The Smear Terror - John T. Flynn

VII. A Wilderness of Lies

The book "Under Cover," while having an immense sale, had its influence enormously multiplied by a vast network of propaganda. Winchell plugged it incessantly over the air and has been sued for libel for this. Communist magazines, newspapers and front organizations advertised it. Red and fellow-traveler lecturers and radio commentators boosted it. Moving picture and television programs were used. An immense newspaper advertising campaign costing tens of thousands of dollars was launched.

The book itself is a wilderness of lies. I repeat, its chief purpose was to tell the story of (1) the more imposing subversive groups, such as the Bund, Pelley, Viereck, etc.; (2) then connect them by hook or crook with a whole spawn of small-fry groups and (3) finally splash the odium fastened on these people upon men like Senator Wheeler, Senator Nye, Senator Taft, Senator Brooks, General Wood, Colonel Lindbergh and others. In doing this the most shocking smears were plastered upon the good names of decent people without a shadow of basis.

I cannot here begin to describe these smears. I can give only a few illustrations and assure the reader that they are characteristic. The case of former Ambassador William R, Castle, already noted here, is one. Another refers to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He is pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and a gentleman of the highest standing. He is smeared because he was a joint speaker at a dinner of patriotic societies with several people who had already been smeared by the writer, hence could be conveniently used to smear others. Actually Dr. Peale delivered the prayer at the dinner and left before it ended because he was offended at some of the things said there.

A man named Court Asher is smeared in the book, I know nothing about Asher. but having smeared him, this is used to splash guilt on a congressman, Charles I. Faddis, who is called a fascist because "Asher told me (Derounian) that he had received small contributions from Congressman Charles I. Faddis." Congressman Faddis was in the service as a volunteer for the third time while this calumniator was defaming him. Mr. Faddis wrote me: "I do not know who Asher is, but when he says he ever received any contributions from me for any subversive activities he is a damned liar." Of course we do not even know that Asher said that.

He selected as another victim an old gentleman named John Cole McKim Because he had lived many years in the East and written for some Japanese magazines, Derounian tried to smear him as a Japanese agent. He called on McKim and tried to induce McKim to endorse a movement to promote an uprising of the Harlem negroes to aid the Japanese. He got nowhere, McKim insisting that the Japanese did not consider themselves as "colored people." He wrote Derounian, In answer to a letter, that "I am sorry to disappoint you but I am certain that the Afro-Americans have nothing to gain from a Japanese victory and everything to lose from being involved in the efforts to impede the government's War exertions."

Derounian did not print this this, instead printed McKim's statement that the Japanese do not consider themselves as akin to the negro race as an evidence of McKim's anti-negro bias. McKim thought Derounian a dangerous character and wrote to the FBI reporting his experience and suggesting that he be investigated.

Before we entered the war, hundreds of thousands of mothers formed themselves into various mothers' organizations against war. Derounian went amongst these frightened and worried mothers actually shedding tears over the "recent death of his own mother," which was a lie, and seeking to trap them into disloyal statements. Of course he found women angry at the government and he tortured all sorts of trifles into evidence that they were anti-semitic and pro-Hitler. For instance, he called on Mrs. Rose M. Farber in Detroit. He, of course, wept about his "dead mother." He tried to provoke Mrs. Farber into a disloyal remark. All he was able to write was that "she told me she had worked with Mrs. A. Cressy Morrison, Catherine Baldwin and Dr. Maud DeLand (women he had already smeared) and had read Social Justice." I know nothing of these ladies save what I have read in this book, which is doubtless false. But Mrs. Farber writes me:

"I do not know Mrs. A. Cressy Morrison, Mrs. Catherine Baldwin or Dr. Maud DeLand, And I told him so. I have not worked with these ladies and impressed that fact on his irresponsible mind." He asked her if she read Social Justice, She said: "Yes, I also read the Nation, the New Republic, PM and the Daily Worker. Of course he mentioned only Social Justice.

In numerous cases he brands men and women as subversive and then produces as evidence of this against them that they are anti-Communist. The late Channing Pollock said he had counted 100 such instances and then gave up. I have counted scores myself,

Over a period, while he himself was inflaming people against Jews and negroes in order to get some hostile sentiments from them to use in his book, Derounian (alias Carlson) was publishing a thing called the Christian Defender. It was a little anti-Semitic sheet published every Monday. Here are a few excerpts from this Derounian publication:

"Let the kikes attempt to stop the sale of Social Justice, and they will court the righteous wrath of several million Christians in New York. Then woe unto the miserable Yiddies. Woe unto them and their progeny. Their now confounded yelpings of persecution, when that day comes, will find full justification in fact. All we can say now is: BEWARE JEW!"

"The American Immigration Conference Board which did admirable patriotic work in beating down attempts of International Jewry to make a dumping ground of this country, reports that the House of Representatives passed five bills aimed to free America of some of its social and political parasites."

"Of course it's none of our business to tell those Jew boys where to go, but it would have been a better thing if they went to Palestine first."

There are sneering references to "refu-jews"; a hilarious laugh at "Yiddish flyers" who never reached their destination. A federal judge, hearing a case against Derounian, said of a batch of these publications:

"The man who wrote this charges other men with being anti-semitic . . . Each one of these is infinitely worse than anything you called my attention to in Robnett's writings."

Derounian published these scurrilous sheets and distributed them. He got people to read them and used against them the anti-semitic responses to which he inflamed them. The first one of these infamous sheets I saw was distributed on the sidewalk outside a meeting at which I spoke and was then used by this smear gang as evidence that the meeting was anti-semitic.

Derounian on a lecture tour boasted that if his "book was untrue, why was I not sued for libel." The answer, of course, is that he was sued for libel. A number of suits are still pending against him. But four cases in which his charges were subjected to judicial review have been heard with most disastrous consequences to him—the Drew case, the Chapman case, the Robnett case and the Stokes case.

Derounian made grave charges against a New York policeman named James L. Drew. Here was a deliberate attempt to frame an officer. Drew's home, without a warrant, was illegally entered while he was away and raided. The officer was tried by a Trial Judge of the Police Department, Derounian was the chief witness. It was proved that Drew served on the force for 17 years, all of it in Jewish neighborhoods, without a complaint being lodged against him. No evidence of any anti-semitic utterance from Drew was presented. The trial judge exonerated him. Police Commissioner Valentine concurred, ordering Drew back to duty. The smear brigade in New York raised a storm of protest. Mayor LaGuardia named a board composed of Hon. Frederick E. Crain and Hon. Edward R. Finch, former justices of New York's highest court and former Police Commissioner George L. McLaughlin, to review the case. They unanimously approved the findings. Thus in the first test of Derounian's charges a Police Trial Court, Police Commissioner Valentine, former Commissioner McLaughlin and two justices of the State's highest court were unanimous in exonerating Drew and branding Derounian's charges as false.

A Lie Retracted

The next case heard was that of Conrad Chapman. Derounian charged that Mrs. Leslie Fry, wife of a Czarist officer, came to the United States in 1936 to promote a Nazi revolution. But, he said, she was under the orders of Conrad Chapman. Derounian said Chapman was a clever operator, "gave the orders and had charge of the funds. He had many contacts high in the Ministry of Propaganda and was involved in the abortive Nazi putsch engineered by Manfred Von Killinger." When exposed "Chapman quietly left the country followed by Mrs. Fry."

Here is a direct charge that Chapman was a Nazi operative, that he helped lead an abortive Nazi revolutionary putsch in this country. Derounian further said the plan was to set up a general staff of 13 Germans, White Russians, Italians and Americans. A more direct charge of sedition could hardly be made. Yet every shred of this is utterly false.

Chapman, member of an old American family and professor in a Boston college, promptly filed suit for libel. Derounian had to admit that he made the charges on the strength of a little smear sheet printed in Los Angeles. He had no evidence whatever for these outrageous charges. After testimony in the suit from nobody but his publisher and himself, his own lawyers threw up the sponge and offered to make a retraction. Derounian signed it and it was filed in court. It reads:

"Whereas the defendant hereby alleges that he did not, nor was it his intention by any of the statements contained in said book to imply that the plaintiff was in any way a representative or agent of Germany or an enemy of the United States of America or to accuse the plaintiff of the crime of sedition or treason.

Therefore, the case was withdrawn. Thus over his signature, he crawls out of the hold by admitting that when he said Chapman was a Nazi operative, a representative of Nazi Germany, distributing money and giving orders in a Nazi putsch in this country, he did not mean it.

However, his veracity has been well settled in a third suit. George W. Robnett, executive secretary of the Church League of America, received a visit from Derounian as a result of which Derounian in "Under Cover", suggested that he was anti-communist and anti-semitic. On this basis Robnett filed suit in the United States Court in Chicago for $100,000 against Dutton, the publisher, and a million dollars against the National Broadcasting Company and Walter Winchell for endorsing these statements. The against Dutton & Co. was tried in October, 1946.

On the witness stand Derounian made a pathetic spectacle. He admitted numerous statements he made to Robnett were false. The jury brought in a verdict sustaining the charge of libel. The damages assessed were only $1.00 because Derounian's lawyers proved that Robnett had not suffered any actual money damages. However, Derounian's publishers were ordered to pay the costs of the suit which involved many thousands. And, of course, the important fact is that a judge and twelve jurors, after hearing this queer stool pigeon, decided that he had lied.

Judge P. Barnes, a distinguished United States judge in Illinois, left no room for doubt about the meaning. He said:

"This book charges the plaintiff was disloyal, anti-Semitic and a Nazi agent. During the entire course of the trial I have never heard any evidence to sustain any of these charges. I think this book was written by a wholly irresponsible person who would write anything for a dollar. I think this book was published by a publisher who would do anything for a dollar. I don't believe any investigation of the author was made by the publisher to the extent they say it was because they cared more for the dollar than they did for the almighty truth. I wouldn't believe this author if he was under oath and I think he and the publisher are as guilty as anyone who was ever found guilty in this court."

Judge Barnes hit close to the mark when he touched on the dollar aspect. The publishers sold 700,000 copies. Derounian's royalties must have grossed close to $300,000; the publisher's close to $500,000. It was a dirty job, but it paid well.

In a fourth case, Jeremiah Stokes of Salt Lake City filed a suit against Derounian (alias Carlson) for libel. The case was heard in Salt Lake City in December 1946. Stokes was smeared by association by imputing to him the odium charged against others—and because he had written a book, "The Communist Plot to purge American Patriots from Congress." As in every other test, the jury held Derounian guilty of libel and assessed damages of $10,000 and costs.

Thus in four cases in which this book was submitted to judicial review the judges refused to believe him in three cases and in one he himself, on the advice of his lawyers, quit and retracted. A police commission trial judge, Police Commissioner Valentine, former Commissioner McLaughlin, Justice Crain, Justice Finch and thirty-six jurors (in three cases) and a United States Judge in Chicago, all unanimously, after hearing Derounian's testimony, have refused to believe him and he stands judicially condemned as a liar "unworthy to be believed under oath" and "willing to do anything for dollar." Are all these judges, commissioners and 36 jurors to be dismissed as irresponsible?

In all the search for subversive elements, Stout, Birkhead, and their stool pigeon Derounian (alias Carlson) have left the Communist alone. Now in a new book, Carlson has a chapter "exposing" the Commies. This, however, completely exposes his own hand on the subject. In this chapter his whole tone changes from the angry vituperation heaped on men like Lindbergh and Wheeler to a tone of softness. He actually gives the Commies several testimonials. He says the members are mostly American-born—a fact he knows nothing about since their membership lists are secret. He contrasts their humble headquarters with the magnificence of the National Manufacturers Association offices. He is careful to say he aims his mild criticisms, not at Russian Communism, but only at the American Communists. William Z. Foster said the same thing when he was attacking Earl Browder. He, Derounian boasts that he understands Russian Communism better than the Commies here and respects it more. There is not a word about the incredible infiltration of these Commies into our State Department, our Army and Navy, our Washington bureaus, our radio and movies and press. And we must not forget that when the book "Under Cover" was issued no one plugged it more incessantly than the Commies.

The trail of Birkhead and Stout took them into some queer experiments in "democracy." They were not content merely to smear men; they sought to silence them completely. Birkhead, addressing a group of veterans, urged them to aid in "disciplining the obstructionist press," By "obstructionist press" he meant papers like the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and Washington Times Herald. He told them he had a plan to cut the circulation of the Daily News by 50 percent by getting advertisers to boycott it. He said the "Chicago Tribune will be an easier job. It has to be done in order to protect our minority groups."

At a Fulton Theatre meeting in 1943, Stout suggested a letter campaign to a chain of newspapers to "get" Westbrook Pegler. However, he added, the only "way to get Pegler is with a meat-axe."

Another group in March, 1942—the Overseas Press Club—composed mostly of foreign correspondents who had been whooping it up for war, for Britain and for Russia, had a banquet in Washington. Cabinet officers were present and a great galaxy of New Deal celebrities. One speaker, in a musing speech, denounced the former non-interventionists as criminals and demanded that they be charged with subversive activities, with violating the Mann Act, the income tax law, anything, to "GET THEM," This incredible outburst was delivered amidst a roar of applause in which the highest officials joined. This represented the moral level of a government that boasted it was fighting to bring freedom to the whole world.

Suppression Project

Stout got himself put at the head of a War Writers' Board by Elmer Davis, which was subsidized by the government, and which he used to drive out of magazines, newspapers, and radio those writers who displeased him. When the war ended he tried to keep it up. He formed the Writers' Board and went to work to punish the Chicago Tribune. He wrote a letter to American authors on the letterhead of the Writers' Board suggesting that they instruct their publishers not to advertise in a Literary Review which the Tribune had just launched. I sent a copy of that letter to 22 members of his Board and asked them if they, as writers who believed in freedom of the press, knew of Stout's action and approved it. Sixteen replied that they did not know of it, did not approve it and many, in consequence, quit his Board.

On the very day I write these lines, at a large meeting of an organization which has aided Birkhead and Stout, the head of that organization told the audience that they were at work on the 'Daily News' Project"—a project to boycott the New York Daily News. The success of these intimidation schemes has been shocking. However, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and Washington Times-Herald, most savagely attacked—refused to be intimidated, stood steadfast to their principles despite almost unbelievable pressures, and prospered enormously—a lesson which ought to be learned by those editors who ran to cover in fear of these smearers.

Men were pursued individually and in groups. The most comprehensive smear was in 1943 when Birkhead and Stout tried to prevent any person opposed to their own objectives from holding a government office. Every applicant for a government post must be cleared through the Civil Service Commission. Birkhead and Stout filed with the Commission a document called "Material on American Fascist Groups." It fills 480 typewritten pages with thousands of names. These include most of the distinguished American senators, congressmen, business men, educators, writers and others, who opposed the objectives of Birkhead and Stout. Mixed in among them were the names of various indicted and convicted persons charged with subversive activities. Thus the evil repute of these few contributed to the odor of subversion of all the other names.

Every person on that list meets this charge automatically at the threshold of government service if he should seek a job. A more irresponsible outrage against the good names of a small army of people who had committed the prime of disagreeing with the weird opinions of this scurrilous pair I have never encountered.

A New Project

The latest project, now under way, is their plan to "get" a new organization known as American Action. The officers of this organization are Edward A. Hayes, former national commander of die American Legion, Joseph Staaek, former national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and R. K. Christenberry, former chairman of the Policy Committee of the American Legion, all Americans of the highest character. Their object is to defend our political and economic system against Communist and Fascist propagandists. The attack on them began logically in the Communist Daily Worker and George Seldes' little pink smear sheet In Fact and then, based wholly on these two "exposes" showed up as an "original" story in the Cleveland Press upon whose editor it had been palmed off. Now Birkhead and Stout take it up as a "project."

The whole purpose is to prove that these men are pro-fascist and anti-Semitic—outrageous lies of the whole cloth. And this is done with the old trick of connecting the gentlemen and their movement with the names of already smeared persons of no significance who have no connection with the movement.

They performance of this so-called Friends of Democracy must have produced upon the minds of many of its directors much the same impression as in the case of the Anti-Nazi League for in the last few years no less than 27 of these directors have resigned.