Voice of America Fellow Travelers Who Spread Soviet Propaganda – Wallace Carroll

One of Voice of America’s fellow travelers who spread Soviet propaganda lies in VOA’s early years was a celebrated American journalist, Wallace Carroll.

Commentary

By Ted Lipien

The Voice of America (VOA), the U.S. taxpayer-funded broadcaster with a budget of $252 million (FY20) in the federal U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), plans to observe in February its 80th anniversary. I hope I’m wrong, but if previous behavior is any guide, the organization’s leaders are likely to present again a distorted version of the early history of U.S. international broadcasting. Most Americans don’t know that Voice of America officials have for decades engaged in a cover-up of Soviet and communist influence during VOA’s beginning years. 1

Important persons and events have all but disappeared from historical memory. The current Voice of America management and their predecessors, for example, have never admitted that the first VOA chief news writer and editor, Howard Fast, was later a Communist Party activist who in 1953 received the Stalin Peace Prize. 2 They are also unlikely to admit that the Roosevelt administration, which was very much pro-Soviet, forced VOA’s first director, John Houseman, to resign because he was hiring communists to fill VOA jobs. 3 His resignation did not change the pro-Soviet content of VOA programs until the Truman administration carried out partial reforms. 4 The creation of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and later Radio Liberty in the early 1950s as semi-private entities separate from the Voice of America was an admission that, even with these reforms, VOA alone was incapable of countering Soviet and other communist propaganda

Besides Fast and Houseman, American journalist Wallace Carroll was another pro-Soviet leader among VOA’s “founding fathers.” Before being put in charge of Voice of America programs during World War II, he was a newspaper correspondent in the Soviet Union, from where he filed reports often filled with unchallenged claims of communist achievements.

In 1942, Carroll published a book devoted entirely to advocating for a close U.S.-Soviet relationship. Titled, We’re In This With Russia, it presented the Soviet Union as a nation transformed by socialism, and Soviet communists as progressive leaders, deserving of America’s support and friendship. While cheering for the joint Soviet-American effort to beat Hitler made perfect sense, Carroll was also particularly concerned that Joseph Stalin still did not have a good press image in the United States. In the Office of War Information, he made sure that the Soviet dictator was presented as a supporter of democracy and progress, despite all evidence to the contrary.

This unwillingness to make intelligent use of the “capitalist press” was only one of a number of weaknesses in the Soviet propaganda organization. After all the commotion which has been made about Russian propaganda, I was surprised to find that the Soviets were overlooking many ways of influencing world opinion, not only through the press, but through the movies, the radio, and other media. They seldom missed a trick in the propaganda directed at their own people, but the machinery they employed to put their case before the world would have been considered inadequate by any other great power. 5

As the head of the OWI London office, Carroll advocated for close coordination of American and Soviet propaganda. He resigned at the end of 1943 when the OWI leadership in Washington did not agree with some of his proposals, but he returned to the agency in 1944 as deputy director for Europe in charge of Voice of America broadcasts.

Alan Heil, a former Voice of America journalist and senior manager who described VOA’s early years in his book, Voice of America: A History, noted that Wallace Carroll became a key member of the new VOA leadership team in 1944. 6

Heil’s book does not mention Carroll’s pro-Russia advocacy. There are no references in other books and articles about the Voice of America to Howard Fast’s role as the head of VOA news programs and his Stalin Peace Prize. John Houseman’s forced resignation has likewise been ignored in books and articles about VOA.

Wallace Carroll, was one of several “founding fathers” of the Voice of America who were woefully unaware of how cleverly the Soviets manipulated him and such VOA fellow traveler newsmen as Howard Fast. The 1953 Stalin Peace Prize for Fast had to be, in the eyes of the Kremlin, a fully deserved reward for years of supporting such Soviet goals as the establishment of pro-Moscow communist regimes in East-Central Europe. The Voice of America did not cause the Soviet domination over the region, but its pro-Soviet propaganda made it easier for the Kremlin to carry out their disinformation campaign. During the Cold War, VOA under new leadership and with new staff of refugee journalists contributed to the fall of communism, although not nearly as much as Radio Free Europe.

When Wallace Carroll, the American journalist who helped to create VOA, published in 1942 his book in praise of the Soviet Union, Stalin and other Soviet communists were already responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people. Most of them were Russians and Ukrainians, but the victims also included Crimean Tatars, Belorussians, Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and many other nationalities and groups. Among millions of men, women, and children who were deported to the Gulag slave labor camps, many quickly died. If they managed to survive, they often never returned to their former homes and became refugees. 

Whether through professionally inexcusable ignorance or ideological zealotry, Office of War Information director Elmer Davis and his deputies and key managers–Robert E. Sherwood, Wallace Carroll, Joseph Barnes, John Houseman, Howard Fast, and other Voice of America pioneers, urged VOA listeners to trust Stalin. 7

After the war, Carroll was an executive editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, served as a news editor in the Washington bureau of the New York Times from 1955 to 1963, and was a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. In his book Persuade or Perish, almost three years after the war, he still insisted that the Soviet version of the Katyn massacre was true.

In 1952, the bipartisan Madden Committee, named after its chairman, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), which investigated the Katyn massacre, condemned the VOA coverage of the Soviet crime, especially after the war. Even as late as 1950, VOA censored Józef Czapski, a former Polish military officer and a witness of the Soviet preparations to commit the Katyn murders. 8

It is highly ironic that an American journalist, who was in charge of the Voice of America and claimed to be a propaganda expert, used as a prime example of the importance of countering propaganda, one of the Soviets’ greatest propaganda lies. He accepted it as true and strongly made a false argument in his book in its defense.

As a United Press reporter during the war, and later as a U.S. government official selected for his claimed knowledge of propaganda, Carroll was exceptionally naïve about communism in Russia. He still believed in the Soviet Katyn propaganda lie long after other American journalists, including Edward R. Murrow, exposed it as Stalin’s disinformation.

Carroll’s failures as a journalist, government executive, and self-declared expert in propaganda and public diplomacy did not prevent his post-war appointment to head the Office of Plans and Policy in the Psychological Strategy Board. It was an Executive Branch committee formed during the Truman administration to coordinate psychological warfare operations. He got the job, even though only three years before his Psychological Strategy Board appointment (1951-1952), he defended false Soviet propaganda claims. He also did it at the Voice of America when he was one of the key executives in charge of VOA programs in 1944 and 1945. One of his lower-level VOA subordinates, Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, later worked as an anti-American propagandist for the communist regime in Poland. Arski promoted the Soviet Katyn lie and condemned as fascist the bipartisan U.S. congressional investigation of the mass execution of Polish military officers, government leaders, and intellectuals. The total number of the executed by the NKVD in the Katyn murders was close to 22,000. 9

In his book Persuade or Perish, Carroll wrote three years after the war:

As Hottelet [Carroll’s trusted advisor at OWI Richard C. Hottelet] had predicted, the dissension which was permitted to arise over the Katyn massacre was still working to the advantage of defeated Germany after the war. In July, 1946, more than three years after Goebbels opened his campaign, the German leaders on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg revived the allegations against the Russians in an obvious attempt to drive a wedge between the Soviets and the Western Powers. 10

Even in 1948 when Soviet Russia had already crushed freedom and democracy in East-Central Europe, Wallace Carroll, a celebrated American journalist, was still unwilling to give up on Stalin’s Katyn propaganda lie. In his book, he repeatedly refers to warnings about Stalin, communism, and the Soviet Union as unjustified use of “the Bolshevik Bogy”  to scare Americans. During World War II, Robert E. Sherwood used the same phrase in a confidential telegram from London to Wallace Carroll, in which he urged VOA to spread the news that Stalin was no longer an enemy of religion.

Besides being in charge of Voice of America broadcasts in the Office of War Information, Sherwood was President Roosevelt’s speechwriter. As the head of all overseas media operations run by OWI, he issued directives to VOA journalists to support Soviet claims of innocence in the Katyn massacre.

As a journalist, Carroll was factually wrong in his claim that the Germans had revived the Katyn allegations at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders. Even a basic check of facts before publishing his authoritative book on propaganda in 1948 would have revealed that it was the Soviet prosecutor at Nuremberg who had introduced the Katyn charges.

The Soviet prosecutor tried to blame the mass murder on the Germans, but the Soviets fell into their own trap. It soon became apparent that they could not prove their case with poorly fabricated evidence because the NKVD secret police had, in fact, committed the Katyn crime on orders from Stalin and the Soviet Politburo. Seeing his evidence refuted, the Soviets quietly dropped the Katyn charges at the Nuremberg trial against the German defendants. 

A member of the U.S. media establishment, Carroll had no problems with American and foreign communists working at the Voice of America, but he viewed refugee journalists who disagreed with him with contempt, as did first VOA director John Houseman. These refugees, who after the war could not go back to their home countries taken over by the Red Army and communist regimes, included Konstanty Broel Plater–the only World War II Voice of America broadcaster known to have resigned in protest against Soviet propaganda in VOA programs. Carroll regarded them as troublemakers. 11

They were right on communism, Soviet Russia, Stalin, and the Katyn massacre, and Wallace Carroll was wrong, but he preferred to blame them, probably because some may have dared to challenge his gullible views. There were, in any case, very few Stalin skeptics working at the Voice of America during World War II and for a few years afterward.

There was another fault of American propaganda from New York [Voice of America broadcast from New York until 1954] that we strove to overcome with just as little success—a fault that can only be described as the émigré imprint. The Office of War Information, like the British propaganda agencies, had been quick to hire talented refugees from the lands overrun by Hitler and Mussolini. These exiles brought with them priceless gifts—linguistic skill, knowledge of national characteristics and customs, journalistic training. I came to know many of them and found them animated for the most part by a sincere desire to carry out the propaganda program of the United States government. But unfortunately some of them had brought with them passions and political convictions which sometimes proved too much for their good intentions. There were indeed times when they used the American radio to wage polemical battles in which the United States had no interest. 12

Tadeusz (Ted) A. Lipien is an international media executive, journalist, writer, blogger, and press freedom advocate. He was Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service chief during Solidarity trade union’s struggle for democracy, acting VOA Associate Director, and served for a short time as President of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). His articles on U.S. international broadcasting have been published in American Diplomacy Journal, National Review, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, and Digital Journal. He is the author of a book on feminism and Pope John Paul II, O-Books, UK, and Świat Książki, Poland. His new book, “Voice of America – 80 Years of Hidden History,” will be published in 2022.

Notes:

  1. Ted Lipien, “Voice of America at 80 – VOA’s Pro-Soviet Fellow Travelers and Lessons for Today,” Ted Lipien (blog), January 24, 2022, https://tedlipien.com/blog/2022/01/24/voice-of-america-at-80-voas-pro-soviet-fellow-travelers-and-lessons-for-today/.
  2. Ted Lipien, “Howard Fast – Chief of Voice of America News Who Won the Stalin Peace Prize, Voice of America – 80 Years of Hidden History,” Voice of America – 80 Years of Hidden History (blog), accessed January 26, 2022, https://www.voa80.com/2021/12/21/howard-fast-chief-of-voice-of-america-news-who-won-the-stalin-peace-prize/.
  3. Ted Lipien, “First VOA Director Was a Pro-Soviet Communist Sympathizer, State Dept. Warned FDR White House,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), May 5, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/state-department-warned-fdr-white-house-first-voice-of-america-director-was-hiring-communists/.
  4. Ted Lipien, “Truman’s ‘Campaign of Truth’ at Voice of America Part I: Countering Soviet Propaganda Abroad and at Home,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), March 25, 2021, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/campaign-of-truth-at-voice-of-america-part-i/.
  5. Wallace Carroll, We’re In This With Russia (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942), p. 89.
  6. Alan L. Heil, Jr., Voice of America: A History (New York: Columbia University Press: 2003), p. 44.
  7. “OWI Head Elmer Davis Spread Soviet Katyn Propaganda Lie in World War II Voice of America Broadcasts,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), May 11, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/owi-head-elmer-davis-promotes-soviet-katyn-propaganda-lie-in-the-us-and-in-voice-of-america-radio-broadcasts/.
  8. Ted Lipien, “Pro-Stalin Voice of America Propaganda Revealed in 1984 VOA Interview with Józef Czapski,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), September 4, 2018, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/stalins-american-voice/.
  9. Ted Lipien, “Voice of America Polish Writer Listed As His Job Reference Stalin’s KGB Agent of Influence Who Duped President Roosevelt,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), February 12, 2020, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/voice-of-america-polish-editor-listed-stalins-kgb-agent-of-influence-as-job-reference/.
  10. Wallace Carroll, Persuade or Perish (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948), p. 152.
  11. Ted Lipien, “Hollywood’s Polish Latin Lover Who Terrorized Voice of America Broadcasters,” Cold War Radio Museum (blog), September 30, 2019, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/hollywoods-polish-latin-lover-who-terrorized-voice-of-america-broadcasters/.
  12. Wallace Carroll, Persuade or Perish, pp. 132-133.