Yet again, the Rosenbergs

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Just over a year ago we revisited the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953. Back then, their case attracted worldwide attention, both because of the seriousness of the charge – they had played a key role in delivering the secrets of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union, an action that entirely altered the balance of power on planet Earth – and because they were a married couple with two children. More than a few Americans were eager to see them pay the ultimate price for what was, unquestionably, treason; others opposed their execution, either because of a defensible opposition to the death penalty, or to the idea of making orphans of two small boys, or, less justifiably, because they actually viewed the Rosenbergs’ crimes as insignificant, or believed them (despite all the evidence to the contrary) to be innocent, or even, in a great many cases, because they regarded Julius and Ethel as heroes precisely because they were secret agents for Stalin.

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Tony Kushner

The notion that the Rosenbergs were heroes – or, at least, that Ethel, the junior partner in the spy operation, could somehow be regarded as a heroine – was a major animating tenet of the American far left for many decades after the couple’s execution, and endures to this day. (In Angels in America, Tony Kushner turns Ethel into a veritable saint.) The notion has even survived the opening of archives that have provided absolute proof of the Rosenbergs’ activities on behalf of the Kremlin. In 2011, faced with this mounting evidence, one of the Rosenbergs’ sons, Robert Meeropol, broke down and acknowledged his father’s guilt, while reasserting his mother’s innocence; but at the same time he expressed pride in both of them, saying that they had “acted with integrity, courage and in furtherance of righteous ideals.” Needless to say, those ideals, as Rosenberg expert Ronald Radosh pointed out at the time, included “forced collectivization of the land, the murder of hundreds of thousands, [and] the establishment of the Gulag.”

9/28/15 Robert Meeropol (pictured, pink shirt) and his brohter, Michael Meeropol, (pictured, blue shirt) received a proclamation from City Council member Daniel Dromm today. The proclamation recognized the contributions to the labor movement of Ethel Rosenberg, the mother of Robert and Michael. She was convicted of espionage along with her husband Julius in 1953 and was sentenced to death. Today would have marked her 100th birthday. Pictured, left to right: City Council member Mark Levine, City Council member Daniel Dromm, Robert Meeropol, Michael Meeropol and Gail Brewer. On the steps of City Hall, NY, NY . Please credit Gregory P. Mango.
The Meeropol brothers holding copies of the New York City Council proclamation lauding their mother

In October of last year, in yet another example of the continuing far-left compulsion to idealize one or both of the Rosenbergs, the New York City Council issued a proclamation honoring Ethel on what would have been her hundredth birthday, praising her “bravery,” and identifying her as a victim of “anti-Communist hysteria.” As we observed at the time, such actions are the work of people who “still speak of anti-Communism almost as if there was no such thing as Communism itself. In their rhetoric, the terror of life under Stalin dissolves; the Gulag disappears; the Iron Curtain evaporates. And all that is left is Americans’ apparently baseless ‘hysteria.’”

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E. L. Doctorow

Unsurprisingly, the same people on the far left who have persisted in viewing the Rosenbergs as heroes have also depicted the Rosenbergs’ sons as victims. And, yes, they were victims – of their parents’ fanatical devotion to an evil ideology. But the aim on the far left has always been to paint them as victims of a vengeful, heartless America, of “anti-Communist hysteria,” of anti-Semitism, and of other systematic societal ills purportedly afflicting the West. The most notable instance of this effort has been E. L. Doctorow‘s 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel, whose memory-haunted title character is based on the Meeropol boys; the novel’s manifest objective is to blame the young protagonist’s woes not on the boy’s Communist parents but on their capitalist executioners.

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The Meeropol brothers

The spin continues. On October 16, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment featuring both Rosenberg sons. The title, “Finding Refuge,” suited the segment’s angle: it was less an objective report on the facts of the Rosenberg case than yet another effort to whip up public sympathy for Michael and Robert Meeropol. The boys (who are now elderly men) admitted that after decades of insisting on their parents’ innocence, they finally came to accept that their father, at least, was a full-fledged spy. But this doesn’t bother them: as one of the sons said, he finds it “more palatable” to see his parents not as victims but as politically committed people who acted on their beliefs.

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Anderson Cooper

Now, pause for a moment and reflect on that statement. If the son of a couple of long-dead Nazis had spoken in this admiring way about their “commitment,” you can bet that Anderson Cooper would have responded on-camera by sharply challenging the idea that there could be anything “palatable” whatsoever about Nazism. But Cooper let that one pass by without a challenge, reminding us that while (of course) admiring Hitler is universally recognized as utterly appalling, in the corridors of Western media power it’s still considered acceptable to admire people for their unwavering dedication to Stalin.

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Ronald Radosh

During his interview with the Meeropol brothers, Cooper reminded them of what the judge in their parents’ case had said: “The Rosenbergs loved their cause more than their children.” Cooper characterized this as “a very cruel thing to say.” No; it was a plain and simple fact. As Radosh, who was also interviewed on the program, underscored, the U.S. government did not want to have to electrocute the Rosenbergs: it was trying to use the threat of execution to pressure them to provide information about their spy network. But they wouldn’t talk. Their loyalty to their comrades – to their fellow acolytes of Stalinist totalitarianism, and, of course, to Stalin himself – was greater than their loyalty to their children. That, not the judge’s statement, was the cruel element in this story. Plainly – and, perhaps, understandably – the Meeropol brothers are still unable to accept the terrible reality that their parents loved Stalin more than them. They still insist on seeing themselves as the victims of their parents’ executioners; in fact they are the victims of nothing other than the breathtaking power of useful stoogery.

True lies: Robert Redford and the Dan Rather story

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Robert Redford

We’ve been looking at Robert Redford‘s long record as a producer, director, and/or star of several high-budget (and usually low-box-office) pieces of vintage Hollywood propaganda. His latest vehicle won’t be out until October, but if you look at the source material, at the comments he and others have made about the picture before and during its production, and at his own ideology as revealed in his previous films, you can get a pretty clear picture of what’s in store for us. He isn’t the producer or director, but he’s the star, and given the nature of the material, he surely wouldn’t have taken the role if he didn’t believe wholeheartedly in the picture and its message.

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Dan Rather

Truth: that’s its title. Written and directed by James Vanderbilt, it professes to set forth the facts about why Dan Rather, after 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News, was asked by the network to resign in 2005 in the wake of the so-called Rathergate scandal. Redford plays Rather; Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer who was fired as a result of her involvement in the scandal and whose book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, was the basis for Vanderbilt’s script.

DALLAS, TX - JULY 10: Former President George W. Bush speaks during Naturalization Ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential Center on July 10, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/WireImage)
George W. Bush

A brief history of the scandal. It began with a set of documents that purported to cast an unflattering light on President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard from 1968 to 1974. The documents came into Mapes’s hands and, on September 4, 2004, less than two months before the presidential election, were presented as authentic in a 60 Minutes segment on which Rather was the correspondent. The story began to collapse immediately – because the documents, bearing dates in the early 1970s, had plainly been typed many years later on a computer with proportional spacing. In other words, they were forgeries that only an idiot (or somebody born after the 1970s who’d never seen a typewritten page from that decade) would fall for. Yet even as the criticism mounted, Rather and Mapes stubbornly kept maintaining that the documents were genuine.

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In 2004, using the program’s default settings, blogger Charles Johnson typed out in Microsoft Word the text of one of the 60 Minutes documents supposedly written in 1973, then superimposed the new text over the “old” one, thus providing dramatic evidence that the “old” document was not as old as claimed

At first CBS backed them up; on September 20, however, the network reversed itself. An independent review panel was formed, and in the end it criticized CBS severely for having spent more than two weeks defending the indefensible. From the beginning, of course, critics charged that Rather and others at CBS News had aired the National Guard story because they wanted to dent Bush’s chances of re-election; Rather, of course, denied this. And Mapes, in her book and elsewhere, dismissed the entire issue of proportional spacing, claiming that members of the “Bush camp” had disingenuously raised “really obscure type-face issues” to convince ignorant Americans that the documents had been forged. The “Bush camp,” she argued, was intent on “sliming anyone who raised questions about the president.”

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We couldn’t find a picture of Redford with Castro, but here’s a picture of a picture of Redford with Castro

This, then, is the “truth” that Redford’s forthcoming movie (which, by the way, Rather himself has enthusiastically promoted) will apparently present. On the contrary, the movie’s “truth” is the very opposite of the truth: whatever one may think of George W. Bush, the fact is that Rather and Mapes were the ones who were engaged in “sliming,” using transparently fake documents to try to smear him – and then, when countless people who had nothing to do with Bush reacted publicly to the manifest fakeness of the documents, turning around and claiming that his “camp” had been involved in “sliming” them.

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A recent picture of Redford and his wife with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife

The entire premise of the film is that Rather and Mapes lost their jobs because they’d stood up for the truth; in reality they lost their jobs as just payment for clinging to a lie.

How can Redford involve himself in such a project? Because for him, as one after another of his movies has richly demonstrated, the concept of “truth” isn’t about real truth – about, that is, the hard facts. It’s about the “higher” truth – the revealed truth, as it were – that emerges when you look at the world through the lens of the ideology that has made Redford, for decades, such a splendid stooge for the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And it’s clear that Dan Rather, when viewed by Redford through that lens, is on the side of the angels.