Bill Sr. (“Talking It Over”: The Witness: June 14, 1945)
San Francisco is the capital of ‘the peace loving nations while the United Nations Conference is in session. But to understand what is going on it is necessary to know that it is also the world capital of the Fascist underground. It would take a lot of space to list the organizations which opened headquarters in the city for the purpose of disrupting the conference, largely of course by pouring out anti-Soviet propaganda. It is important also to know that these agencies have a very receptive press, particularly in the Hearst papers which are in effect house organs for these people who apparently would rather have a war between the U.S.A. and the USSR than a world organization to maintain peace.
Charles Rozmarek, president of the Polish-American Congress, opened a well-staffed office from which press releases are issued on every conceivable subject, from demands that the voting procedure of the World Organization be ‘by simple majority vote’ to fantastic charges of Russian inflicted upon ‘the democratic leaders’ not only of Poland, which he claims to represent, but also of Latvia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and almost everywhere else. His agents pin neat notices of press conferences on bulletin boards urging reporters to come to the Palace Hotel to hear Mr. Rozmarek reveal more of Russia’s sins and there are enough papers in this country slanted that way to make it an effective propaganda technique.
There is also Anthony Olis who represents Lituania and one of whose press conferences I attended quite by chance. I had met that morning T.X. Dombrowski, the editor of THE PEOPLE’S VOICE, a Polish-American weekly that supports the present Warsaw government. He was anxious to hear what Mr. Olis had to say. So we went to a small hotel room to find an American businessman expounding on the crimes of the Soviets to about a dozen people, including several representatives of Mr. Rozmarek’s Polish Congress. Following the meeting my well-informed friend questioned Mr. Olis rather closely on Polish-Lithuanian relations and asked if common hatred of Russia has resolved their own bitter differences. Mr. Olis insisted that he did not even know the Polish gentlemen present at his conference. However a couple of hours later we ran into Mr. Olis arm in arm with two of these London Poles as they got their air and sunshine on the deck of a ferryboat. And the next day the Hearst papers presented the release that Mr. Olis had given to the handful who were interested enough to find out what he had to say. Of course it is not only the Hearst press that gladly picks up these attacks on Russia. The Chicago Tribune, the New York News, the Scripps-Howard papers and many others follow the same line under such headings as ‘Fear of Russian Expansion’, ‘German Red State Seen’, ‘Fear Communist Regime’. ‘Russians Issue Veiled Threats’. etc., etc. Anything to create fear of Russia, with columnists Simms, Sokolsky, Peglar, Crowther, Von Wiegand and others pouring it on day after day, with the latter, posing as a champion of Christian civilization, shouting in big black type that ‘the Christian era of civilization is tottering under the impact of scientifically organized militant atheism and totalitarian Communism.’
Yugoslavia’s General Mihailovich has his emissaries at the conference in the person of Louis C. Christopher of the Serb National Federation, and Zivko Topalovich, president of the Yugoslav National Democratic Committee, both of whom got big newspaper space as a result of their press conference at which Tito was denounced as a murderer and, of course, a mere tool of the Soviets. Stephen Shumeyko of Maplewood, New Jersley, got a long story sent out by one of the press services when he claimed to represent ‘twenty-five million Ukrainians who are determined to get out from under Soviet tyranny. Even Carl O. Alexander, representing himself to be a spokesman for Finland, got space for his press release about the ‘brave democracy of the north’ that had not wanted to fight really on the side of the Nazis ut had been forced to do so because the Russians are such horrible people. Present also is Capt. Francisco Lucientes, officer of the blue shirt army of the Falangists of Franco Spain, the equivalent of the Nazis’ stormtroopers, who has been staging a behind-the-scenes campaign to win a place for fascist Spain in the World Organization — and at one point was making such progress that the Friends of the Spanish Republic called a hasty conference to determine what steps should be taken to offset his campaign.
There are also the agents of Norman Thomas running about, weeping over the fate of the 16 Poles whom they really don’t care a hang about but it does offer a swell opportunity to do some more cracking down on the Soviets. Thomas, incidentally, is now writing letters to the papers and making speeches urging a soft peace for Japan, just as he previously urged a soft peace for the Nazis, affirming that the only one to gain by the unconditional surrender of Japan will be ‘Joe Stalin and the communists.’
That of course does not exhaust the list of anti-Conference agencies. The notorious Gerald L.K. Smith was holding press conferences and posted notice for a mass meeting ‘to which everybody is invited but the Russians’ –a meeting which never came off incidentally since a newspaper exposed that the ‘Protestant League’ sponsoring the meeting did not even exist. Then there is Mrs. Lyrl Clark Van Hyning, representing the We the Mothers Mobilize for Peace, Inc., who held a press conference at which she pleaded for a ‘permanent, righteous peace’ which meant that it must not be contaminated by any Russians.
The hierarchy of the Roman Church of course cannot be overlooked. For days before the Conference opened the Rev. Fulton Sheen, the number one anti-Soviet spellbinder of Rome, was addressing mass meetings up and down the coast on the sins of the Soviets. A well publicized solemn mass was celebrated by Archbishop John J. Mitty ‘to bless the cause of Poland’ (meaning the London Poles) with huge space given to the service while not a line appeared about a United Nations service held at our Cathedral which was a standing-room-only affair — this ins;pite of the fact that members of the cathedral staff personally called upon editors to invite them to the service. And while this was going on in San Francisco mass meetings were sponsored by the Roman Church in Chicago, Buffalo, Cincinnati and elsewhere, with archbishops and other dignitaries as headliners, to present the Vatican line which was frankly stated last week by his Holiness Pope Pius XII who, after first trying to squirm out of the tie-up between the Vatican and the Nazis, charged Russia with having ‘created those mobs of dispossessed, disillusioned, disappointed and hopeless men who are going to swell the ranks of revolution and disorder in the pay of a tyrant no less despotic than that of those for whose overthrow men planned.”
So when Z. Zhukov, a very genial Russian correspondent at San Francisco, charged that there are agencies at the Conference spreading anti-Soviet ‘calumnies’ in an effort to smash the unity of the United Nations, he was reporting facts. When he called it ‘‘Catholic propaganda which mostly follows outright reactionary political aims” and when he stressed the tie-up between this propaganda and such agencies as the Polish-American Congress and others I have mentioned he was right again. Likewise when he called them ‘people who are stubbornly holding to the rags of Goebbels’s heritage’ he was likewise right.
The anti-Sovie stluff that fills the papers these days is not accidental. So use your head before you fall for it.
It seems that the propaganda mills were grinding small on both sides. The genial Soviet and Polish newspaper men were, undoubtedly, making their ‘pitch’ to Dad. Also, his old colleague in the 1920’s labor troubles, Norman Thomas, came in for heavy criticism obviously. It was a symbol of the various schisms and breakdown of unity in the American left, even among the old Christian liberals. Dad thought that both Reinhold Niebuhr and Norman Thomas became members of the ‘establishment’, which in a real sense they did. He would maintain that he kept his ‘revolutionary’ integrity but, as he got older, it became a more isolated witness. In the case of the U.N. Conference, the wonder is that anything resembling a United Nations came out of the Conference at all. Remember, this was two months before the atomic bomb was dropped on HIroshima and Nagasaki and the world changed forever.
Bill Sr. (“Talking It Over,” The Witness, May 10, 1945)
‘I want to urge everyone to keep in mind that conflict makes the best newspaper story. And never before in history have so many reporters gathered in one place. Inquiry at the press office of the State Department revealed that there are more than 2000 accredited press-radio-newsreel people here. News agencies from all over the world have offices in the Conference center; so likewise with radio with not only all the American networks, but networks of Canada, Australia, Britain, the Soviet Union and other countries having set-up studios here. The press room, with hundreds of typewriters clicking all at once, sounds like a factory; a press conference is a mass meeting.
This great mass of men and women earn their living by writing stories acceptable to their papers. And the best story is a fight. To illustrate: one local paper carries the banner headline CHAIRMANSHIP DEMANDED BY U.S.; another shouts in big red letters: SOVIET DEMANDS OPPOSED; a third has an eight column head; NEW CRISIS SEEN IN RUSS ATTITUDE. The next day, the ‘crisis’ settled by unanimous vote, the heads drop from eight columns to three and announce: CONFERENCE IN COOPERATIVE MOOD.
To me the reporting of this Conference has been bad. Again to illustrate: I have attended the Molotov press conferences and have heard him applauded for his wit and praised for his frankness. Then I have picked up papers an hour or two later to find these same reporters calling Mr. Molotov a ‘master of evasion,’ ‘the tricky Russian spokesman,’ ‘the mysterious Mr. Molotov.’
I was deploring this to a friend of mine who is one of the top-ranking newsmen here. ‘I’ve stood all my life for freedom of the press’ I said, ‘but I’m beginning to think there is too much of it here. ’
I got my ears properly pinned back. ‘It is not freedom that is the matter,’ he replied. ‘It is a lack of a realization of their responsibility. The press has a sacred obligation, particularly on such a history-making occasion as this, to be painstakingly accurate and to stress harmony and cooperation when they find it, as well as disagreements. That’s where you fellows come in, Bill. If the Church had properly done its job more reporters would have an awareness of their responsibilities and obligations.
A lot of prayers have been authorized by bishops petitioning God to guide the statesmen so that peace and justice may be estalished. The number of reporters here and the skill, diplomalcy and honesty they show may also prove of great importance to the world. So until some bishop authorizes a prayer for them I’d suggest you remember them in your private devotions. They need them, I think, even more than the statesmen. But since I suspect that it may be some time before your prayers bring about the desired result, I suggest that you discount the scare-heads and conflict stories being pounded out on thousands of typewriters every day in San Francisco. There is harmony and cooperation where it counts most. That’s the all important fact.’
Again, how far back in time this all seems, in our era of instant world and cosmic news coverage. And, now, those folks in the San Francisco press-room would be the ‘talking heads’ of TV and stars in their own rights, negotiating contracts for early or early-early or late or late-late shows and cross-fertilizing each other on infinite numbers of shows that create opinion and, thus, make ‘news’. Their columns are in the morning papers, on Op-ed page, and then they talk about it all day and evening. The ‘civil right’ of getting objective news is, perhaps, harder to achieve than ever….and, as Dad said, ‘conflict makes the best news story.’