Newsmax’s Ron Kessler is in distress. He has written an article complaining that a “dangerous movement has been growing among conservative writers” who are trying to “vindicate” the late Senator Joe McCarthy.
In warning conservatives to shun this awful path, Kessler repeats hoary myths about the senator and insists he wielded the same tar brush allegedly used by the bad, old House Committee on Un-American Activities when it smeared poor Lillian Hellman. No wonder Kessler’s in a panic, but his claims are bogus.
The heart of his argument is that in 2001 he interviewed now-deceased Robert Lamphere, “who participated in all the FBI’s major spy cases during the McCarthy period.”
Lamphere apparently handed Kessler a bunch of stories about McCarthy, several provably false, and Kessler repeats them as if their veracity had never been challenged or debunked.
Lamphere wrote a terrific book about the FBI’s role in KGB spy-catching, but his knowledge about McCarthy, as Kessler unwittingly discloses, was thin and often very wrong.
What’s utterly perplexing is that Kessler would write so much nonsense without ever addressing the findings of a new book that is changing a lot of people’s minds about the Wisconsin senator: Stan Evans’ Blacklisted by History. That book has been praised not only by top-flight reporters (Robert Novak calls Evans’ work “meticulous investigative journalism”) but by such solid anti-Communist historians as John Earl Haynes.
Though no conservative and hardly a fan of the Wisconsin lawmaker, Haynes has written that Evans’ research is “so comprehensive” that it “will be a foolish historian who does not consult” the book when questions arise about people and events in the McCarthy saga. Foolish journalists, as well.
Why the Evans book is so important (and why thoughtful anti-Communists are impressed) is that, with fine detail and original sources, it punctures so many of the McCarthy myths that Kessler mindlessly recycles.
Evans, for instance, has disproved the tale that McCarthy ever claimed there were 205 members of the Communist Party in the State Department, but Kessler, for some reason, feels compelled to repeat it. He cites Senate associate historian Donald Ritchie to bolster his case against McCarthy, apparently unaware of Evans’ disclosure that Ritchie’s commentaries are unreliable, especially so in the major McCarthy case involving Annie Lee Moss.
The people McCarthy “tarnished as Communists or Communist sympathizers were not the real spies,” says Kessler, which leads to the question: Who were these people McCarthy “tarnished”? And if they weren’t spies, were they still Communists and Communist sympathizers? Kessler doesn’t say.
Nor was it ever the goal of McCarthy to root out “spies,” as such. His chief purpose was to present evidence, from a wide variety of reliable sources, that the State Department and other government and international agencies were honeycombed with dozens of people whose Communist backgrounds were lengthy, well-known and alarming.
Several were suspected of espionage, but, more importantly, McCarthy was concerned that many of the more than 100 cases that he submitted to the Tydings panel to investigate were pro-Soviet, actively subversive and feverishly working to undermine American foreign policy.
Evans demonstrates beyond quibble that many of the figures McCarthy cited were as treacherous as McCarthy feared, despite Tydings’ deliberate squelching of the evidence. Yet Kessler’s article reflects not a speck of recognition of what Evans has unearthed.
McCarthy’s conduct is likened to that of the House Committee on Un-American Activities when it supposedly pressured the Hollywood studios to blacklist playwright Lillian Hellman. Kessler says she was blacklisted “because her lover, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, was one [a Communist],” letting the reader think Hellman was never one herself.
I hate to break the news, but Hellman admitted she was a Communist in a letter to her own lawyer, Joseph Rauh. I have a copy of the letter, but anyone can secure his own by going to Joseph Rauh’s papers at the Library of Congress.
In her undated letter to Rauh (circa April 1952), she says: “I joined the Communist Party in 1938…”
She lied even to Rauh about the number of years she was a CP member, insisting she left in 1940, but HCUA, whose tactics McCarthy mirrored, as Kessler would have it, managed to worm it out of her in a most interesting and amusing way.
When Hellman was called in May 1952 before HCUA, she was asked whether Martin Berkeley, an ex-Communist screenwriter, was accurate when he testified that she had attended the first meeting of the Hollywood section of the party in Berkeley’s home in June 1937.
Hellman took the Fifth, meaning she refused to say on the grounds that to do so could incriminate her.
Asked if she was currently a party member, she said, “No, sir.” But was she ever a member? Her reply: “I refuse to answer.” Chairman John Wood then had a splendid time trying to pin down when she would claim she was no longer a member Five years ago?
Three years? She took the Fifth each time. How about “two years ago at this time?”
Hellman: “No, sir.”
So even Ron Kessler might conclude that Hellman was a Communist from approximately 1937 to 1950 and that HCUA had not treated her unfairly. Hellman, of course, was not just a party member, but a loud and longtime shill for Stalin, defending every twist and turn in the Stalinist line.
Even after she said she was no longer a party member, she turned on Nikita Khrushchev for “exposing” Stalin at the historic Twentieth Party Congress. “When Khrushchev gave his famous speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes, Hellman condemned Khrushchev for turning on the very leader who had been responsible for Khrushchev’s career,” writes Carl Rollyson in his authoritative, friendly biography of Hellman.
Kessler’s piece is reflective of the real problem with the topic of Joe McCarthy: So many who write on the Wisconsin senator, HCUA and communism in America have had their noggins crammed with so much misinformation over the years that they can’t open their minds to a contrary point of view. They have, alas, come to believe things that are just not so.
That’s why more books like Blacklisted by History, not fewer, should be written.