USIA Director Edward R. Murrow responds in this 1961 audio recording to a question from a Voice of America reporter about Murrow’s unsuccessful attempt to censor his own documentary “Harvest of Shame.” The documentary about migrant agricultural workers did not present the United States in the best light and, in one of his first official acts as USIA Director, Murrow secretly tried to get the BBC not to run it. The BBC refused his request and the media found out about it. In his response to a VOA Pakistani Service reporter, he called his actions “foolish,” admitting that he had made a mistake.
Contrary to some claims, Edward R. Murrow did not “help to create VOA.” He had nothing to do with VOA in the early years of VOA’s existence. During World War II, he broadcast truthful news from London for CBS while Voice of America’s pro-Soviet broadcasters repeated Soviet propaganda lies following in the footsteps of New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty. Duranty’s misleading reporting was designed to protect the Soviet Union and Stalin from criticism as did VOA during the war. VOA’s pro-Soviet propagandists repeated the Kremlin’s lie about the murder of thousands of Polish military officers in Katyn while Murrow reported truthfully that the Soviets were responsible for the mass murder.
There could not have been greater difference between Edward R. Murrow and Left-leaning, pro-Soviet VOA propaganda officials and many of VOA’s early broadcasters who were hired by John Houseman, later called the first VOA director. He was forced to resign in 1943. FDR’s friend and foreign policy advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, informed the White House that Houseman was hiring Communists. U.S. Army Intelligence recommended that he not be allowed to travel abroad for the duration of the war. The State Department refused to issue him a U.S. passport.
Despite Houseman’s departure, VOA’s pro-Kremlin broadcasts continued until the end of the war and possibly for a few more years. VOA’s early broadcasts would have met with strong disapproval from Edward R. Murrow. There was a striking difference between Houseman and Murrow who had nothing to do with the creation of VOA and had only limited impact, some of it somewhat negative, while he served as USIA director. He was, however, a strong believer in truthful journalism and had an extraordinary talent as a reporter.