Hiss Obituaries Prove Network Laziness
by L. Brent Bozell III
November 21, 1996
Alger Hiss was a felon, a traitor to his country, and an
agent seeking the global spread of slavery and death under communism. That
hard reality was proven by Hiss's conviction for perjury more than four
decades ago. The radical left refused to accept the verdict and made him their
poster child, an innocent bystander, a victim of the Cold War.
But his guilt was further proven in the 1978 publication of
Allen Weinstein's definitive book "Perjury." The final nail in the
coffin came with the National Security Agency's recent release of the Venona
transcripts, which detailed the activities of a spy code-named
"Ales" which mirrored the allegations raised against Hiss by
In their obituaries, both Time and Newsweek thoughtfully and
unequivocally described Hiss as a spy. Not so the networks, who described Hiss
on November 15 as: (1) a well-established, brilliant public servant; (2) until
he was accused of spying by Whittaker Chambers (never described as his Soviet
contact) and exploited for political gain by Richard Nixon; (3) one who
protested his innocence against the anti-communist insanity of his times; (4)
cleared by Russian officials of ever being a spy.
On ABC, Peter Jennings oozed sympathy for Hiss after his
conviction: "He lost his livelihood and his marriage. He protested his
innocence until the very end, and last year, we reported that the Russian
President Boris Yeltsin said that KGB files supported Mr. Hiss's claim."
A Soviet agent who lost his livelihood after his conviction? One would hope
Jennings would consider that a positive development in light of the millions
of lives lost to the brutal regime he served.
CNN's Linden Soles lectured: "The case attracted
national attention and helped spurn a period of blacklisting and hysteria over
the communist threat." Yes, for the radical left. For the rest of the
country, the conviction proved how very real was that communist threat.
Over on NBC, Tom Brokaw proclaimed: "Despite the
support of many prominent Americans, Hiss was sent to prison for almost four
years. It's a case that still divides many people in this country."
Brokaw should have said the opposite, that because of the tenacity of men like
Chambers, Hiss was sent to prison, a Soviet agent exposed and convicted.
Brokaw's report was shameless, declaring Hiss was "suddenly caught up in
a spy scandal." And Hitler was "caught up" in the Holocaust,
Stalin in the Soviet genocide, Sirhan Sirhan in Robert Kennedy's
On MSNBC's "The News with Brian Williams," news
anchor Brigitte Quinn announced: "Alger Hiss was a symbol of the Cold War
and the McCarthy witch hunts that haunted that era....In 1987, a Russian
general declared that Hiss was never a spy, but a victim of Cold War
hysteria." Quinn was wrong: General Dmitri Volkogonov made his
declaration in 1992 -- and then admitted he hadn't thoroughly reviewed the
How is it that all these reports not only declare Hiss an
innocent victim, but echo one another in tone? I offer as an answer a 334-word
Associated Press dispatched labeled "Urgent" put out at 5:11 the
night of November 15 with the headline "Alger Hiss, Nixon Nemesis, Dead
at 92." It read: "Alger Hiss, the patrician public servant who fell
from grace in a Communist spy scandal that propelled Richard Nixon to higher
office, died Friday afternoon...Hiss' life can be neatly broken into two
parts. The first was a stellar rise to a brilliant academic career...But on
Aug. 3, 1948, a rumpled, overweight magazine editor named Whittaker Chambers
alleged that 10 years earlier, Hiss had given him State Department
secrets....For the rest of his life, he worked for vindication....He
proclaimed that it had come finally in 1992, at age 87, when a Russian general
in charge of Soviet intelligence archives declared that Hiss had never been a
spy, but rather a victim of Cold War hysteria and the McCarthy
The liberal media's defenders suggest conservatives
feverishly insist news coverage is the product of a hard-working,
well-organized conspiracy. But that's wrong. What the Hiss TV stories prove is
that sometimes, biased coverage happens when lazy reporters can't manage to do
more legwork on a world-historical story than to walk across the room and
rewrite a biased AP dispatch. Newspapers work up obituaries years in advance
on major historical figures. But hey, this is TV -- we'll wing it with wire
Three days later, Tom Brokaw came back to tell viewers of
Volkogonov's admission. Then Peter Jennings retracted ABC's claims about
Yeltsin clearing Hiss. When was the last time two networks had to correct an obituary?
It just doesn't get sloppier than this, though surely forty years from now
there will still be some nut charging around, with TV cameras obediently in
tow, arguing the innocence of this American traitor.
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