Mass murder in real concentration camps in the Soviet Union are ancient history to National Public Radio, but the cause of poor, blacklisted communists in Hollywood charging America was a concentration camp is still a fresh and poignant soundbite. On the June 17 edition of All Things Considered, anchor Melissa Block championed a forthcoming new documentary about communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, made by Peter Askin and Trumbo’s son Christopher and featuring big celebrities like Michael Douglas. Block made no mention of Trumbo’s actual Communist Party membership in the age of Stalin, and nowhere in the interview was there even a whisper of an alternative historical point of view, from Ronald Radosh to Kenneth Billingsley.
Block could only lament once again this alleged persecution of communists, once again utterly free of the irony that communists specialized in persecution everywhere they came to power:
The fall of Dalton Trumbo took him from being one of Hollywood's highest-paid writers to a Hollywood pariah. He wrote the scripts for dozens of movies in the '30s and '40s, among them "Kitty Foyle" and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." His antiwar novel "Johnny Got His Gun" won the National Book Award in 1939. Then, in 1947, Dalton Trumbo was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, part of the Hollywood Ten questioned about their ties to the Communist Party. Dalton Trumbo refused to testify based on his First Amendment rights guaranteeing free speech.
Do you see where mentioning he was a Communist might be relevant? But no, NPR is still more interested in forwarding Trumbo’s soundbites about America the Dictatorship. Block explained after a brief soundbite of his refusal to testify in 1947:
Dalton Trumbo is saying there: ‘This is the beginning of an American concentration camp for writers.’ And for Dalton Trumbo, it was the beginning of the end of the writing life he had known. He was found in contempt of Congress, was kicked out of the Screenwriters Guild, and blacklisted by Hollywood studios. He served nearly a year in federal prison. The story of Dalton Trumbo is told now in a documentary that bears his name - simply "Trumbo."
Block found the anti-communists were so cruel that the persecution went down to the grade-school level:
BLOCK: I want to ask you about a painful scene in the movie, Chris, when your father has written a letter the principal of your sister Mitzi's elementary school. She's 10 years old at the time, in fifth grade. And she has been, as we learn, essentially blacklisted by her peers. Apparently, the PTA has been meeting secretly about your parents, and all of that suspicion has filtered down to the children. Let's listen to part of this letter. It's read here by the actor David Strathairn.
DAVID STRATHAIRN (Actor): (Reading) Small, childish conspiracies are directed against her, patterned in secret after the conspiracies of the parents. And she is quietly and incessantly persecuted and boycotted and shunned as long as the school day lasts. This slow murder of the mind and heart and spirit of a young child is the proud outcome of the patriotic meetings held by a few parents under the sponsorship of the PTA and the Bluebirds.
BLOCK: Peter Askin, do you remember when you first saw that letter, how you felt?
ASKIN: Just as moved as I am at the moment listening to David do it again. I think anyone who's a parent - and even if you're not - can empathize with those circumstances where you stand helplessly to one side and, you know, watch your child have to deal with something of that magnitude.
BLOCK: And knowing, too, that right or wrong, you have brought this on your child.
ASKIN: Of course. Of course.
NPR even lapped up Trumbo’s claim that America spilled blood in investigating communist influence in Hollywood, when a Trumbo script (written under the pseudonym Robert Rich) wins an Oscar:
BLOCK: We hear in the film Michael Douglas reading the words of Dalton Trumbo from this time, when he finally says, you know, he has joked about this character Robert Rich before, but the time is come when it's no longer a joke.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS: (Reading) I can invent no more witticisms about the Oscar he dares not claim because that small, worthless golden statuette is covered with the blood of my friends. I cannot laugh about it any longer because my belly is filled with the poison of this blacklist, and my heart is filled with its grief and my ears roar with rage at its injustices. And my heart, for the first time, is filled with something very close to hate.
On its website, NPR forwarded that "many people attacked during the HUAC hearings committed suicide." Block then went on to ask if these feelings made their way into Trumbo’s later movie scripts.
For an alternative point of view, you could read Art Eckstein at Front Page Magazine, who found it revolting that people would champion Trumbo as a shining light of freedom of speech:
For instance, Trumbo was part of the Party's inquisition against the screenwriter Albert Maltz in 1946, for Maltz's published statement that artists should be free to say what they feel, and that literature should be judged by its human and humane quality, not the politics of its author. Trumbo and his fellow communists browbeat Maltz for publishing this heresy, until Maltz finally issued a humiliating public recantation. Maltz, who also later was brought before HUAC (and went to jail for refusing to testify), told Gerda Lerner that his appearance before HUAC in 1947 was simply nothing compared to the real and psychologically-destructive trauma of his criticism/self-criticism sessions before the Communist Party in 1946.
When it comes to American history, apparently NPR thinks only one side of the story needs to be told. There is the side that knows injustice and tyranny, and then there's the conservative side.