmer Davis was questioned by Rep. Thaddeus M. Machrowicz (D-MI).

Mr. Machrowicz. “You have no recollection of either Ambassador Ciechanowski or Congressman Lesinski warning you about the fact that these three persons were known Communists, and were in the employ of the Office of War Information?”

Mr. Davis. “I don’t remember that Mr. Lesinski ever warned me about anything, Mr. Ciechanowski, perhaps by his excessive number of warnings, made me forget which particular ones he especially spoke about.”


Czesław Straszewicz

Kultura, Paris, 1953

The most damning assessment of the Voice of America came from a radio journalist who worked in London during the war for the Polish-language radio station Świt, a surrogate broadcaster based in Britain but targeting Poland. He reported in a 1953 article in the Polish intellectual journal Kultura published in Paris of being horrified and depressed by the lack of news from Warsaw in Voice of America Polish programs as AK fighters were rounded up by the Nazis and the city burned. At that time, the Red Army stopped its fast-moving offensive and allowed the uprising to fail. Stalin hoped that the Germans would finish off anti-Communist Poles who might resist his takeover of Poland after the war.

Czesław Straszewicz described his impressions of VOA’s dismal performance:

“During the Warsaw Uprising, Świt could broadcast anything we wanted under the disapproving glances of the Brits.

With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.

I remember as if it were today when the (Warsaw) Old Town fell [to the Nazis] and our spirits sank, the Voice of America was broadcasting to the allied nations describing for listeners in Poland in a happy tone how a woman named Magda from the village Ptysie made a fool of a Gestapo man named Mueller.

The WWII U.S. government propaganda operation had only one purpose and it was not the Jewish question but the winning of the war. However, some of VOA’s leaders and broadcasters also had their own ideological agenda, which went well beyond what the White House and the State Department wanted the U.S. propaganda to be. In addition to supporting Stalin’s territorial claims in Eastern Europe, which President Roosevelt accepted and supported, VOA propagandists also firmly believed in advancing communist-led progressive movements in Western Europe. This produced a major scandal at the Voice of America in 1943 and the forced resignation of the first VOA director, Hollywood actor John Houseman. He and a few others wanted to see the communists be put in charge of any post-war Italian government while the White House, the State Department and the U.S. military authorities were trying to get the existing pro-German government in Rome to switch sides. A provocative VOA radio broadcast nearly derailed U.S. government efforts to shorten the war and to save lives of American soldiers when it described King Victor Emmanuel as the “moronic little King” of Italy.[ref] Holly Cowan Shulman, The Voice of America: propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press), 99-102.[/ref]

The “moronic little King” incident showed that contrary to conventional wisdom and various claims then and later, the most blatant propaganda throughout VOA’s history, both then and now, was originated not by the White House or the State Department (although it was often inspired by policies set by U.S. presidents) but by poorly-supervised VOA officials and VOA editors and journalists themselves whenever they decided, often on their own, to become activists in support of a particular policy, an ideological cause or a partisan issue. Several influential VOA broadcasters turned into propagandists for communist regimes in Eastern Europe after leaving the Voice of America after the war.


Prof. J.K. Zawodny and Józef Czapski

Prof. J.K. Zawodny wrote in his 1962 Katyn study “Death in the Forest”:

“Even in the postwar years, after President Roosevelt had died, the war with Japan was over, and the U.N. Charter was already in effect—the policy of suppressing the Katyn case was continued by the State Department. The war was over for several years when Mr. Czapski, the man so activey engaged in searching for the missing men in Russia, and himself a survivor of the annihilation, came to the United States for a visit in the early spring of 1950. The Voice of America invited him to make a broadcast in the Polish language to Poland. From it officials of the Voice of America meticulously eliminated all references to the Katyn Massacre. He was not even allowed to mention the word ‘Katyn’.” (p. 186)

In a footnote, Prof. Zawodny cited 82 Congressional Record 5390 (1952) and stated that this information was verified by Mr. Czapski in his letter of December 26, 1959. (p. 196). Recently released State Department documents strongly suggest that some VOA bureaucrats might have been even more eager to avoid annoying the Soviets than some of their State Department colleagues.


Adolf A. Berle

WWII-era Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle recalled in his memoirs that OWI and VOA officials were “following an extreme left-wing line in New York, without bothering to integrate their views with the State Department.”[ref]Adolf E. Berle, Navigating the Rapids: 1918-1971, ed. Beatrice Bishop Berle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Inc., 1973), 440.[/ref] In this instance, they were rebuked by President Roosevelt and some, including John Houseman, were fired or told to resign. After the war, Berle served on the Board of Directors overseeing Radio Free Europe from its beginning until 1963.


John Houseman

The first Voice of America director, Hollywood actor John Houseman also took a few barbs at the Poles and Polish Americans in his book “Unfinished Business Memoirs: 1902-1988” and perhaps unwittingly repeated a few Soviet propaganda themes that VOA under his leadership promoted during the war by denying Soviet crimes and supporting Soviet territorial demands against America’s wartime ally against Nazi Germany and the first victim of World War II attacks by Hitler and Stalin.

“Why were the Poles, after centuries of partition and suffering, riddled with anti-Semitism and obsessed by mad dreams of a ‘Greater Poland’.”

Like his boss Elmer Davis, John Houseman also referred to Voice of America programs as designed for psychological warfare and propaganda. When the State Department refused to issue him a U.S. passport for official travel to Europe and North Africa, John Houseman blamed it on Polish Americans.

“To explain this refusal various theories were put forward: one was that Mrs. Shipley, head of the Passport Division, being herself of Polish origin, was taking revenge for the injuries supposedly inflicted on the Polish Government-in-Exile by the Voice of America.”

Later, according to Houseman, Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle, no doubt fed up with some of VOA’s more irresponsible propaganda broadcasts, himself turned down Houseman’s passport application. John Houseman resigned as the director of the Voice of America in 1943.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien is a former VOA acting associate director and co-founder and supporter of BBG Watch.