Guest Commentary

This commentary is by an anonymous writer who has worked for U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Neither RFE/RL nor the Voice of America (VOA) can be trusted anymore to write reports and articles on topics of 20th century history because many of their reporters lack basic knowledge while editors, managers and executives also lack necessary experience and education for their jobs or do not bother to review their entities’ output.

Their federal oversight agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) whose policies and mismanagement have produced these results would do well declaring a temporary moratorium on historical writing while it waits to be abolished by Congress and replaced with a new management structure capable of providing both leadership and editorial control for U.S. media entities serving overseas audiences.

Dumbing Down of RFE/RL Helps Falsifiers of History, Ruins Its Reputation

By RFE/RL Journalist

An illustration of the deep systemic problems which exposes in the article titled “Inexperienced leaders breed chaos at Broadcasting Board of Governors” is the recent “photo blog post” on RFE/RL’s web page, with the involuntarily ironic title, “‘Still Much To Say’: Remembering The Massacre At Babi Yar.”

Such dumbing down of terribly painful and relatively recent human catastrophes shows how low the intellectual level has become at a radio station once known for its exquisite and influential analysis of past and present events.

To begin with, it’s hard to figure out what exactly the photo blog is about: a series of photos, some dating back to time of the massacre, some from the Soviet era (the more recent ones give the impression they had just been dumped there to achieve enough visual material). The opening paragraph reads like one taken out of a B-movie trailer. Let’s take a moment to read it:

“In the autumn of 1941, one the gravest atrocities of the 20th century unfolded in a ragged ravine on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Kyiv. The massacre of 33,771 Jews on September 29-30, 1941, at Babi Yar was an early example of the industrial-scale murder the Nazis would employ in their quest to annihilate the Jewish race.”

That’s it? No word about the 75th anniversary of the atrocity. No word about the political context, about the balance of forces on the ground, no word about the participation of local police in the the rounding up of the victims. No word on the sourcing. But, about that, later.

Curious to find out more, we scroll down. In a rushed caption under the first photo, we are informed that “In June of that year, after two years of neutrality between Germany and the Soviet Union, Nazi forces launched a surprise attack on the U.S.S.R. Within weeks, Nazi forces had overrun eastern Poland and other Soviet-occupied territories, as well as much of the Ukrainian S.S.R. and other Soviet republics.”

That’s it. That’s the start of WWII in Europe for dummies. “Neutrality between Germany and the Soviet Union”? The linguistic nonsense aside (there can be PEACE between, but not NEUTRALITY between two entities), the historical facts are oversimplified and even presented erroneously. Nazi Germany and the USSR were ALLIES, the two dictatorships had signed a secret pact on August 23rd 1939 sealing the fate of several countries in the region, German military personnel were even being trained in the USSR, and the most important fact of all, they invaded and tore Poland apart almost simultaneously. They were not neutral toward one another, they were ALLIES, as the joint Brest-Litovsk Nazi-Soviet parade footage proves. No word about that in the RFE/RL photo blog.

But let’s scroll further down. Where we find out, in pure Communist-era propaganda-style that “Thousands of Jews were tormented and murdered by mobs of locals during a series of pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe.”

… Who were the locals, where in Central and Eastern Europe did it happen, what was the history of antisemitism in the region? Nada. Pictures. Forget educating the new generation. There’s always Wikipedia.

Next. Under a photo of Nazis directing traffic in what apparently seems to be Kyiv, a generic caption reminds us of the nonsensical “neutrality” between the secret allies. Again, no worthy information:

“After two years of neutral relations between Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R., and with information tightly controlled by Soviet media, the Jews of Kyiv have little understanding of the danger they are in.”

Then, we see a terrifying photo of a column of Jewish civilians being marched toward Babi Yar on the streets of Kyiv, walking by dead and mutilated bodies lying in the street. One would have expected an explanation of the horror in the picture. But, no. The captions reads, “One German soldier recalled that the Jews of the U.S.S.R. were ”shockingly ill-informed about our attitude toward them.” Where’s the connection with the image above? We don’t know. We’re not told.

Then, photos of the dead, but no word of who shot them, and how. Go search Wikipedia.

By now, however, one realizes that the captions and the info are strikingly similar to those on the ‘Babi Yar” page of Wikipedia, which appears to be the primary source of information for the “photo blog.”

That raises the question, why put together such a rushed “blog” or whatever it’s called, when one could simply access the Wikipedia page and read more accurate and more interesting information there? Where is the added value from RFE/RL? Where is the context, where are are the conclusions drawn from such a colossal atrocity? What does that mean in the larger context of post-war and post-Cold War Europe? What is the educational value of this “blog”?

Is there the pressure to rush to cover the Jolie-Pitt separation so high that something as important, tragic and painful as Babi Yar is being confined to a series of photos with semi-idiotic captions? Where are the RFE/RL pundits, scholars, experts who made this legendary radio station a household name in Eastern Europe during the Cold War? Fewer and fewer of them are left, if any, and are being replaced by “social media experts” on nothing.

It’s high time those in charge realized that clicks and likes for videos of football-playing goats or cute photos of Gulnara Karimova come at a huge cost. It’s called reputation.

ALSO READ: Are Voice of America and Radio Liberty obeying Russian court ruling on Nazi-Soviet anniversaries?, BBG Watch, September 23, 2016


ALSO READ: Voice of America rewrites history on Mao’s murderous rule, BBG Watch, September 16, 2016


ALSO READ: Voice of America used Putin’s narrative in a Russian report, ignored Biden on WWII history, BBG Watch, September 6, 2016


ALSO READ: BBC, DW, RT report on Elie Wiesel’s death, but not Voice of America as of 5PM ET, BBG Watch, July 2, 2016

Photo Illustration: President Barack Obama tours the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., with Sara Bloomfield, museum director, and Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, April 23, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


  1. I like the article, I wasn’t aware of the massacre.

    The value added is that RFE/RL is educating the public. I’m not likely to search Wikipedia for stories like this out of the blue. I don’t think anything was “dumbed down.” This was an overview of an historical event, if I want to learn more, I can do my own research.

    It’s especially weird to read a critique from someone who works for RFE/RL. If you’re on the inside, why don’t you add to the story? Put a link with more information your on your site that address the “weaknesses” you’ve identified – and then see how many people click!

    That should help your business decide if scholarly works are what readers want.

    1. Especially for those who were not aware of the massacre, it is important for RFE/RL to present accurate historical information, which is what the concerned RFE/RL journalist appears to argue for rather than for scholarly articles. The author is calling for accurate history. It appears that under the current management structure, the journalist is afraid or unable to offer constructive criticism within the organization.

  2. The criticism of the Babi Yar article is justified. The text either contains erroneuous info or it lacks it altogether. The photo selection could have been more interesting, but that probably is limited by publishing rights. If you educate the public, do it right. Otherwise, people will migrate to other sites. It is good though that at least the event was marked.

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