- A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television
This book is a reminder that the Cold War was not merely a political and quasi-military conflict between the superpowers but also a source of deep cultural and social cleavages within American society. These cleavages were manifested by, among other things, the remarkable swings of public (and elite) opinion about the Soviet Union and its supporters. During and immediately after World War II, the wartime alliance shaped these perceptions and attitudes, which found expression even in Hollywood movies that combined admiration of the Soviet system with breathtaking ignorance about it. Earlier, during the 1930s, many influential intellectuals and artists were enthusiastic about the Soviet system and inclined to join the slavishly pro-Soviet American Communist Party (CPUSA).
The Soviet imposition of control over Eastern Europe after the war led to a revision of these attitudes. As the Berlin blockade and the Korean War further intensified the Cold War, the pendulum swung to an intense, sometimes irrational anti Communism. The latter found its major and most notorious expression in McCarthyism, loyalty oaths, congressional hearings, and the blacklisting of Communists and Communist sympathizers in the entertainment industry. Among the important (though often not well-known) protagonists in this conflict were former agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—Kenneth Bierley, John Keenan, and Theodore Kirkpatrick—who were associated with "red-hunting" publications such as Counterattack: The Newsletter of Facts on Communism and Red Channel. Those under attack included figures such as John Henry Faulk who had been a prominent "radio personality" and who in 1962 successfully sued for libel Laurence Johnson and Vincent Hartnett, other anti-Communist vigilantes of the period.
The swing of the pendulum from anti-Communism to anti-anti-Communism [End Page 160] came with the protest movements of the 1960s and the rise of the New Left, which, although different from the old, pro-Soviet left, subscribed to many of the same basic values and beliefs. Anti-anti-Communists considered anti-Communism a greater menace and far more distasteful than Communism. Supporters of the American Communist movement came to be seen and portrayed not as stooges of Moscow but as idealistic fighters for social justice and as human beings of great warmth. This, for example, was the portrayal of them in Vivian Gornick's The Romance of American Communism (New York: Basic Books, 1977). Over time, the ravages of McCarthyism acquired an aura of unprecedented state terror, the darkest chapter in recent American history, routinely compared to the Soviet Great Terror of the 1930s (as in CNN's documentary on "The Cold War" in 1998). Alongside the Vietnam War, the anti Communist fervor of the late 1940s and 1950s had the ironic (and regrettable) effect of discrediting anti-Communism among intellectuals and the educated public.
There are two explanations of why the entertainment industry, radio and television included, became a major battlefield of these political ideas and attitudes. Popular entertainers, especially those associated with the Hollywood film industry were, by and large, liberal or left-of-center. Some were Communists or Communist sympathizers. But the great concern with the political attitudes of entertainers can be understood only by reference to the enormous importance of the entertainment industry in American society. Most Americans know far more about popular entertainers (including athletes) than about any other occupational group. These entertainers' lifestyles, including political beliefs and activities, are given more publicity than the lifestyles of any other group. The visibility of the entertainment industry in American society helps to explain why the industry became so politicized and why so much attention was paid to the political attitudes of those within it. Even today, when members of Congress hold hearings about certain matters, they often respectfully solicit the pronouncements of celebrity entertainers regardless of their level of knowledge.
David Everitt addresses these issues in A Shadow of Red. The book is not only thorough and well documented, it also is remarkably judicious and even-handed, especially considering the heated emotions surrounding these...