Through obscurity and indirection, Bierly, Keenan, and Kirkpatrick gained influence. The names of the partners were never mentioned in Counterattack, nor were their claims supported with conventional journalistic or scholarly citations. Thus, the whole operation was left to grow in the reader’s imagination. Unlike HUAC, which acted on behalf of mere government, Counterattack represented the more powerful realm of fantasy.

For several years, articles in Counterattack ridiculed the idea of a broadcast blacklist while it labored to make that list reality. “If [there] were a blacklist,” the newsletter suggested in its issue of July 22, 1949, “there would be mighty few party-liners in radio….You can help to alleviate it by notifying the sponsor and the agency whenever you learn of a Communist or fellow-traveler on payroll of any sponsored program.”

In 1950, Bierly, Keenan, and Kirkpatrick dropped the doublespeak and simply published the list of performers and others in broadcasting the partners decreed to be “Communists and Communist sympathizers [who] have no place on our air.” The now notorious booklet, Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, listed 151 names, among them the radio writer and broadcaster Norman Corwin; the actors John Garfield, Judy Holiday, and Lena Horne; and the poet Langston Hughes. Horne, who had had enough trouble being accepted in white America without being further marginalized for her loose association with liberal politics, would bellow at the mention of Red Channels forty years after it was published. “Those bastards,” she would say, were “crooks” and “blackmailers.” Indeed, Bierly, Keenan, and Kirkpatrick opened themselves to charges of racketeering by marketing services to clear the names they had cited in Counterattack or listed in Red Channels.

Everitt, in Shadows of Red, explores this charge and casts some doubt on it, at the risk of seeming himself like someone concerned more with clearance than with truth. He works hard to portray the publishers of Counterattack as complex figures, and he strives to avoid the demonization that was their trade. Shadows of Red is spotty and often turgid, but serious in intention and illuminating on several counts, especially the outsize influence of three shadowy men with an offset press and an appetite for fear.

 

David Hajdu is a professor of arts and culture journalism at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.