Studs Terkel, author and broadcaster, died on Halloween. Barack Obama observed: "Studs was not just a Chicago institution, he was a national treasure. His writings, broadcasts, and interviews shed light on what it meant to be an American in the 20th century." Obama highly praised Terkel when he was alive, declaring him " not just a national treasure - he's one of Chicago's treasures."
Terkel's appeal to liberals may at least partially be explained by his political activities. The Associated Press today reports:
Terkel's politics were liberal, vintage FDR. He would never forget the many New Deal programs from the Great Depression and worried that the country suffered from "a national Alzheimer's disease" that made government the perceived enemy.
So what does the Associated Press view as liberal, vintage FDR politics? An October, 1952 Chicago Tribune news article began:
"Louis (Studs) Terkel, disc jockey, TV entertainer, and one-time political broadcaster, declined yesterday to discuss charges by Owen Vinson that Vinson joined the Communist party in 1943 at the invitation of Terkel.
"Vinson, former Chicago radio writer, director, and actor, made the charge Thursday in Los Angeles before the house committee on un-American activities. Vinson has left the party, he testified." At least one other person also provided sworn testimony that he had joined the party at Terkel's invitation.
The news article goes on to report that Terkel refused to say whether he was or had been a Communist. He also stated:
"I have an overwhelming pity and contempt for Mr. Vinson. Here is a nightmarish example of what fear and hysteria can do to the human spirit. It makes of a man the lowest of God' creatures - an informer.
"I've always believed in the principle that a man's thoughts, whether political or religious, are his private domain. . . . "
I'd contend thoughts are in a man's private domain until such time that he joins, and asks others to join, an organization dedicated to destroying basic freedoms.
Terkel as a victim, persecuted by Joe McCarthy and other Commie hunters, is a recurring theme in articles written about the late Chicagoan. Today's Chicago Tribune used its editorial space to eulogize him and notes:
He was an actor and a jazz columnist and even had his own network TV show until his contract was canceled after he became one of the targets of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was not the kind of man to name names, and in the superheated Red panic of the early 1950s, that meant his TV career was over.
I can find no articles in the Tribune's own archives reporting that Terkel was ever investigated by Joe McCarthy. As chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, McCarthy's primary focus was on security risks within the federal government rather than variety show hosts. And Terkel wasn't asked to "name names." He was asked if, as sworn to by at least two people, he was a Communist recruiting others into the party.
Furthermore, Terkel's cancellation occurred before the October, 1952 investigation. The Tribune's "Tower Ticker" column of June 26, 1952 mentions "'Studs' Place' is off the TV air, but its cast still is united in an enterprise that begins to look discouraging." The cast, including Terkel, was appearing in a play.
If Terkel were indeed blacklisted, as asserted in reports of his death, it must not have been for long. The Tribune's "Television News and Views" dated August 6, 1953 relates: "Studs Terkel and Chet Roble the other evening introduced a watered down version (or perhaps we should say liquored down) version of the old Studs Place series because there was a bar on the set at WBKB." The article goes on to describe the rest of the program. And a December 12, 1954 Tribune piece on singer Mahalia Jackson included a picture of the great gospel singer "With Studs Terkel, who writes her radio show."
Terkel also hosted, beginning in 1952, a radio program on WFMT that ran until the 1990s.
Last week, Terkel made a small amount of news by telling a Huffington Post writer that Gov. Sarah Palin is "Joe McCarthy in drag!" In the same interview he said:
Community organizers like Obama know what's going on. If they remember. The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer's.
In the case of the mainstream media, it appears they suffer from manufactured memories. Terkel wasn't investigated by Joe McCarthy, he wasn't out of work for any sustained period because of a blacklist, and his politics weren't liberal, vintage FDR.
He was a guy who wouldn't say whether he was a Communist and, apparently, a guy who - charitably - exaggerated a great deal. And the mainstream media bought it all.