BBG – USAGM Watch Commentary

This is clearly a minor sin by Voice of America’s (VOA) current standards (taxpayers should look at VOA’ Iran coverage), but some people have noticed that as of Monday morning VOA English News has failed to report on Ricky Gervais’ barbs at Hollywood at the Golden Globes Awards ceremonies Sunday night. Last night and today both liberal and conservative U.S. media focused heavily on the British actor’s jokes at the expense of Hollywood‘s celebrities. VOA did not mention his jokes once in any text reports that we could find online shortly before noon Monday.

Once again, as with Iran coverage for the last several days, international media outlets have shown their ability to put VOA English News Division to shame in covering major and minor U.S. news.

Russia’s RT posted a report about the Golden Globes Awards under the headline:

RT (RUSSIA): “Oh my God, he mentioned Epstein! Please stop fawning over faux-edgy has-been Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes schtick”

BBC News had a report with the headline:

BBC NEWS: “Golden Globes 2020: Ricky Gervais’s best jokes and other highlights”

Gervais’ jokes making fun of Hollywood were also the main topic of social media gossip Monday morning.

But a report on the VOA mobile app said nothing about Ricky Gervais’ “scorching jokes,” as NBC News has described them.

On VOA’s full site, the same report was attributed to AP.

Well, AP is not required to follow the VOA Charter for accuracy and balance, yet VOA under the watch of director Amanda Bennett and her deputy Sandy Sugawara uses AP stories all the time on serious political topics. Many of these AP stories also violate the VOA Charter, as do many reports originated by VOA staff correspondents.  And why doesn’t the VOA mobile app identify these reports as originated AP? Ms. Bennett should do something to fix that.

This particular story from Hollywood is relatively trivial, yet the Golden Globes Awards are followed by many people abroad. One could possibly excuse the VOA Newsroom for not doing its own report on the Hollywood event if VOA were busy updating news on Iran, but the VOA Newsroom was asleep on Iran as well.

On many news topics VOA English News Division is extremely efficient in going after anybody to the right of Angela Davis and often quotes Hollywood and other celebrities who attack American conservatives of all types. When some critics tried to point this out, a senior VOA reporter banned them from following his VOA work-related news feeds while at the same time proclaiming support for free press in the United States and abroad. Ricky Gervais’ jokes about the hypocrisy of some people in the news and entertainment industry might have hit a raw nerve among VOA editors, that is if any of them were actually on duty Sunday night.

Balanced journalism and knowledge of history are not particularly strong at the Voice of America these days under its current leadership. VOA lauded Angela Davis in two reports as a fighter for human rights without identifying her as an American communist and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. VOA also used in full and without any balance a 2016 political video by Robert De Niro in which he called Donald Trump obscene names and condoned violence against the Republican Party presidential candidate. Some VOA Newsroom writers and editors were posting on social media for several years their own obscene political memes directed against Trump.

Someone needs to remind Ms. Bennett and Ms. Sugawara to remind the VOA Newsroom that “Warts and All” can be found at both extremes of the political spectrum. American taxpayers are not paying their salaries to run the Voice of America as a U.S. government platform for one-sided journalism.

Ironically, there are some fascinating historical links between Hollywood and the Voice of America. During World War II, the Voice of America was actually run by pro-Soviet and communist Hollywood figures, most notably the first VOA Director John Houseman and future Stalin Peace Prize winner Howard Fast. They and other early VOA broadcasters spread Russian propaganda and promoted Stalin as a defender of social justice and democracy.

Reporting on a British comedian and actor making fun of Hollywood is not un-American or an attack on liberalism. His humor could very well help VOA leaders and writers learn something about their own unrecognized and unacknowledged biases and vulnerabilities. In 2017, VOA Newsroom writers and reporters had no objections to streaming on Facebook their tasteless sex joke about Melania Trump and sexist comments about women. Ricky Gervais jokes last night at the Golden Globes awards were were not nearly as offensive, but for the sake of balance we should point out that there are Hollywood actors, directors, screenwriters and producers, both liberal and conservative, who well-rounded, smart and support human rights in the United States and abroad.

For those interested in the early history of the Voice of America when it was still helping Stalin establish communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe before it was reformed in the early 1950s and joined the information battle against communism, here is the Office of War Information (OWI) job description for Howard Fast—an American communist who in 1943 became the first chief news writer of Voice of America radio broadcasts to Europe.

Howard Fast was recruited for his news writing position by VOA’s first director, John Houseman, who hired many communists and Soviet sympathizers to work on preparing VOA broadcasts. The State Department and the U.S. Army Intelligence worked together behind the scenes to force Houseman’s resignation in 1943 by refusing to issue him a US passport for U.S. government travel abroad to the war zone in North Africa.

Howard Fast met with the same refusal. He resigned on January 12, 1944, formally joined the Communist Party USA and worked as a reporter for the party’s newspaper The Daily Worker. In the early 1950s, he spent a few months in prison for contempt of Congress. In December 1953, Fast was awarded the Stalin International Peace Prize worth about $235,000 (in today’s dollars).

Howard Fast was also a bestselling author both in the United States and in the Soviet Union. His best known book was Spartacus and was made into a Hollywood film. In communist-ruled Poland, some of his books were translated by his former VOA colleague Mira Złotowska (later known as Mira Michałowska or Mira Michal). She resigned from VOA in 1944, married a communist diplomat and wrote soft propaganda for the pro-Soviet regime in Warsaw.

The Voice of America has never acknowledged that its first director was an extreme leftist who hired his communist friends from the theatre world and from Hollywood and that its first chief news writer was a Soviet sympathizer who got his news about Russia from the Soviet Embassy in Washington and covered up Stalin’s atrocities. VOA also has not acknowledged many other Soviet sympathizers who had a major influence on its wartime broadcasts. Some of them remained with VOA for several years after the war and continued to censor news unfavorable to the Soviet Union until they were replaced by journalists who fled to the United States as refugees from communism. They are the ones who for several decades of the Cold War helped to protect the Voice of America from the legacy of John Houseman and Howard Fast, both of them associated with the crowd of naive Hollywood celebrities ripped by Ricky Gervais in his Golden Globes Awards opening monologue Sunday night.

Feature image: Hollywood actor calling Donald Trump “Pig” in a one-sided video captioned by the Voice of America in a foreign language and posted with the VOA logo on social media during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.