Voice of America

William Burnett Benton (1900-1973) was a US Assistant Secretary of State from 1945 to 1947 and a United States senator from 1949 to 1953. He also promoted teaching through radio. For example he was very supportive of the educational radio programme ‘The University of Chicago Round Table’ (see See  Cynthia B. Meyers, ‘From Radio Adman to Radio Reformer: Senator William Benton’s Career in Broadcasting, 1930–1960’, Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 16, 1, 2009, pp. 17 – 29).  The reason he features here is that he was an enthusiast for the Open University and very close to Harold Wilson.
Voice of America broadcasts sometimes used the BBC facilities at Bush House (see image).
In 1950, Benton became the first Democrat politician to support Dean Acheson against attacks from Joe McCarthy and in 1951 Benton introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for McCarthy’s expulsion. Benton claimed that McCarthy had “lied” and “practiced deception” with his claims that he had a list of communists working for the State Department. McCarthy turned on Benton and accused him of many things, including anti-American behaviour by having the Encyclopaedia Britannica (which Benton published) printed in England rather than in the United States. Although Benton was not returned to the Senate, his impact on McCarthy was significant.
The fact that he opposed McCarthy did not make Benton an advocate of communism. During the war Benton (when Assistant Secretary of State) founded the radio broadcasting service Voice of America (VoA). At first this service was part of the Office of War Information. Later it was part of the Department of State. In 1953 President Eisenhower in a letter to Benton about the VoA stressed that importance of ‘presenting the American story throughout the world, to friends and enemies alike. It is hopeless to do this by lecturing and pontification. It must be done in many ways. And in most of it the hand of government must be carefully concealed’. The VoA was transferred to the United States Information Agency where it became its largest single operation.
There is a new website for anyone with an interest in radio broadcasting during the Cold War era. On  this blog our focus is not on the categorisation of VoA broadcasts (there are disputes as to whether it can best be characterised as propaganda for the US government, as evidence of a free press, asv impartial news or in other ways) but on any influences that it and its creator had upon the OU. How did Benton see the OU? How influential was he in regard to the form it took? These are issues that we seek to explore.

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