William F. Buckley Jr. claims it is "preposterous" to charge that the leadership of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has been insensitive to anti-Semitism in radio broadcasts ("Anti-Semitism: Where It Isn't," op-ed, March 27). He maintains that "several journals and authors" have suggested it and that, unfortunately, "a lot of time has been spent in leveling and refuting ridiculous charges."
As a member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international operations, I was asked to visit the headquarters of RFE/RL in Munich to investigate these "ridiculous" charges. I also examined negative reports of management and programming at RFE/RL. I found that while the programs were not blatantly anti- Semitic, the content of some of the programs was improper: The program writers were not taking into consideration the perceptions of their listeners and the reaction they might have to the material. These perceptions have been molded by years of Soviet propaganda, and anti-Semitism is an integral part of that propaganda.
Knowing this mentality, why broadcast material that can be perceived as anti-Semitic? For example, Buckley mentions a program on Alexander Solzhenitzyn's "August 1914" -- a book based on the colored views of the author on 70-year-old historical incidents. This program drew media attention because of caricature-type references to Dmitri Bogrov, as a Jew and as the assailant of the czarist minister Piotr Stolypin, and because of several unfortunate references to a blatant anti-Semitic work, "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion."
Radio Liberty defended airing this program on the grounds of the popularity of and the Soviet audience's familiarity with Solzhenitzyn; it felt compelled to broadcast his work. The program may have been historically correct, but the policy guidelines that are supposed to prevent the airing of inflammatory programs were violated. This is what I believe to be the core of this issue: With all the topics, issues and ideas available for creative programming, why broadcast to the Soviet Union a program that will be perceived by the audience as anti-Semitic? Why mention that the anarchist was a Jew?
The fact -- which Buckley notes -- that Ben Wattenberg, who is Jewish, serves on the Board for International Broadcasting is immaterial. The board is charged with oversight responsibilities, not day-to-day operations of the radios. Therefore, his being or not being on the board is not relevant to reports of anti-Semitic broadcasts. Buckley is implying through a stereotype that Wattenberg is more sensitive to inflammatory programs exclusive of the rest of the board because he is a Jew. Buckley must know this is not the case.
Buckley misses the point by dismissing the perception of anti-Semitism. He quite rightly raises the question of broadcasting anti-democratic material -- Solzhenitzyn's commentary on the lack of firmness in the West, for instance -- into the Soviet Union. However, he does not see that the two issues stem from the same basic problem. Programs relayed to the Russians many times are miscontrued and taken out of context because of the audience's mind-set. Some of these historical programs may be appropriate for U.S. consumption, but are certainly not intended for an audience fed since birth with Soviet propaganda.
After our discussions, RFE/RL agreed that in retrospect it was inappropriate to air some of these broadcasts and that it is necessary for the radios to be acutely sensitive to program material. The subcommittee has adopted my amendment directing RFE/RL to adhere to stricter guidelines on how to operate: reinstitute a person or procedure for day-to-day programming policy and strengthen pre- broadcast audit and post-broadcast analysis.