Saturday, October 22, 2005

Good Night! Roger Ebert As Political Critic Lauds the Looney Clooney Film—But it Takes the Washington Post to Apply the Focus

It’s no secret to anyone reading the Sun-Times that its movie critic, Roger Ebert is a frustrated political commentator. Which would be all right but, unsurprisingly, his film reviews show an incurable affection for the left, but with an appeal for the vulgate which has won him celebrity here, annual trips to Canne, where he reports to us yokels back home with religious exultation, accolades in Hollywood which tends to whoop him up publicly and officially and the Pulitzer for film criticism where, as with most of its prizes, it is requisite that recipients echo the biases of the awarders. My favorite film critics are Joe Morgenstern and John Simon with Terry Teachout thrown in next to whom Ebert is doctrinaire, inconsistent and bellicose—also larded with a lamentably low threshold for junk (understandable since he screen-wrote that masterpiece “Return to the Valley of the Dolls”).

In any event, Ebert has given his obligatory four stars to a rehash of history known as “Good Night and Good Luck.” The film is, quite candidly, a mooning of American history (which Roger parading his clenched fist anger: bully, villain)—mooning, in the sense of lowering one’s trousers and allowing his posterior to emit a bray at the world: pretending that Joseph McCarthy was the anti-Christ of civilization who caused to many decent artists to hide under the covers as our First Amendment liberties were hustled to death and embalmed until the Kennedys (who taped Martin Luther King’s bedsprings) rescued us from the foulness of the right. It so happens I worked in the Congress immediately following the McCarthy era and for a man, the ranking minority member of House Foreign Affairs, a close friend of Eisenhower and Dulles, who knew McCarthy well and was a knowledgeable critic. And I did know MCarthy’s closest friends, his press secretary Ed Nellor and visited on the subject with Karl Mundt and Everett Dirksen.

Nothing in the film or in Ebert’s serenade of it remotely resembles the truth. The title is from the ending Murrow gave to his radio programs: Goodnight and good luck. The film and Roger would have us believe that Edward R. Murrow was the man with the guts to call the turn on McCarthy and that his producer, Fred Friendly, who made a fortune recycling the saga, is played by George Clooney (whose father, a Cincinnati anchor-man ran for Congress last year as a Democrat and was defeated despite the best that his son could do by barnstorming in his behalf).

McCarthy was often an exaggerator and demagogue, afflicted with alcoholism which claimed him but Murrow didn’t tag him out. In fact, his own obsessive self tagged him out and before it did, McCarthy made a signal contribution to our polity. If Roger would only read books on the subjects before he writes, he would know it. “Murrow: His Life and Times” by A.R. Sperber [Freundlich Books: 1986] is a generally laudatory retelling but underscores the admixture of commercialism and reportage of the era. A balanced book on McCarthy is “Joseph McCarthy” by Thomas Reeves which gives the Senator decent grades for spotlighting a malaise and attempting to score it with occasional accuracy and some hyperbole. The landmark book, however, is one that has been produced later and since the revelatory Venona Papers where the activities of supposedly trusted FDR and Truman aides were catalogued in the files of the now deceased Soviet Union. This is: Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator by Arthur Herman, coordinator of the Western Civilization Program at the Smithsonian and hardly a far-right devotee.

We know now—though Roger does not—that the Communist spying McCarthy decried was extensive—hitting the highest levels of the White House and the Manhattan Project. We know he was right on Owen Lattimore and that he has been documented as an articulate instrument of the communist conspiracy in America. We know that the American Civil Liberties Union is nowhere near in the center of American liberty and that McCarthy was correct in labeling it a front for communists. In the film that Ebert adores Murrow retorts that the ACLU was not on the government’s list of subversives: come now, neither was Harry Hopkins who the Venona papers proved with indisputable logic was working behind Roosevelt’s back to inform the USSR of our most innermost conversations. The film concentrates on one Lt. Milo Radulovich who is on the edge of being canned as a security risk from the Air Force Reserve because two of his relatives were radicals, possibly communists. There is a cry of victory when Radulovich is reinstated—a victory for Murrow! Radulovich was never a McCarthy target.

I could go on but let’s allow the Washington Post’s film reviewer, no conservative, Stephen Hunter, who details Murrow’s close friend, one Lawrence Duggan who, the film says, was goaded to suicide. Stephen Hunter of the Post writes: One can almost imagine the drama,” he writes. “The distinguished newsman, once the voice of blitzed London, hair slicked back, a nub of cigarette in his hand radiating vapors, face as rigid as an Old Testament elder, using that deep voice and crooning rhetoric to lambaste the puny minds of the House Un-American Activities Committee that had so besmirched Larry’s good name that the man had leapt in despair from a 16th street floor window. But you won’t find it in `Good Night and Good Luck’, George Clooney’s mounting of the dramatic confrontation between the estimable Murrow and the abrasive junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. One can readily see why. Duggan, as it turned out, was a Soviet spy, code-named…`Frank’ and finally `Prince.’ He was, moreover, one of many Soviet spies embedded in the U.S. government at the time.

“That’s not all Clooney leaves out in his account of the Murrow-McCarthy fight: He leaves out the Cold War, the hot war in Korea, the Venona decrypts that proved how sophisticated and exhaustive the Russian intelligence initiative against the American target was.” Stephen Hunter oughtn’t to count on accolades for his film critic work; no star in the sidewalk in Hollywood and certainly no Pulitzer. He doesn’t have a high earning TV show and naturally his words won’t be circulated in Chicago where the city council and mayor, no less, have accorded Roger applause.

No comments:

Post a Comment