August 22, 2019

1951. Heated Debate in Congress Over 'Voice of America' Programming

Republicans Say Voice of America Is Biased and Ineffective
"A group of State Department announcers huddle around the microphone after the initial shortwave broadcast in Russian to Russia from New York City, Feb. 17, 1947" (source)
From Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine, July 30, 1951, p. 31:
VOA COMMENTATORS: Barrett Answers Charge

The State Dept. last week soundly scotched a series of Congressional charges involving network commentators whose service were utilized on the Voice of America by contract under the Smith-Mundt Act. NBC also joined in a partial rebuttal to a Communist affiliation blast.

The issue was raised in a caustic speech on the House floor by Rep. William S. Hill (R-Col.), who charged that the State Dept. had placed itself "in a highly dubious position" by employing certain political commentators, notably those with CBS. Rep. Hill also singled out an NBC commentator whom, he claimed, "has a lengthy record of affiliation with Communist and Communist-front organizations." He referred to Ben Grauer, who promptly labeled the accusation as "vicious" and questioned the existence of any "official record" tending to discredit his loyalty.

NBC also issued a statement saying that "we have thoroughly investigated (Mr.) Grauer at his request, and found him to be a true and loyal American."

CBS declined comment on Congressman Hill's mention of the employment by VOA of four commentators—Charles Collingwood, William Downs, Griffing Bancroft and Eric Sevareid—who he said had drawn $1,100 for private services.

In a statement issued Thursday, Edward W. Barrett, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, held that it was a "gross injustice" for anyone to imply political favoritism.

Secretary Barrett's comments were directed to Rep. John J. Rooney (D-N. Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations sub-committee, which has been critical of Voice operations. Rep. Hill's remarks came during the course of House debate on VOA funds (see separate story).

Mr. Barrett pointed out that both parties of Congress have suggested that "this program should utilize as fully as possible the best professional talent available" and facilities of private agencies.

"Naturally the Dept. of State as tried to comply with these very sensible and constructive suggestions and instructions. As one part of this program, we have utilized the parttime services of well-known American radio commentators in reaching a worldwide English language audience and in reaching audiences in other languages," he explained, citing the provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act.

He added:
. . . Such commentators have been extremely generous in doing this work at nominal rates far below the pay scale they normally receive. I hardly need to tell you that it is a gross injustice for anyone to imply that a distinguished American radio commentator should be swayed to change his views in any respect because he receives a nominal fee of $50 to undertake a special broadcast for the Voice of America.

On the contrary, these men deserve very sincere thanks from the nation for doing this work at fees substantially below those they can command elsewhere.
Render Advice

Rep. Hill had noted that "as political commentators they frequently have occasion to pass judgment and express opinions regarding the State Dept. that is making cash payments to them."

Taking another tack, Rep. Hill also described CBS as having a "reputation of being, through its so-called news programs and commentaries, a strong supporter of the Truman administration, and of socialistic tendencies generally." He continued:
. . . CBS has been well treated by the Truman administration; it was Columbia's color television system that received the approval of the FCC and is now being adopted as the standard color system for this country. Columbia stands to gain many millions of dollars from this decision. The agency that handed down the decision, the Federal Communications Commission, is, of course, the same agency that holds the power of life and death over radio stations through its licensing requirements.
In another blast, Rep. William K. Van Pelt (R-Wis.) lamented VOA's appointment of Raymond Swing as advisor and commentator. Referring to Mr. Swing's alleged sympathies for Secretary of State Dean Acheson, he scored the commentator as "one of the most unsuitable persons" the Voice could hire.


Marked dissatisfaction with present Voice of America operation, particularly as an instrument of State Dept. foreign policy, characterized heated House debate on VOA appropriations last week.

Using the U. S. radio arm as its whipping boy, a Republican bloc of the nation's lawmakers lashed out at Voice management, programming, personnel and assorted other phases. Discussion was flavored with pungent descriptions, most of them designed to lay the groundwork for a sharp cut in Voice funds this new fiscal year.

After four days of charges and counter-charges that reverberated from Capitol Hill to the State Dept., the House finally voted to allot VOA $85 million for 1951-52 as recommended by the House Appropriations Committee [BROADCASTING-TELECASTING, July 16]. Two amendments by Rep. Cliff Clevenger (R, Ohio), to cut the Voice another $15 million and to return the bill to committee—were rejected.

The GOP bloc charged that the Voice:
• Fails to "bring hope and encouragement to enslaved peoples behind the Iron Curtain," particularly in Poland, where it rates "last" among listeners.

• Concentrates on covering up "past blunders" by the U. S. government.

• "Is about as agile as a rheumatic rhinoceros . . . red tape, lethargy and inertia are the order of the day."

• Stresses the need for funds to purchase radio receivers for use abroad as "an emergency project," but makes little progress on the project.

• Cannot be made effective unless "you have an effective State Dept."

• "Wanders aimlessly from program to program," lacking a cohesive idea or ideas"; boasts too much about the American standard of living, reflecting a "giveaway complex" and has "a very small listening audience, despite some pretty fanciful figures to the contrary."

• Should be better coordinated with an improved U. S. information program.

• Spends too much money on program evaluation ($1,312,100). Advertisers "would go broke if they spent one-tenth as much evaluating the effect of their promotion. . . ."
Bulwarking a Republican attack on the Voice were Reps. Richard B. Wigglesworth (Mass.), John V. Beamer (Ind.), William S. Hill (Col.), Hamer H. Budge (Ida.), Patrick J. Hillins (Calif.), William E. McVey (Ill.), Clarence Brown (Ohio) and John T. Wood (Ida.). Rep. Brown summed up the GOP position: Republicans support a Voice program but the overwhelming majority of its members are "distressed at the results" and blame the administration for lack of a realistic foreign policy.

The Voice also had its supporters in the House, among them Democratic Reps. A. S. J. Carnahan (Mo.), Alfred D. Siminski (N. J.), John J. Rooney (N. Y.), Prince Preston Jr. (Ga.), Laurie C. Battle (Ala.), Brooks Hays (Ark.), and Adolph J. Sabath (Ill.).

In defense of the Voice the Democrats held that the radio operation:
• Spends only 3% of its total budget for program evaluation, on the basis of claims by Thurman Barnard, new acting general manager of the program, and other advertising executives, and that radio networks and advertisers spend at least as much.

• Is counteracting Russian propaganda effectively—a fact borne out by heavy Soviet jamming operations—and is "rendering a real service behind the Iron Curtain."

• Is acting within the provisions of the law in utilizing radio, television and other private agencies as well as professional services of individual commentators (see separate story).

• Is "carrying America's message to the world," under the "expert generalship" of Edward W. Barrett, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.
A suggestion advanced during House discussion was one by Rep. William H. Ayres (R-Ohio) to set up a House committee on the Voice of America. "We have had an Un-American Activities Committee for quite some time," he noted. "I suggest we have a pro-America."