Dark Days in the Newsroom

Dark Days in the Newsroom: McCarthyism Aimed at the Press

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 201
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  • Book Info
    Dark Days in the Newsroom
    Book Description:

    Dark Days in the Newsroom traces how journalists became radicalized during the Depression era, only to become targets of Senator Joseph McCarthy and like-minded anti-Communist crusaders during the 1950s. Edward Alwood, a former news correspondent describes this remarkable story of conflict, principle, and personal sacrifice with noticeable élan. He shows how McCarthy's minions pried inside newsrooms thought to be sacrosanct under the First Amendment, and details how journalists mounted a heroic defense of freedom of the press while others secretly enlisted in the government's anti-communist crusade.

    Relying on previously undisclosed documents from FBI files, along with personal interviews, Alwood provides a richly informed commentary on one of the most significant moments in the history of American journalism. Arguing that the experiences of the McCarthy years profoundly influenced the practice of journalism, he shows how many of the issues faced by journalists in the 1950s prefigure today's conflicts over the right of journalists to protect their sources.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-343-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On wednesday, June 29, 1955, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee met in the Caucus Room where the flamboyant Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy had held his most sensational hearings in 1953 and 1954. Led by Mississippi Democrat James Eastland and undeterred by McCarthy’s political downfall, the subcommittee began an unprecedented investigation of American journalism by delving into alleged Communist infiltration of some of the nation’s most prominent newspapers. Committee members saw the daily press as a prime Soviet target for propaganda and infiltration because journalists could often access sensitive information and because they influenced public opinion.¹

    The Eastland committe, as the...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Awakening the Newsroom
    (pp. 12-23)

    As the nation struggled with the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression in the spring of 1933, reporter Frances Rockmore donned a simple dress and brushed back her hair so that she could blend into the legion of blue-collar women who worked in the needle industry. In journalism’s muckraking tradition Rockmore worked undercover for two weeks at one of New York’s dingiest dress factories, where she stitched by hand and toiled at a rickety sewing machine for less than three dollars a week. “The real cost of the bargains the depression has wrested for you is not listed on the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Politics of Anticommunism
    (pp. 24-39)

    As concern about Nazi Germany escalated in the late 1930s, Congress established the Special House Committee on Un-American Activities. Commonly known as the Dies Committee, after Rep. Martin Dies, the conservative Texas Democrat who was its guiding force and first chairman, the committee initially focused on foreign propaganda aimed at the United States. Dies harbored a long-standing concern about domestic radicalism and pushed Congress to adopt legislation that would have required the deportation of foreign radicals. He managed to convince the House to pass one of the few bills specifically aimed at Communists in the United States, but the measure...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Prelude to an Investigation
    (pp. 40-50)

    The grand alliance of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain that won World War II began to unravel in late 1945 as the Soviets began to take an aggressive stance against their neighbors. An early sign of trouble came when Stalin reneged on agreements to withdraw troops from Iran.¹ More trouble was brewing in Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. The dangers of postwar espionage were brought home for Americans when the FBI raided the editorial offices of the scholarly journalAmerasiain June 1945 and found sensitive State Department documents; agents arrested six individuals and, later, several government employees....

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Reds in the Newsroom
    (pp. 51-64)

    The anti-communist campaign intensified in the late 1940s as Cold War hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated. The Soviet blockade of Berlin in the spring of 1949 triggered a massive American airlift that lasted nearly a year before the Russians backed down. When Communist forces in China overran the nationalists, Chiang Kai-shek and his followers took refuge on the island of Formosa. Communists appeared even more determined to expand their power later that year when the Soviets detonated an atomic bomb, ending America’s short-lived monopoly of atomic weapons.¹ It was against this backdrop that HUAC focused...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Specter of McCarthy
    (pp. 65-79)

    Throughout the 1950s federal prosecutors, state investigative agencies, immigration officials, and members of Congress relied on a variety of sources to fuel the anti-Communist campaign. Among these were ex-Communists who testified against party members before courts of law, loyalty boards, and investigative committees. Their testimony provided justification for Justice Department prosecutions of party leaders in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the questioning of witnesses before a string of congressional investigative committees. Although the chief target was domestic Communists, the investigators viewed anyone who was close to the party as equally dangerous. Allegations against the Newspaper Guild cropped up...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Dark Clouds over the Newsroom
    (pp. 80-94)

    By 1955 the rivalry among congressional investigative committees had grown so intense that they agreed to avoid overlapping investigations. The House Un-American Activities Committee focused on labor issues at hearings held in Seattle, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee turned its attention toward the press.¹ An FBI memorandum in November 1955 showed that the previous January, Ralph Roach, the FBI’s White House liaison, had told Alan Belmont, the agency’s assistant director, that Julien G. “Jay” Sourwine, the subcommittee’s counsel, had requested “a list of individuals” who were “reportedly connected with the New York Times.”²...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Investigation
    (pp. 95-107)

    Winston burdett sat confidently before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in late June 1955 as a battery of photographers and reporters scrambled into position to snap pictures and listen to his testimony. The cavernous chamber had been the setting for many of Joseph McCarthy’s most spectacular sessions, including the army investigation a year earlier that had precipitated the downfall of the man who had come to personify anticommunism. Unlike many people called to testify before McCarthy’s and the other Red-hunting committees, Burdett exuded confidence and composure.Timedescribed the CBS correspondent as looking “poised, precise, prissy.”¹

    Among the spectators sat...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Deeper Trouble
    (pp. 108-121)

    Journalists who were called to testify at the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee’s closed hearings in December 1955 waited anxiously throughout the Christmas holiday wondering if they would be called to testify in public. On January 3 Drew Pearson confirmed their worst fears with a brief item in his “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column. He reported that the Eastland committee had scheduled another series of public hearings to begin the next day and would focus most of its attention on theNew York Times. Pearson also noted that most members of the committee did not know about the probe. “This is a situation...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Journalists and the First Amendment
    (pp. 122-137)

    A federal grand jury in Washington handed up indictments in the summer of 1956 against Alden Whitman, Seymour Peck, Robert Shelton, and William Price. Each was charged with one count of contempt of Congress for each question he had refused to answer: nineteen counts against Whitman, five against Peck, three against Shelton, and eight against Price.¹ If convicted, they faced a fine of as much as $1,000 and a jail term as long as a year—on each count. Each pleaded not guilty and posted a $1,000 bond. Under the mistaken impression that they could post bond with personal checks,...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Living with the Legacy
    (pp. 138-148)

    The Mccarthy era has influenced journalism for generations, playing a critical role in the economic well-being reporters and editors and their ability to defend themselves against government intrusion in the process of providing the public with information free of government censorship. Many journalists suspected that the Eastland committee hearings were aimed primarily at theNew York Timesin retribution for that newspaper’s stand against the racial segregation that the Mississippi senator supported so adamantly. However, evidence suggests that the committee’s main target was not theTimesbut the Newspaper Guild in retaliation for its efforts to unionize newsrooms. Despite the...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 149-154)

    Journalists who stood on moral principle and refused to answer questions before investigative committees during the McCarthy era suffered both economic and psychological hardships. They had been easy targets because the newspaper industry, like the movie industry in the late 1940s, was full of ex-radicals whose political activities during the 1930s could be exploited by conservatives. They lost in the courts, and arbitration panels held the journalists to a higher standard than workers in other industries because of their influence on public opinion. Where the firing of a pipe fitter would be overturned, journalists consistently found themselves out of luck...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 155-190)
  18. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 191-194)
  19. Index
    (pp. 195-201)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 202-202)