213. Memorandum From the Acting Secretary of State to the President’s Press Secretary (Hagerty)1


  • Suggested Reply to Question to be Raised at Presidential Press Conference on RFE Broadcasts

At the OCB meeting on December 12 it was decided to ask you to arrange for a question to be asked at a Presidential press conference that would enable the President to clarify his attitude toward recent criticism with respect to the broadcasts by Radio Free Europe (RFE) to Hungary. The suggested question and answer are enclosed.2

The need for such clarification arises from the criticisms that have been voiced in the American and foreign press, alleging that RFE has incited the Hungarian patriots to revolt by promising outside assistance which could not be, and was not, made available.

The President, in his statement of November 14,3 made clear that “the United States doesn’t now, and never has, advocated open rebellion by an undefended populace against force over which they could not possibly prevail”. This statement was helpful in offsetting similar criticisms that have been made with respect to the broadcasts on the Government’s official radio, the Voice of America. However, the President’s statement does not cover RFE broadcasts, which cannot publicly be related to United States policy because our public position toward RFE is that it is a privately operated station. The OCB, therefore, is of the opinion that a statement by the President along the lines of the enclosed would help to clarify the matter. It is recognized that it may be necessary to plant the question with one of the correspondents, but [Page 519] it is understood that this is something that you might be able to arrange without embarrassment.4

Herbert Hoover Jr.



Question: It has been alleged that the Hungarian rebellion was caused by Western radio broadcasts, particularly those of RFE. It is claimed the radio incited the people to revolt and prolonged the fighting by promising outside military assistance. Some comment in the Western press here and abroad has expressed the fear that there may be some truth in those charges. Would you care to comment?

Answer: The Hungarian revolution began, as I understand it, with a peaceful demonstration in Budapest Square. It was turned into an armed rebellion by the firing of the secret police on the students and workers. There has been no more courageous example of the spontaneous uprising of an entire people against foreign oppression. The Nagy Government of Hungary, before it was crushed by Soviet tanks, flatly denied the Soviet accusation of foreign incitement, and the Hungarian people by their continued resistance against overwhelming odds have demonstrated that this revolution springs from their own hearts and is sustained by their own unconquerable belief in human freedom. It would do the Hungarian people an injustice to suggest otherwise.

As for the role of RFE, I have seen statements by responsible leaders of that organization, such as Joseph Grew and othe rs, indicating that they have always guarded against inciting to violence and against making promises that could not be fulfilled. The free world certainly must not mislead these people with false promises but equally we must not allow them to be misled by the totalitarian suppression of all truth. The message that freedom exists and what it means has been carried in broadcasts from the free world to the captive peoples, who otherwise would hear only what their police-state masters want them to hear. The very fact that freedom exists anywhere will, of course, encourage those who are deprived of it to strive for their own liberty and independence.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/12–1556. Secret. Drafted by Lightner.
  2. At its meeting on December 5, the OCB agreed on establishment of an ad hoc working group to agree on possible courses of action to promote better understanding of U.S. actions in East Europe, including U.S. broadcasting operations. Lightner served as chairman of the Working Group which included representatives from USIA, CIA, and OCB. On December 7, the group recommended to the OCB that U.S. policy be clarified in a Presidential speech and at the President’s news conferences with a question concerning “private U.S. broadcasting to Eastern Europe.” (Memorandum of meeting by Comstock, December 11; Ibid., P Files: Lot 61 D 318, Eastern Europe—Informational Activities) A first draft of the question and answer printed here is ibid. At its meeting on December 12, the OCB approved the Working Group’s recommendations, but decided that the Department of State should refer the matter to the White House. (Ibid., OCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, Preliminary Notes) Lightner sent the enclosure printed here to Hoover on December 13; Hoover hand delivered it to Hagerty on December 15. (Ibid., P Files: Lot 61 D 318, Eastern Europe—Informational Activities)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 185.
  4. No such question was asked at any of the President’s news conferences.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.