from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ivins on John Henry Faulk & Edward R. Murrow 

Yesterday Alternet featured a piece by Mollie Ivins entitled Standing Tall Against McCarthy in which she uses the occasion of viewing George Clooney's film on Edward R. Murrow, "Good Night, and Good Luck" as the occasion to inform those who did not know about John Henry Faulk. She also tells a story about Murrow's commitment to freedom of the Press. Since I cannot write about what is most on my mind (not yet - and I will explain when I can) today I thought I would draw attention to hois wonderful piece by Ivins. I will offer an introduction, a number of snippets, plus some equally brief remarks of my own. I do urge all to visit the link for Alternet to give them the traffic, and to consider supporting them for the wonderful work that they do.

John Henry Faulk was a very popular radio figure  who got caught up in the anticommunist rages of the mid 1950's.Part of his problem came about because he was explicitly against the blacklisting that was used to silence anyone who was seen as not pro-American or to por-communist  -  in otherwords, anyone who disagreed with the point of view of certain self-appointed guardians of what was right for America (if it sounds familiar, that is because it is absolutely relevant to our time and age, which is of course part of the point and power of Colleny's film).

Enough intro.  Now some Ivins.

The intro to the piece

Watching the new film "Good Night and Good Luck" about Edward R. Murrow reminded me of John Henry Faulk and his own heroic struggle against McCarthyism. Well, okay, Johnny did actually wage a gallant and valiant fight, but since it was John Henry, it was also weird and funny and full of improbable characters -- what is it about Texans that we can't even be heroic without being comical?

In the insanity of the times, blacklisting had become an institutionalized protection racket. An outfit of professional commie-hunters called AWARE, Inc., run by a guy named Vincent Hartnett, was kept on retainer by the networks, major ad agencies, and big sponsors to vet performers for commie sympathies. The more "commies" they found doing anything from soap operas to soup commercials, the more money they made. This gave them quite a financial incentive to find "communist sympathizers." Should a network or agency refuse to play along, Hartnett's friend Laurence Johnson, a grocery magnate from upstate New York, would pull the sponsor's products from his grocery shelves until they caved in. The American Legion would chip in with a boycott of the product, accusing Proctor and Gamble or whoever of being part of the plot to undermine America.

After Faulk and others took an explicitly anti-blacklisting position during a campaign for union office

Johnny was cited in AWARE's bulletin "Red Channels" on seven counts that were either completely false or distorted crap. Johnson came to New York and went up and down Madison Avenue pressuring Johnny's sponsors to drop his show. Some did and CBS eventually fired him even though his ratings were excellent.  

Faulk decided to sue.   The case is what eventually roke the blacklisting system, but it took 6 years to get heard, and financially and professionally ruined Faulk.  Ivins does not think he regretted it one bit.

Fualk hired Louis Nizer, perhaps the greatest trial lawyer of his day, but also very expensive.  Nizer agreed to take what was for him a nominal fee of onloy $10,000, far more than Faulk had.  He could only raise about $2,500.

Here's what happened next, as told by Faulk:

"As I was sitting at my desk at CBS, racing my mind for someone to call and borrow money from," he later recalled, "Edward R. Murrow called me from his office upstairs. He said he was terribly glad that I had filed the suit and that Carl Sandburg had sent word, 'Whatever's wrong with America, Johnny ain't.'"

Johnny chugged upstairs and laid the financial problem before Murrow who said, "Tell Lou Nizer, Johnny, that he will have his money tomorrow." And then Johnny protested:

        Look, Ed, I can't borrow $7,500 from you. Hell, I might lose my job.

       And even if I win the suit, there may be no money to repay such a

       sum as that.

Ed looked at me evenly and said, "Let's get this straight, Johnny. I am not making a personal loan to you of this money. I am investing in America. Louis Nizer must try this case. These people must be brought into court. This blacklisting must be exposed."

Faulk later learned Murrow had mortgaged his house in order to pay Nizer.

Ivins notes that Faulk remained uncomfortable about ahving borrowed the money, which he was never able to repay.

Let me close with Ivins final two paragraphs, as she writes so well that it would be criminal for me to try to summarize her thoughts or her words:

The Iranian journalist Shahla Sherkat, editor of the impossibly brave magazine Zanan (Women) in Tehran, says journalism in her country is like walking a tight rope -- you have to be very careful where you set your feet or you will fall (be disciplined by the state). Sherkat and other third world journalists face torture, prison, or death if they venture too far, but continue to press the limits anyway. Johnny Faulk felt that those who caved into or even played along with blacklisting and McCarthyism risked nothing more than their status -- prestige, access, country clubs. He thought if people had shown more courage, McCarthy never could have gotten started in the first place.

It does not seem to me that Faulk's rawer, truer courage lessens Edward R. Murrow's. Murrow took a lesser risk, but had more at stake. Only those who were close to Johnny knew how wistfully he regarded that lost career. And how toward the end of his life he was simply thrilled to be back on television -- on a show called "Hee-Haw!"

In a time when those with dissenting views have again been attacked, when there are again organizations (Brent Bozell or Reed Irvine, anyone?) dedicated to eradicating such contrary expressions, or when we see commercial interests  (Clear Channel or Sinclair broadcasting companies) acting in fashions similar to Aware, or when far too many business interests seem unwilling to be supportive of free and open public discourse, I found this story a bracing reinforcement in my strong support of free expression.   Thus I wanted to be sure that more people were aware of it, and of the valiant efforts of John Henry Faulk on behalf of us all

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
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