Wes Vernon
November 13, 2005
Murrow, McCarthy, and enduring myths--Part 2
By Wes Vernon

The movie "Good Night and Good Luck" is a classic case of the winners writing "History" at the expense of the losers. There is no question that in the public relations battle over the issue of Communist infiltration in the United States, Edward R. Murrow won and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy lost.

A skilled television performer with a wide audience can succeed in demonizing anyone, and Murrow had that advantage which far surpassed that of any United States Senator. The whole clash came to a head just as television was beginning to emerge from its infancy. With his 5 o'clock shadow and less than ideal sense of public relations, McCarthy was no match for the smooth-as-silk Murrow.

But that is "showbiz." It has nothing to do with substance which in the television era often gets lost in the mix. There was no talk-radio in those days, no Fox News, no Internet.

One interesting tidbit that crops up in the movie is that the legendary big boss of CBS, William S. Paley, rejected Senator McCarthy's request to have William F. Buckley now a legend in his own right defend the senator on national TV in the television time offered to McCarthy to respond to Murrow's attacks. If a skilled debater such as Buckley had been allowed the "equal time" on McCarthy's behalf, it may have advanced the contest closer to a level playing field. Even then, Murrow would still have had the last word.

We are concerned here with substance. In our previous column, we dealt with two enduring myths that have been magnified and sanctified by "Good Night and Good Luck." Herewith, the rest of our list:

3 McCarthy unfairly castigated the American Civil Liberties Union.

For the clearest refutation of that mythology, we are indebted to Allan H. Ryskind, Editor-at-Large of Human Events.

In that weekly's October 17 edition, Ryskind cites Murrow's savaging of McCarthy for questioning the State Department's Reed Harris about his getting help from the ACLU in the early Thirties after he was expelled from Columbia University. McCarthy asked in a hearing if Harris knew that the ACLU had been "listed as 'a front for, and doing the work of' the Communist Party." Harris said he had not know that.

Then, as Ryskind points out, Murrow tells a half-truth. A half-truth, however, can be as misleading as an outright lie. He said the Attorney General's list "does not and has never listed the ACLU as subversive, nor does the FBI or any other federal government agency."

What Murrow failed to point out was the fact that 1954 the year of the hearing in question was 14 years after the ACLU had barred Communists from executive positions. Ryskind continues: "but various government agencies, with cause, viewed the ACLU as subversive in the early 1930s the period McCarthy was interested in."

4 Alger Hiss was guilty of nothing more serious than perjury.

Here again, we have a manipulation of the half-truth that descends to the level of outright deceit.

This bit of sophistry is depicted as coming from the mouth of William Paley when he berates Murrow for not calling McCarthy to account when the senator said Hiss was convicted of treason.

Hiss was never convicted of treason, Paley is supposed to have said, but instead was convicted of perjury.

I don't know whether Bill Paley ever actually said that to Murrow. I don't know whether if he did say it, he was merely passing along something he had heard in the elitist Manhattan-Hamptons circles in which he moved. But inserting that line in the script was totally gratuitous. McCarthy had very little to do with the Hiss case which was exposed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. More to the point, it reflects a media establishment that is hell-bent on insisting on Alger Hiss's innocence or belittling the enormity of his treason.

It is true that Hiss was not formally convicted of treason or espionage. The statute of limitations on that had run out. So he was convicted of lying when he denied knowing Whittaker Chambers the man who fingered him when the two of them were working as a team to do the bidding of the Soviet Union against the United States.

To insert into the movie that half-truth as a thinly disguised cover for sweeping treasonous behavior under the rug is nothing short of a monstrously disingenuous offense against one's intelligence.

5 McCarthy never nailed any powerful person as being pro-communist.

Here we go beyond the half-truth to the unvarnished falsehood.

The script has Murrow saying McCarthy was off-base in his accusations "99 percent of the time." A figure of speech, but terribly poor math if it is to be taken in the literal sense.

The movie makes almost no mention of the name of Owen Lattimore or the Institute of Pacific Relations. Lattimore's name appears in the Clooney pro-Murrow movie only once and almost as an irrelevancy. McCarthy, in responding to Murrow's attack invoked Lattimore's name along with others.

Who was Owen Lattimore? He was the focus of attention shortly after McCarthy first burst on the national scene in 1950. At that time McCarthy had come upon a massive cover-up that had occurred almost five years earlier. He had brought into public view the old Amerasia case where several persons were arrested in 1945 after the authorities raided an office on New York City's lower Fifth Avenue where the magazine Amerasia was published. Our intelligence-related agencies took an interest when the pro-Chinese Communist organ published highly sensitive classified secret information. It appeared to be a transmission belt in this country for the Communists in China who at the time had mounted a years-long ongoing insurrection (later successful) against the pro-Western regime of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

McCarthy did not know the whole story at the time, but what he had discovered was a Truman administration cover-up carefully engineered by the old Roosevelt "Mr. Fixit" Thomas Corcoran, or "Tommy the Cork" as FDR affectionately called him. Veteran Newsweek reporter Ralph DeToledano's "Spies, Dupes, and Diplomats," and John T. Flynn's "While You Slept" (both published in 1951) also exposed the IPR and Lattimore. Corcoran's role in the case was spotlighted by Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh in their 1996 book, "The Amerasia Spy Case."

Amerasia ultimately led to uncovering a carefully orchestrated campaign in and out of government to convince top officials in the U.S. and in the media (especially book-publishing and book-reviewers) the Chiang Kai-shek's government was riddled with corruption and incompetence and that the unstoppable wave of the future was in the Chinese Communist movement consisting not of conspirators but "simple agrarian reformers." Never mind that those "reformers" were amply supplied with arms and ammunition from the neighboring Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

At the center of the effort in this country to bring down the pro-Western Chinese regime was Owen Lattimore, a top official of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR). The tentacles of the movement reached deep inside the State Department and across the land to the public via every opinion-molding element of the media.

McCarthy blew the whistle on the cover-up and the IPR and (among others) Lattimore, who protested his innocence. He was initially exonerated by the stacked anti-McCarthy Tydings committee which compounded the whitewash.

Senator McCarthy was frustrated. At one time, he referred to Lattimore as the top Soviet agent in the country. He quickly withdrew that charge, but steadfastly maintained that the IPR bigwig had done much damage to this nation's interest. By then, pro-Western China had fallen at the hands of the Communist revolution whose heirs rule to this day, posing a considerable threat to America's security, as the People's Republic of China has missiles pointed directly at the United States.

In the 1950 election, Marylanders ousted Senator Millard Tydings, largely because of the whitewash of the China clique, and a new Senate investigation was organized. This time it was spearheaded by Senator Pat McCarran, a Democrat, a great patriot and one of the giants of the 20th Century U.S. Senate. He chaired the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.

McCarran's probe went on for over a year. It was one of the most thorough investigations ever undertaken by any committee of the United States Senate, even outperforming the showier Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings that came decades later. It was a Democratic-dominated panel in what was then a Democratic Senate. McCarthy himself, by the way, was not a member of the committee. Here is what the investigation had to say about Owen Lattimore:

  1. He had insisted Outer Mongolia was independent until after World War 2 when he knew it was Soviet-controlled.

  2. He collaborated with a top operative at China's IPR whom he knew to be a Communist and lied about it under oath to the committee.

  3. Lattimore lied to the committee in denying his collaboration with William Vanderbilt Field whom he knew to be a Communist.

  4. He published articles in the IPR house organ by a writer (under the pen name of Asiaticus) whom he knew was a Communist.

  5. His testimony denying that he had dispatched a graduate Johns Hopkins student to cover the hearings was contradicted by the student himself.

  6. A former Soviet Foreign Office Counselor testified that a Soviet agent in Moscow had disclosed to Lattimore military and political secrets.

  7. Lattimore had recommended to Ambassador William C. Bullitt that the U.S. recognize Outer Mongolia. Bullitt knew, as a matter of fact, that Outer Mongolia was "a thorough soviet police state."

  8. "Lattimore was not able to explain to the subcommittee why he conferred several hours, during the Hitler-Stalin and Russo-Japanese alliances, on the subject of his approaching assignment as Roosevelt's adviser to Chiang Kai-shek, with the then Ambassador for the Soviet Union, Constantine Oumansky."

  9. Owen Lattimore could not explain to the senators why he phoned the Soviet Embassy to make arrangements to have a higher-up in the Soviet foreign office visit him at his home, or his association with a paid agent of the Soviet Union whom he entertained at his home.

  10. Lattimore's book, "Solution in Asia" was approved "as a party-line book by the New York State educational department of the Communist Party and was sold as such" in a Communist book store.

  11. The former editor of the Communist Party's "Daily Worker" (who defected to the anti-Communist cause) testified to "five episodes which he experienced within the Poliburo of the Communist Party that involved Lattimore as a full participant in the conspiracy."

  12. A brigadier-general in the Soviet military intelligence testified to having been told that "Lattimore was one of our men."

The subcommittee report said that these revelations, when added to Lattimore's recommendations to the State Department which coincided with those of identified Communists; his falsification of collaborations with identified Communist conspirators such as Lauchlin Currie (on the lam in South America after his Red cover was blown); his conference with a Soviet agent and a Soviet Embassy official; and his subservience to "Soviet officials in Moscow," McCarran and his fellow senators on both sides of the aisle concluded on page 218 of the report:

"[T]he subcommittee can come to no other conclusion but that Lattimore was for some time beginning in the 1930s, a conscious, articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy."

That case in and of itself presents quite a laundry list of treachery which McCarthy brought to the forefront, especially considering that it has often been said that he "never found any subversives." Put that down as an enduring myth of the "McCarthy era." The IPR investigation was a major, major case. But you don't hear about it in the movie, "Good Night and Good Luck."

McCarthy never claimed to be a professional spy-hunter or a substitute for the FBI or authorized intelligence agencies. As a United States Senator, he saw congressional oversight as an important part of his job. He found case after case where people with Communist or pro-communist backgrounds had compromised the nation's security. He also found that many of them had been protected by people in high places. He wanted to know why. He believed the American people deserved an accounting. In the process, he did make some mistakes (mostly of a public relations nature). But much of what he discovered was not pretty.

Producer George Clooney (who also played the role of CBS News boss Fred Friendly) has not only done a disservice to a vital part of the history of the Cold War, but has sought to perpetuate some myths about the congressional investigations into Communism that clearly showed the American people had been betrayed at Yalta, Potsdam, and in the corridors of our government and in opinion-molding institutions right here at home. They did stir bitter controversy at the time. It is too bad that 50 years is not sufficient time for Hollywood to make some attempt at clarity, rather than perpetuate some tired old myths.

Maybe we will have to wait another 50 years to get some light rather than pure heat in Cold War history. In the wake of 9/11, the question is whether we will be better prepared to face down our current enemy than we were in dealing with the enemy through much of the Cold War. But this time, we may not have 50 years to get our act together in terms of resisting psychological warfare.

© Wes Vernon

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