TCS Daily


Whitewashed Reds

By Sidney Goldberg - March 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Editor's note: In the tenth paragraph, the name 'Alan Feuer' was inadvertantly substituted for 'Alfred Bernstein'. The column is herewith corrected and republished.

Jay Nordlinger, Managing Editor of National Review, in the course of his review of Mona Charen's excellent book, "Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First" (yes, the title is too long!), a Regnery book, wrote: "Time after time, an obit of a Communist is published in The New York Times. And we read that the deceased had been an 'activist,' a 'progressive,' maybe even a 'radical' - but it seems bad form, somehow, to identify him as a Communist..."

As if to prove Nordlinger's case, Herbert Aptheker obligingly died on March 17, at age 87, just a couple of days after the Nordlinger piece appeared. The New York Times morticians dutifully went to work with their colognes and pomades.

In his March 20 obituary, Christopher Lehman-Haupt, daubed the Communist Party functionary as "the prolific Marxist historian," known as "an outspoken defender of civil rights," and above all as the author of several books on black history, notably "Black Slave Revolts" and "The Correspondence of W.E.B. Dubois." (DuBois, who died a Communist in Ghana, had appointed Aptheker the executor of his literary estate.)

New York Times obits of important or interesting people are, in effect, in two parts. The first part captures the essence of the person's life and highlights his or her major accomplishments. The second part is like an addendum, giving a chronology: in Aptheker's case, born in Brooklyn, graduated from Columbia University in 1937, joined Communist Party in 1939 (whoops! how'd that get in there?), and so on, marrying Fay Philippa Aptheker (a first cousin) in 1939, who was at least as militant and influential as her husband and who later became the mentor of Angela Davis and many other Communists. Herbert and Fay bore a child, Bettina, and is it any wonder that Bettina, too, became a Communist?

But the second half of the obit is merely political trivia. The thrust of the eulogy is that Herbert Aptheker was a revered Marxist historian. As we all know, there is no problem with someone holding Marxist ideas, but holding Marxist ideas is vastly different from being a member of the Communist Party, which entails giving up one's intellectual independence and following the party line wherever it may lead.

In the course of the obit, we learn that Aptheker was "an associate editor of Masses and Mainstream and an editor of Political Affairs." But the Times tells nothing about these magazines. Masses and Mainstream was the cultural magazine that was directed by the Communist Party, and Political Affairs was the theoretical organ of the Communist Party. Indeed, Aptheker was usually referred to as the "chief theorist of the Communist Party."

In September 1939, the month he joined the party, Aptheker explained that he did so because, the obit states, "he saw it as an anti-fascist force and a progressive voice for race relations." Peculiar timing, being that the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed the month before, in August, and it represented quite a setback to the anti-fascist movement, causing thousands of Communists to jump ship. But not Aptheker. I don't think we have to explore the "progressive voice" of Hitler and Stalin on race relations.

Just a few days before the Nordlinger review appeared, another obituary was published in The New York Times, on March 2, this one on the life of Alfred Bernstein. He died on February 28 and was the father of Carl Bernstein, the Watergate man.

Alan Feuer, who wrote this obit, began this way: "Alfred Bernstein, a New Deal lawyer who led the movement to unionize government workers and later helped desegregate the lunch counters, restaurants, public swimming pools and playgrounds of Jim Crow-era Washington, died on Friday at his home in Washington."

Nowhere in the obit is it disclosed that Alfred Bernstein, and his wife Sylvia, was a member of the Communist Party. He is portrayed as a politically sensitive labor organizer, "inspired by the social ferment of the New Deal." Unmentioned in the obit is that from 1937 to 1950 the union in which he was in the management was the Communist-controlled United Federal Workers of America.

As an attorney, Bernstein also defended dozens of persons accused of being Communists before the loyalty control boards that had been set up by President Truman. Later in life, Bernstein acknowledged to his son Carl that the government indeed had been riddled with Communists.

Alfred Bernstein devoted his later years to more benign activities, such as serving as vice president for development with the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research.

It is especially bizarre that The New York Times did not even touch on the rich Communist background of Alfred Bernstein, considering that his son Carl recently wrote a book, "Loyalties," about his upbringing as a "red diaper baby."

Carl Bernstein deserves great credit for coming to terms with the multi-faceted life of his father, but a case can be made that he should have disclosed the conflict of interest he brought to his Watergate exposes. After all, he was brought up as a Nixon hater and readers might have been told that his family regarded Nixon as vile, as an enemy. If he were doing a story on IBM and came from a family that was dedicated to the destruction of IBM, wouldn't we want to know that? Certainly The New York Times, which has the most intricately devised ethical code of any newspaper in the world, would go along with this. Wouldn't it?

Sidney Goldberg is a frequent TCS contributor. A New York media consultant, he was Senior Vice President of United Media for Syndication. United Media syndicates and licenses Peanuts, Dilbert, and many other graphic and text properties.
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