USAGM Watch Commentary by Ted Lipien
My new op-ed in The Hill includes comments on the latest barbaric attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israeli civilians—defenseless Jewish women, children, and the elderly. I discuss the hard-to-understand and explain defense of propaganda and disinformation from Iran and Russia by U.S. government-managed and funded U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) journalists, including federal employees working for the Voice of America (VOA). They went as far as to contradict interview answers from Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), without offering any evidence to support their exoneration of the main supporters of Hamas terrorists: Iran and Putin’s Russia. Rep. McCaul is currently investigating allegations of corruption at USAGM, including charges of bias in favor of Iran’s regime in VOA programs, VOA’s alleged hiring of former Putin propagandists, and dismally low employee morale.
I also tried to provide some broader historical perspectives. The New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty made it respectable to lie in defense of a “progressive” ideology and received the Pulitzer Prize for his deliberately deceptive reporting, which later included lying about millions of Ukrainian peasants who had died from starvation (Holodomor) forced on them by Joseph Stalin and his Soviet communist secret police. Since Duranty received his journalistic award in 1932, which the 2002-2003 Pulitzer Prize Board—whose membership reads like Who’s Who in journalism, media industry, U.S. government service, NGOs, and academia—refused to revoke, many communist and post-communist regimes and terrorist groups could claim the mantle of human rights and anti-imperialism to excuse and/or hide their total contempt for human life and their genocidal crimes. This propaganda has duped many Western journalists. A major part of the problem seems to be that Soviet communist atrocities, unlike those of the Nazis in Germany, were never put on trial or punished.
I was Voice of America’s Polish Service chief during Poland’s peaceful struggle for democracy in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and later VOA’s acting associate director. I also served briefly in 2020-2021 as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president in a non-political and non-partisan role.
Great British-Polish writer Joseph Conrad, whose timeless novels are deeply humanistic, warned at the beginning of the previous century that “the Government of Holy Russia” has been “arrogating to itself the supreme power to torment and slaughter the bodies of its subjects like a God-sent scourge.” Before becoming a refugee in England, Conrad was one of Russia’s many non-Russian conquered subjects. Conrad also wrote about imperial Russia, “Western thought, when it crosses her frontier, falls under the spell of her autocracy and becomes a noxious parody of itself.”
A parody of the truth is what is delivered as Putin’s propaganda to naïve Western journalists. As for the conservatives who think that Putin is right about Ukraine, they ought to ask how a leader like Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire,” would have reacted to Russia’s current attempt to restore it.
As a political refugee, Joseph Conrad was understandably pessimistic about Russia, but there have always been Russians who risked everything to defend the truth. In one of his “Kolyma Tales,” Russian writer Varlam Shalamov (a Gulag survivor like his friend Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) described the slave labor camps there as “Auschwitz without the ovens.” Shalamov wrote about how the starving Kolyma prisoners stole and ate engine grease sent to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program and how American-made bulldozers were used to dig mass graves.
What can one say, faced with such evidence of inexplicable brutality and genocide, about Owen Lattimore, an American academic, journalist, and U.S. government official in charge of Voice of America broadcasts to China (soon to be ruled by communists), who, in his December 1944 National Geographic article informed millions of American readers that workers in the Kolyma Gulag gold mines were all volunteers and heroes of socialist labor served a special vitamin-rich diet of vegetables grown for them in hothouses?
There was no shortage of Walter Durantys in the early Voice of America, but almost all of them were removed or forced out by the end of the Democratic Truman administration. President Truman also supported the establishment of Radio Free Europe.
Several former VOA journalists later worked for communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The first VOA chief news writer and editor, novelist Howard Fast, was a Communist Party USA member who later worked for the Daily Worker party newspaper and in 1953 received the Stalin International Peace Prize. And even during the conservative Nixon and Ford Republican administrations in the 1970s, VOA banned Russian Service interviews with Solzhenitsyn, fearing that they could damage relations with the Kremlin.
Fortunately, at that time, the independent management of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty resisted such censorship. Conservative Republicans, including the late Senator James L. Buckley, criticized the Voice of America, President Ford, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for their snubbing of Solzhenitsyn. James Buckley served as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich from 1982 to 1985. Sadly, RFE/RL is now under the management control of the USAGM’s federal bureaucracy.
READ MORE in The Hill
Hamas’ terrorist attacks against Israel are a handy gift to Russia’s autocrat Vladimir Putin. They distract the free world’s attention from his own atrocities in Ukraine. They may lead to higher energy prices that will benefit his regime. They also contribute to the Kremlin’s propaganda, which is influencing public opinion on the radical wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties.