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Authors, publishers, and the McCarthy era: a hidden history.

We are just learning how many manuscripts were rejected for fear that they were too controversial and might provoke Congressional or FBI scrutiny.

Herblock's famous cartoon depicting Sen. Joseph McCarthy emerging from a Washington, D.C., sewer carrying a bucket of tar and a broad brush introduced a new term into America's political vocabulary - McCarthyism. Yet, the resulting focus on McCarthy has served to confine understanding of the repressive politics of the 1950s to the tactics and charges of the junior senator from Wisconsin. In point of fact, as recently released FBI files reveal, a more serious threat to political liberties - and to the freedom of authors to publish "dangerous" thoughts - stemmed from the often covert, behind-the-scenes efforts of conservative academics, members of Congress, and FBI and Justice Department officials.

This point is particularly highlighted by hearings, initiated in 1951-52 by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), on the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR). The IPR's - and, more notably, Johns Hopkins University professor Owen Lattimore's - "subversive" influence in shaping the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations' China policy, SISS concluded, had brought about the "loss" of China and the "betrayal" of the Chinese Nationalist government. As documentation of this subversive influence, SISS interrogated IPR officials and Lattimore (basing their questions on seized IPR documents and the FBI's covert assistance) and further invited the expert testimony of such self-styled patriotic academicians as Northwestern University's Kenneth Colegrove and William McGovern; Yale University's David Rowe; and Karl Wittfogel, George Taylor, and Nicholas Poppe of the University of Washington.

Admitting ignorance of whether Lattimore ever had been a member of the Communist Party, these conservative intellectuals nonetheless dissected his writings and IPR activities as procommunist, pro-Soviet, or Stalinist and testified to his "deceit" and subtlety as a conspirator. Lattimore's style, Wittfogel proclaimed, "proceed[ed] in a pro-communist way without |exposing [him]self'"; his writings, McGovern asserted, "always" followed the Stalinist line; and his influence in shaping U.S. policy toward and public understanding of China, Rowe contended, made him "probably the principal agent of Stalinism."

While not central to SISS's inquiry, the professors' testimony did add respectability to the Subcommittee's equation of certain interpretations with disloyalty, and abetted SISS chairman Pat McCarran's subsequent efforts to pressure the Justice Department to convict Lattimore of perjury (for denying during his SISS testimony that he was "a sympathizer or any other kind of promoter of communism or communist interests"). Federal judge Luther Youngdahl subsequently dismissed the resulting seven-count indictment.

Yet, although Lattimore escaped conviction, his indictment and SISS's highly publicized hearings impugning his and the IPR's loyalty shaped subsequent popular analyses of Far Eastern history. This point is illustrated by the change in the reviewing policy of the New York Times Book Review. After 1951 and until the 1960s, its editors did not commission any specialist connected with IPR to review books concerning China despite having commissioned IPR specialists to review 22 of the 30 books on China reviewed by the Times during 1945-50.

Covert cooperation

SISS's public hearings had sent a powerful message to authors and book review editors. Yet, a covert initiative between SISS and the FBI, first proposed in 1953 and eventually implemented in 1955, posed a far more serious threat to writers, and their publishers, who had the temerity to challenge the reigning anti-communist orthodoxy.

In February, 1951, the two groups instituted a covert liaison program wherein the Bureau serviced SISS requests for assistance (ranging from background information on "subversives" the Subcommittee planned to subpoena during future hearings to counsel on proposed investigations and strategy). In return, SISS forwarded the fruits of its discoveries to the FBI. On Dec. 9, 1953, emboldened by the Bureau's assistance, SISS counsel Ed Duffy contacted Joseph Sizoo, the FBI's liaison to the Subcommittee, to seek assistance concerning planned SISS hearings on the "general subject of Communist infiltration and domination of the publishing industry." The Subcommittees interest, Duffy explained, had been triggered by "strongly anti-Communist" authors who claimed to be "experiencing difficulty in getting their books published" and to be the victims of "collusion among book reviewers to give favorable reviews to liberal writers or give unfavorable reviews of individuals who are attacking Communists and Communist activities."

Having received "several complaints along these lines," SISS chairman William Jenner (who succeeded McCarran) and member Herman Welker had decided to "explore the matter." Realizing that any such inquiry would bring about a "real battle," Duffy asked Sizoo to arrange a meeting between SISS members and staff with FBI Assistant Director Louis Nichols to discuss the matter. (As FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's liaison to Congress since 1941, Nichols also had supervised personally the SISS-FBI program since its 1951 inception.)

Duffy's presumption that FBI officials might be willing to offer counsel and assistance had not been a blind hope. Two years earlier, following the establishment of the FBI-SISS liaison program, Hoover specifically had urged SISS to investigate "the matter of communist infiltration into the book publishing industry." Such an investigation was needed, he emphasized, to "counteract the left-wing element in the publishing industry, which has been the source of the attacks on the Bureau ... particularly the Max Lowenthal book, William Sloan[e] Associates, Merie Miller's The Sure Thing, and others." (In 1950, William Sloane had published Max Lowenthal's critical history of the FBI.) Owing to the priority of the IPR hearings, SISS did not honor Hoover's recommendation, either in 1951 or in 1952.

SISS's belated interest failed to elicit the hoped-for response. Concluding that the interested Subcommittee members and staff did not have some plan of action, Nichols questioned whether the FBI could be of assistance. Hoover shared Nichols' reservations and instructed Sizoo to advise Duffy that the "Bureau does not have any particular desires or interests in the proposed hearings concerning communist infiltration in the publishing field; however, if the Committee has some plan of action in mind and wishes to discuss it with the Bureau, we will talk it over with them to see if we can be of assistance." No such discussions took place in 1954, but this was due less to the proposal than its timing. Coincidentally, senior Justice Department officials had initiated a review of the FBI-SISS liaison program.

In July, 1953, SISS launched an inquiry into "interlocking subversion in government departments," focusing on the alleged failure of the Truman Administration to purge allegedly subversive Treasury Department employees. This partisan inquiry (seeking to document Republican charges, dating from 1948, of the Democrats' "softness toward communism") assumed an even more politically charged form following a November, 1953, speech by Attorney General Herbert Brownell. In it, he contrasted the Eisenhower Administration's record of acting on FBI-reported "subversive activities" with that of the preceding Truman Administration, and cited in particular former Pres. Harry Truman's nomination of Harry Dexter White as executive director of the International Monetary Fund despite having received FBI reports questioning Whites loyalty.

When Truman responded to Brownell's speech by accusing the Eisenhower Administration of McCarthyism and defending his handling of the White nomination, SISS convened hearings to provide a forum for Brownell, with Hoover in tow, to document this charge of Truman's laxity. Concurrently, SISS launched a companion inquiry triggered by a retired Navy intelligence officer, who claimed that Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) "internal security" files were destroyed in 1944 pursuant to orders of the Roosevelt Administration.

Brownell's and Hoover's joint testimony precipitated a political furor by suggesting FBI collaboration to promote the partisan interests of a Republican administration. Because the Treasury Department and ONI inquiries of SISS seemed to document a joint legislative-executive strategy of questioning the Democrats' anti-communist credentials, senior Justice Department officials became keenly concerned by SISS's crude partisanship - particularly when SISS staff members publicly boasted about their privileged access to FBI files or, as Deputy Attorney General William Rogers more delicately phrased the matter, SISS's failure to "maintain confidence" in the FBI's covert assistance. Accordingly, on March 19, 1954, Rogers directed FBI officials to exercise greater caution when servicing SISS requests and limit future FBI involvement to "public source" information (permitting the Bureau to deny that it had been the provider of SISS's material).

Justice Department officials soon came to reassess even this limited assistance. On June 14, 1954, after weighing the political advantages and disadvantages of continuing the covert FBI-SISS liaison program, Brownell ordered the Bureau to cease all aid to SISS. Unwilling to abandon this arrangement altogether, FBI officials instead developed a covert "informal and confidential" relationship with SISS General Counsel Alva Carpenter.

Attacking the publishing

industry

This cautious assistance continued until the Republicans' loss of the 1954 Congressional elections and the resulting replacement of William Jenner as SISS chairman by the politically more sophisticated, conservative Mississippi Democrat James Eastland. His elevation removed the partisan problem and, in response, in March, 1955, Rogers (who was wholly unaware of the FBI's continued "informal" cooperation) relaxed Brownell's June, 1954, ban and directed the FBI "to help Eastland whenever a situation comes along where [the Bureau] can as [Rogers] feels that Eastland is a very decent person and that the Committee could become very effective and helpful to the Department." Indeed it did, in a two-pronged FBI-SISS attack on "subversive" influence in the publishing and newspaper industries.

The first phase involved SISS hearings in early 1955 precipitated by the publication of Harvey Matusow's expose, False Witness. During the 1950s, Matusow - a former FBI informer - was a frequent government witness about communist activities (during Subversive Activities Control Board and Smith Act trial proceedings). At a 1954 press conference, however, he recanted his earlier testimony, claiming not only to have given false statements, but maintaining that Justice Department and FBI officials had known or solicited his "false witness." Matusow retold his recantation in his book, published by Cameron & Kahn in 1955. Announcement of its pending publication provoked both SISS and FBI officials into joint action to discredit the motives of the publishers.

SISS counsel first subpoenaed the records of Cameron & Kahn, then requested FBI file checks on those individuals identified as either having been involved in publishing or raising funds to issue False Witness. In the resulting public hearings, SISS publicized this information as to the "subversive" background of this venture, which it characterized as having the purpose of discrediting government informers as part of the "strategy and tactics of world communism." The FBI role was not confined to providing SISS with information about the subversive background of the publishers and financial contributors to Matusow's book. Agents also warned the various printing firms that had been contracted by Cameron & Kahn about the adverse consequences should they accept this contract. Left-wing-oriented printers were dissuaded, but the Bureau's pressure failed in the case of a firm owned by a politically conservative former admiral. Having no subversive past and no interest in the book except to make a profit, he rebuffed the FBI agents and printed it.

In the second phase, SISS launched hearings in June and November, 1955, to investigate the employment of communists in the newspaper industry, focusing in particular on current and former New York Times employees. In preparation for these proceedings, it sought the counsel of Bureau officials and tapped the "raw unevaluated files of the FBI." Under this arrangement, SISS staff were briefed fully about the "subversive" background of prospective witnesses.

As the experiences of Lattimore, Lowenthal, and Matusow highlight, Joseph McCarthy was not the sole - even the most serious - practitioner of such McCarthyite politics. To attempt to publish controversial ideas carried great risks, and the authors encountered major obstacles. Nor were these pressures confined to individuals tainted by their past involvement in "communistic" activities of the Popular Front era of the 1930s and early 1940s.

Writing to Donald Downes on June 5, 1953, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson recounted his difficulties in obtaining a publisher for Jack Anderson and Roland May's critical biography of McCarthy. He cited his various approaches to "some of the best publishing companies for whom I have worked in the past - Harper and Bros., Doubleday and Co. None of them would touch it even when I offered to write a special book for them in addition to the McCarthy book." Anderson and May eventually obtained a contract from Beacon Press, the publishing house of the liberal Unitarian church. Coincidentally, Downes, a former operative for the World War II Office of Strategic Services, had experienced similar difficulties in securing a publisher for his memoirs on his OSS experiences, owing to his sharply critical assessment of Hoover's directorship of the FBI and the Bureau's wartime relationship with OSS. Downes' book, The Scarlet Thread: Adventures in Wartime Espionage, eventually was put out by the London publisher Derek Verschoyle.

How many other authors encountered similar difficulties? How many publishers rejected reviewers or manuscripts either because they concluded that the reviewer or subject was too controversial or in fear that publication might provoke Congressional scrutiny or FBI protest? The cited examples of what had been the "hidden history" of the McCarthy era hopefully will promote access to the archives of the major newspapers and publishing houses. Only through a fuller understanding of this history will it be possible to understand the status of intellectual freedom and dissent during the Cold War years.

Dr. Theoharis, History Editor of USA Today, is professor of history, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis.
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Title Annotation:Senator Joseph McCarthy
Author:Theoharis, Athan G.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:2212
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