I got a call this week from a longtime reader, Fred, from whom I hadn’t heard in years.
Fred congenially disagrees with just about every position I take — he’s much nicer over the phone than he can be in comment threads — which is fine by me. You don’t have to agree with my politics to be my friend.
Fred took some issue with my cover story last week, “Looking for Edward R. Murrow,” which he called “nostalgic and fawning” in an email — read the whole thing below.
He reasoned that no one had been able to produce anyone unjustly accused by Sen. Joe McCarthy during his reign of fear in the 1950s, and that one of them whom Murrow had defended, Laurence Duggan, had been confirmed as a Soviet spy during his time with the US State Department by documents released in the 1990s.
This is true. In fact, the Venona Files — declassified Soviet recordings from the 1940s made available after the empire’s fall — implicate Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Alger Hiss, and perhaps hundreds of other Americans in an espionage ring that circled the globe during the Cold War years.
So McCarthy was right in that there were Soviet spies working within the US government, though everybody already knew that by the time the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage in 1951. And there is almost no overlap between McCarthy’s lists of reds and those outed by Venona, which include atomic physicist Klaus Fuchs — who leaked information on the Manhattan Project — but zero names from McCarthy’s first infamous list from the 1950 Wheeling speech. Historian John Earl Haynes has done the cross-referencing on an excellent page on his website.
And none of this has much to do with Murrow, I don’t think, because he exposed McCarthy’s tactics, and revealed them to be logical canards based on half-truths and outright falsehoods — his demonization of the ACLU comes to mind.
No doubt Fred will have himself a chuckle at my naïveté when he reads this column, and hopefully he’ll fire off another letter that will send me traipsing through deep Google searches. And once again, maybe he’ll alter my worldview just a bit.
I have no such illusions that I will change Fred’s mind about anything, though. The guy’s a rock.