Cold War Radio Museum
October 6, 2016
During World War II, the Voice of America was not yet known by that name. It operated within the Office of War Information as its Overseas Branch. OWI officials coordinated U.S. and Soviet propaganda, distributed broadcasts and other propaganda materials both in the United States and abroad, and engaged in illegal censorship of American media suspected of being anti-Soviet. Wartime VOA employed many pro-Soviet broadcasters and admirers of Stalin, some of whom later went to work for communist regimes in Eastern Europe as anti-American propagandists.
‘Love for Stalin’
“There are still too many of the old OWI [Office of War Information] employees working for the Voice, both in this country and overseas. 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 and of our military government in Germany. There is no doubt that all those employees were at that time deeply convinced of the absolute correctness of that pro-Stalinist propaganda. How can we expect them to do the exact opposite now?”
Journalist Julius Epstein quoted by Congressman George A. Dondero (R-MI) in Congressional Record, August 9, 1950. The quote was from the article which was published in the Evening Star Washington newspaper on August 7, 1950.1
Official documents declassified and released by the National Archives since 2012 confirmed earlier evidence that during World War II, the U.S. Government-run Voice of America (VOA) external radio station broadcast Soviet propaganda and disinformation with the intention of neutralizing criticism of Joseph Stalin and covering up his crimes. One of the most explosive WWII news stories, which VOA repeatedly censored, distorted and later largely ignored until about 1951, were the 1940 mass murders of about 20,000 Polish military officers and intellectual leaders in Soviet captivity, collectively known as the Katyn Forest massacre.
A former foreign language editor with the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) propaganda agency, Julius Epstein, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, was a journalist responsible for exposing the “Love for Stalin” and the “Katyn Lie” at the Voice of America. His exposures spurred the establishment of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberation, which was later renamed Radio Liberty.
Julius Epstein helped to get the U.S. Congress involved in investigating the Katyn massacre and its coverup by the U.S. government. His public criticism forced programming changes at the Voice of America in the early 1950s even as he was being vilified by State Department officials. He was called “not be [sic] best type of new American citizen” in a declassified 1951 memo written by VOA director (1949-1952) and State Department diplomat Foy D. Kohler.2
One of the ironies of history is that today journalist Julius Epstein, a courageous fighter for honest reporting and a fierce critic of Soviet lies and U.S. Government’s censorship of news about the Soviet Union, is a largely forgotten figure while Voice of America’s first director, Hollywood actor John Houseman, who had initiated the manipulation of news in America’s WWII radio broadcasts, and referred to them as an “instrument of propaganda” and “psychological warfare,”3
which they were under him and OWI director Elmer Davis, is presented as a champion of journalistic integrity.4
Title: New York, New York. “United Nations” exhibition of photographs presented by the United States Office of War Information (OWI) on Rockefeller Plaza. Listening to broadcasts of President Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek, heard every half-hour from a loudspeaker at one end of the frame containing the Atlantic Charter. This frame is surrounded by four statues of the four freedoms. [OWI Caption]
Creator(s): Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1943 Mar.
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.
- Epstein, Julius. 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.
Pages A5744-A5745 ↩
- Memorandum from Foy D. Kohler (OIB/NY) to All Commission Members, December 18, 1951; RG 0059, Department of State, U.S. International Information Administration/International Broadcasting; Entry# P315: Voice of America (VOA) Historical Files: 1946-1953; Reports Psychological Operations POC THRU Katyn Forest Massacres III; Container #18; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. ↩
- Houseman, John. Unfinished Business Memoirs: 1902-1988. New York, NY: Applause Theatre Books, 1989. ↩
- Nordlinger, Jay. “A Voice of America, Part I.” National Review, April 19, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/434211/voa-remarkable-chief-its-ukrainian-service-myroslava-gongadze-part-i. ↩