INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Pros suggested that the USIA was our country’s PR agency, but now it’s a blight on the nation

In this space a few weeks ago, I suggested that the United States needs to hire a PR agency. Clumsiness at the State Department over who should be the new director of the IMF had led to our country appearing both anti-German and anti-African.

In this space a few weeks ago, I suggested that the United States needs to hire a PR agency. Clumsiness at the State Department over who should be the new director of the IMF had led to our country appearing both anti-German and anti-African.

In this space a few weeks ago, I suggested that the United States

needs to hire a PR agency. Clumsiness at the State Department over who

should be the new director of the IMF had led to our country appearing

both anti-German and anti-African.



Some Washington veterans suggested that we already had a PR firm on

hand: the United States Information Agency. No one, of course, would

have characterized it as such prior to its recent absorption into the

State Department.



But the issue became moot last week when the former USIA (physician,

heal thyself) was forced to pay more than dollars 500 million in a

lawsuit brought by more than a thousand women alleging open, notorious

and flagrant gender discrimination in hiring.



Over the years, a number of qualified, competent women had applied for

jobs - mainly with the Voice of America - as broadcasters, writers,

editors and producers, and were systematically rejected with the

explanation ’we don’t want a woman for that job.’



But what was at work was something a bit more sinister, defined by the

culture of Eastern European anti-Communists fed by the CIA of the 1970s

and ’80s, where the only credentials needed to be a VOA freedom fighter

were being a right-wing opponent of an East European government, able to

speak the language and, apparently, male.



To the ’Captive Nation’ hotheads, coddled for decades by the CIA, their

backgrounds hidden from public view by concealed ’national security’

files and even a ’classified’ section of the USIA charter, male

chauvinism was a part of the culture. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine

Mystique, the bible of American women’s movement for equality - was

surely not celebrated on the Voice of America.



Worse, according to at least one high-placed official, the agency was

largely unmanaged, undirected and certainly undisciplined. Thanks to the

CIA hegemony over foreign broadcasting, especially to Eastern Europe,

the emigres were given mainly a free hand. CIA ’assets’ could be given

jobs broadcasting to ’free Europe’ and thus, there was hardly a place

for American women who believed the talk that ’ain’t nobody here but us

freedom-loving journalists.’



As with most injustices - and aided by the end of the Cold War - it

became clear a settlement was in order. Each woman will receive about

dollars 450,000, including those whom courts had earlier turned

away.



The public relations need, to be sure, still remains. Is there nowhere

in government today where someone can be found to say, ’Don’t do it,

it’s illegal and it damages the ’USA’ brand’?



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