Henry Loomis, Voice of America Director Who Resisted White House Censorship at VOA, Dies at 89

Henry Loomis

FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org and Free Media Online Blog  November 8, 2008, San Francisco — Henry Loomis, who died Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla., at age 89, was director of the Voice of America (VOA) during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. During his tenure from 1958 to 1965, the VOA Charter was written, and technical facilities and programming for every part of the world were expanded. The VOA Charter, which protects the independence and integrity of VOA programming, was signed into law in 1976 by President Gerald Ford.

Loomis, a strong defender of independent journalism at the Voice of America, resigned in protest as VOA director in 1965 after the Johnson White House demanded that VOA keep quiet about American planes flying over Laos. He later served as president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting during the Nixon administration.

As VOA director, Loomis was in firm control of the station’s strategic planning. In the 1990s, much of the authority of the VOA director had been transferred to the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which eliminated the VOA Arabic radio service and  earlier this year shut down VOA radio broadcasts to Russia shortly before the Russian military attack on Georgia. The BBG also had plans to reduce or terminate VOA radio broadcasts to Tibet, Uzbekistan, China, Georgia, Ukraine, and a number of other countries. Due to protests from Dalai Lama, Tibetan monks, members of Congress, and press freedom organizations, the BBG was forced to suspend some of these cuts, but VOA radio broadcasts to Russia remain off the air.

Many Voice of America employees, who have been marginalized and demoralized by the BBG’s actions, remember Henry Loomis as a relentless and effective defender of VOA’s independence and journalistic mission. He is also credited with persuading Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb, to spare the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto from a nuclear attack. Loomis, a physicist by training,  had studied Japanese history and art at Harvard. During World War II, he enlisted in the navy and served as a radar officer. Before being named Voice of America director in 1958, Loomis worked for the CIA and the Pentagon. After he retired, Loomis continued to speak out in support of funding and independence for Voice of America broadcasters.