A Shadow of Red

Review: Ghiglione on Everitt

David Everitt. A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007. 411 pp. Index. $27.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-56663-575-2.

Reviewed for Jhistory by Loren Ghiglione, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

Blacklisting Revisited
In A Shadow of Red, freelance writer David Everitt contends that the blacklist of the broadcast industry in the late 1940s and the 1950s was not the morality play with rabid right-wingers persecuting idealistic innocents that many historians describe. To make his point, Everitt details the efforts of five anti-Communist blacklisters. In 1947, three former FBI agents--John G. Kennan, Kenneth M. Bierly, and Theodore C. Kirkpatrick--started Counterattack, a four-page newsletter whose purpose was to "'crush the Communist Fifth Column'" (p. 18). In 1950, they also published Red Channels, a list in booklet form of 151 alleged Communist sympathizers. Another of the five, Vincent Hartnett, built a business around advising broadcast companies which radio and television employees should be allowed on the airwaves. Finally, Syracuse supermarket owner Laurence Johnson pressured advertising agencies, networks, and radio and television stations to remove Reds and pinkos from broadcasting.

Everitt's greatest strength is the thoroughness of his research, though the book might have benefited from also portraying a sixth anti-Communist crusader, J. B. Matthews, who kept five hundred thousand file cards on suspected citizens and funneled information to prominent media executives and columnists. Evenhandedness is also a strength of the author. He sides with historian Arthur Schlesinger and others "from the vital center" who avoided the political ideologies and caricatures, both left and right, of the time (p. xvi). Everitt applauds "those who acted as a matter of nonsectarian principle, both anti-totalitarian and civil libertarian, people who supported resistance to Soviet aggression abroad and defended fair play at home" (p. xvi). He insists that some of the witnesses who refused to answer the questions of congressional committees investigating broadcast industry subversion often had something to hide. They were not just civil liberties heroes.