William Gillis. American Journalism. Volume 34, Issue 3. 2017.
National Christian News, a newspaper dedicated to preserving “our White Race, our Christian Faith, and our Nation,” published an article series in 1977 titled “The Controllers.” Across three issues, National Christian News listed hundreds of US television networks and stations, magazines, and daily newspapers; each media outlet was accompanied by a select list of its owners, directors, managers, editors, and reporters who National Christian News believed were Jewish, based on the last names of the individuals. For the anti-Semitic publishers of National Christian News, the hundreds of supposedly Jewish individuals identified in “The Controllers” proved that Jews controlled nearly every news media organization in the country—all part of a calculated conspiracy by communist Jews to brainwash the American people with distorted news.
Since the early twentieth century anti-Semites in the United States have argued that Jews controlled and manipulated the news media. In the 1920s and 1930s organizations and figures such as the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, and the German American Bund argued that Jewish communists were in control of the nation’s news and entertainment media. During the Cold War era, an anti-Semitic, racist far right continued to charge that Jews, particularly those based in New York and other East Coast cities, distorted the news in order to pave the way for communist world government.
This article analyzes the ways the postwar Right associated the news media with Jews and the role anti-Semitism played in creating the idea of a “liberal news media.” It demonstrates that explicitly anti-Semitic and racist far-right publications of the 1970s regularly argued that Jews controlled the news consumed by the majority of Americans. Like so many other conservative print media that criticized the allegedly liberal news media during the 1970s, anti-Semitic publications considered themselves to be truth-tellers with the courage to report the facts denied to Americans by the mainstream news media, which they believed brainwashed Americans with Jewish lies and distortions. Anti-Semitic critiques of the news media must be understood in the context of Cold War-era anticommunism, Christian conservatism, and reaction to the civil rights movement by white conservatives. The vast majority of anti-Semites of the postwar era were fervent Christian anticommunists who believed that Jews were the secret masterminds behind the international communist conspiracy to destroy the Anglo-Saxon, Christian United States. Most anti-Semites also believed that communist Jews controlled the civil rights movement, a conspiracy designed to promote racial miscegenation and unrest.
The historian and media scholar David Greenberg has demonstrated that resentment of “eastern” and “northern” television networks among southern whites was crucial in creating the idea of a “liberal news media.” Proponents of racial segregation in the Deep South believed that television networks and newspapers such as the New York Times unfairly covered civil rights activity and racial conflict. This article argues that anti-Semitic beliefs also contributed to the idea that an East Coast-based news media were biased in favor of African Americans, civil rights, and all things liberal. Though many southern whites who resisted racial integration distanced themselves from anti-Semitism, some of the most vocal proponents of massive resistance maintained anti-Semitic views and blamed the “Jewish news media” for favoring blacks over whites. Ideas about the Jewish news media and their bias against southern whites were not exclusive to the Deep South. Anti-Semitic “hate sheets” throughout the country argued that the civil rights movement and racial integration were communist plots, and they blamed the “Jewish news media” for brainwashing Americans.
Ideas about the “Eastern Establishment,” “East Coast liberals,” and “New York elites”—terms widely used by conservatives of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly when they criticized the allegedly liberal news media—were in part planted by the anti-Semitic far right, for whom such terms meant one thing: powerful Jews, including the Jews who they believed controlled the broadcast and print news media. Such code words were used intentionally by anti-Semites and unintentionally by non-anti-Semites, who had absorbed ideas and rhetoric about East Coast liberals that originated from anti-Semitic beliefs but over time had lost explicit anti-Semitic connotations.
In their 1967 book The Radical Right: Report on the John Birch Society and Its Allies, Benjamin R. Epstein and Arnold Forster used the term “hazy borderlines” to describe the gray areas where the explicit anti-Semitic Right and the supposedly non-anti-Semitic anticommunist Right intersected. This article employs the term “hazy borderlines” to describe conservative columnists, publications, and organizations that rarely used explicit anti-Semitic language but instead used coded rhetoric such as “East Coast elites” and “international bankers” to associate Jews with finance and the news media. Anti-Semitic hate sheets and the writers, publications, and organizations that existed in the hazy borderlines also employed the kind of “color-blind” language increasingly used by racial conservatives in the late 1960s and 1970s. Proponents of racial segregation largely abandoned explicit racist rhetoric in the 1970s because it was no longer politically advantageous. This article suggests that anti-Semitic publications of the 1970s such as the Councilor and National Spotlight opted to downplay explicit anti-Semitism rhetoric in order to reach a wider conservative audience. In some right-wing publications, explicit anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic code words, and color-blind language emphasizing constitutional rights and freedoms co-existed, and all three types of rhetoric were employed by the far right to criticize the news media.
Beliefs about the “Jewish news media” existed outside of the far right. After Vice President Spiro Agnew made widely publicized critiques of the East Coast news media in 1969, he was accused by Jewish groups of making coded references to Jewish control of the news media. Indeed, the anti-Semitic far right interpreted Agnew’s remarks as validation of their long-held beliefs about Jewish control of the news media. Agnew and White House staffer Patrick Buchanan, who wrote Agnew’s November 1969 speech in Des Moines in which he attacked the news media, denied accusations of anti-Semitism. Yet historians of the Nixon administration have shown that the president privately used anti-Semitic rhetoric and often complained bitterly about the powerful “Jewish” news media, which he considered an enemy of his administration. Agnew again raised the specter of anti-Semitism in 1976 when he alleged that Jews in the news media wielded the power to dictate US policy on Israel.
Criticism of the news media was prevalent throughout the wide spectrum of conservatism of the 1970s. The anti-Semitic far right is yet another subset of conservatism that believed that the mainstream news media aired and printed distorted and biased news. Certainly, this article does not argue that a majority of conservatives who criticized the news media in the 1970s were anti-Semites who intentionally used code words about New York elites in order to mask their anti-Semitic beliefs. However, the deeply held conviction of a majority of conservatives about East Coast news media bias originated, in part, with anti-Semitic ideas about New York Jews and their alleged control of finance and the press.
“Absolute Masters of the Press”
Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history in the United States and, indeed, the world. Dating back to the eleventh century, Jews in Europe were “despised minorities” and “Christ killers” in the eyes of the Christian majority. Anti-Semitic ideas migrated to the United States along with European immigrants. By the nineteenth century, beliefs about “parasitic Jewish bankers” who preyed on Christians became increasingly common in the United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jews were often linked with communism, radicalism, anarchism, and labor upheaval. Anti-Semitism in the United States has waxed and waned over time, but it has never gone away.
While anti-Semites most often associated Jews with banking and radicalism, Jews were also associated with the press. According to Stephen J. Whitfield, a scholar of anti-Semitism, the idea of a Jewish news media “has long been an obsession of their enemies, and the vastly disproportionate power that Jews are alleged to wield through the media has been a staple of the anti-Semitic imagination.” Whitfield suggests that the idea of a Jewish news media conspiracy originated with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a widely disseminated document that anti-Semites claimed was proof of a secret Jewish conspiracy for ruling the world (the Protocols has been proven to be a forgery). The Protocols included a section in which a rabbi instructs his fellow Jews to be “absolute masters of the press,” and thus become “the arbiters of public opinion [to] enable us to dominate the masses.”
In the late nineteenth century, ideas about Jewish control of the press in New York City became increasingly common, especially after Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York World and his brother Albert founded the New York Morning Journal in the early 1880s. In an 1889 article the Los Angeles Times described New York City as a “new Jerusalem” where “the Semitic race has a powerful control in everything, especially in finance and journalism.” The article suggested that Jews also controlled finance and the press in cities such as London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin. In the 1890s rival newspaper editors attacked Joseph Pulitzer with anti-Semitic nicknames such as “Jewseph” and “Judas” Pulitzer.
In the years following the World War I, some Americans argued that British propagandists had conspired with Jews in the news media to push the United States into war. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-Semitic organizations portrayed Jews as a disease that endangered the moral, social, and racial order of Anglo-Saxon, Christian America. The Klan reached the pinnacle of its twentieth-century popularity in the early 1920s, with as many as four million members. Klan newspapers accused both Catholics and Jews of controlling and manipulating the news to encourage further immigration of Catholics and Jews. One such newspaper, the Searchlight, wrote in 1921 that the William Hearst-owned New York World was “Jew-owned, as is every newspaper in New York City except the Tribune.” That same year, Klan leader William Joseph Simmons testified before the House of Representatives that New York-based, Jewish-owned newspapers unfairly attacked the Klan. Klan newspapers of the 1920s also complained about immoral films being produced by the “Jew-controlled” Hollywood film industry, foreshadowing 1970s criticism of Hollywood “smut” allegedly produced by Jewish filmmakers.
Other disseminators of anti-Semitic propaganda helped popularize the idea that Jews owned, controlled, and manipulated the news media during the 1920s. The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper owned by automobile magnate Henry Ford, began publishing a series of anti-Semitic articles titled “The International Jew” in 1920 that argued that Jews were engaged in a secret conspiracy to rule the world. The Independent characterized itself an Anglo-Saxon newspaper ever vigilant against the Jewish disease and argued that Jewish publications dominated and controlled the flow of the world’s news. The Independent excerpted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in 1922 Ford’s Dearborn Publishing Company published the Protocols as a four-volume set sold in the United States and abroad. Like the Klan, the Independent complained of “Jewish supremacy” in the motion picture industry, which was under control of “the Jewish manipulators of the public mind.”
Fundamentalist Christian leaders of the 1930s were “quick to blame Jews for the depression,” according to historian Matthew Avery Sutton. As the decade progressed, American admirers of Fascist rulers in Europe absorbed anti-Semitic arguments about Jewish bankers and the news media. In Adolf Hitler’s memoir, Mein Kampf, he wrote that the book was intended “to destroy the foul legends about my person dished up in the Jewish press.” Fascists in Great Britain of the 1930s also blamed “Jewish Money Power” and Jewish news media power for defaming Fascist leaders.
Father Charles Coughlin, the anticommunist Catholic “radio priest” who reached as many as thirty million people with his Sunday afternoon radio broadcasts in the 1930s, accused Jews in the news media of exaggerating news about Nazi suppression of and violence against German Jews. Other anti-Semitic demagogues of the 1930s included the German American Bund, the Defenders of the Christian Faith, the Christian Front, and the Silver Legion. Such anticommunists opposed US entry into World War II and called the “New Deal” the “Jew Deal.” Another prominent anti-Semite of the interwar period was the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh, who insisted that Great Britain, President Roosevelt, and Jews were pushing the United States toward war. In a 1939 radio speech, Lindbergh said that Jews’ “greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
Anti-Semitic Hate Sheets and the “Jewish News Media”
The explosive growth of Christian anticommunism during the Cold War period transformed postwar conservatism in the United States. While Christian anticommunists believed that communists sought to rule the world by destroying the United States, Christianity, and capitalism, anti-Semites believed that it was Jews who secretly directed the international communist conspiracy. Anti-Semites and many non-anti-Semitic Christian conservatives also believed that communist subversion was behind Americans’ apparent acceptance of liberalism and the civil rights movement. For anti-Semites, these were signs that the Jewish communist conspiracy threatened the very existence of the Christian United States and the Anglo-Saxon race. Prominent anti-Semitic Christian anticommunists of the Cold War years included Carl McIntire, Bob Wells, and the Church of the Open Door, based in Los Angeles. Anti-Semitism also existed in more subtle ways in the anticommunist political and cultural landscape. During the peak years of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Jews were often associated with Godless communism by anticommunists.
The publications produced by Cold War anti-Semites were called “hate sheets” by their critics. Anti-Semitic hate sheets of the 1960s and 1970s included National Christian News; Cross and the Flag; S.O.S., U.S.A., Ship of State; Common Sense; Thunderbolt; the Defender; Liberty Bell; White Life; Point-Blank; and the Klansman. Hate sheets agreed that liberalism and civil rights were masterminded by communist Jews and that the “Jewish news media” distorted and manipulated the news. The most influential hate sheet of the Cold War period was the Cross and the Flag, published by Gerald L. K. Smith of the Christian Nationalist Crusade. The Cross and the Flag insisted that “Communism is Jewish” and believed that liberalism was the byproduct of a Jewish conspiracy. Smith coined the term “treason machine” to describe “the Jew-controlled” electronic and print news media.
Other anti-Semites grounded in Christian anticommunism included the rabidly anti-Semitic Catholic newspaper S.O.S., U.S.A., Ship of State, published by Josef Mlot-Mroz of the Confederation of Polish Freedom Fighters in the U.S.A, who referred to television as the “Electric Jew”; and National Christian News, which published “The Controllers” in 1977. National Christian News insisted that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was authentic, denied that Hitler killed six million Jews, and charged that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had sent American boys to fight in World War II for the “greedy Jew,” while Americans “swallowed lies on radio and in the daily news” about the war.
One of the most virulent and prominent hate sheets of the Cold War period was Conde J. McGinley’s Common Sense, published in Union City, New Jersey, from the late 1940s until 1972. In its January 1, 1971, issue, Common Sense declared that it was a racist paper committed to defending the white race. “The Negro is only a minor enemy, and sometimes not even an enemy at all,” it said. “THE REAL ENEMY OF THE WHITE RACE IS THE JEW, who is the enemy of every race except his own.” Common Sense blamed the “Zionist-controlled media” for promoting racial mongrelization and the “big lie” that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Common Sense targeted news media outlets large and small; in 1971 it argued that WDSU-TV in New Orleans promoted “interracial harmony” because a Jewish man owned the station. Like non-anti-Semitic conservatives, Common Sense accused the news media of exaggerating the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by US troops at My Lai and promoting civil rights but made it clear that the Jewish press was to blame. Indeed, anti-Semitic and non-anti-Semitic critics of the news media often identified the same news media organizations and the same examples when they criticized the news media.
Common Sense and other anti-Semitic newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s often claimed that they were truth-tellers that printed the facts that the Jewish news media refused to print and broadcast. Although hate sheets often painted themselves as paragons of journalistic integrity, their tactics included “fabrications, distortions of truth, and out-of-context quotations.” Far right newspapers often changed the order of articles reprinted from other publications, omitted sentences, mismatched headlines, and doctored photographs. Those kinds of techniques, ironically enough, provided them ammunition with which to claim that readers would not able to find such “truths” in mainstream daily newspapers, magazines, and on television. Anti-Semitic publishers also printed identical material such as maps, cartoons, and articles, suggesting that a right-wing, anti-Semitic print network existed during the Cold War period.
“Jews and Negroes Are Tops”
Most anti-Semitic anticommunists of the Cold War period resisted racial integration. Southern defenders of the racial order and anti-Semites alike believed that communists were behind the civil rights movement. During the civil rights era, some segregationists, including Citizens’ Council members and chapters, distanced themselves from anti-Semitic persons and views. Yet some proponents of massive resistance to integration believed that a cabal of communist Jews pulled the strings of the civil rights movement and organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Clive Webb has demonstrated that many of the most extreme and violent proponents of massive resistance held anti-Semitic beliefs and had ties with anti-Semitic anticommunist organizations and figures. Avid segregationists whose worldview was rooted in anti-Semitism included J. B. Stoner, head of the National States’ Rights Party (Stoner was succeeded by Oren Potito, who went on to publish National Christian News in the 1970s); Bryant Bowles of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, who maintained close ties with Conde J. McGinley, publisher of Common Sense; former US Army Gen. Edwin Walker, a segregationist with associations with Common Sense; the anti-Semitic anticommunist organization Liberty Lobby; Ned Touchstone, the publisher of the Citizens’ Council newspaper the Councilor; and the Christian anticommunist Billy James Hargis.
The links between massive resistance to racial integration and anti-Semitism play an important role in understanding why the idea of a liberal news media was embraced by white conservatives of the 1960s and 1970s. David Greenberg has argued that the idea of the liberal news media was rooted in southern reaction to news media coverage of racial integration and conflict in the South during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Greenberg and other scholars have shown how northern reporters, newspapers, and television networks were resented by southern whites, who believed they were liberal outsiders who did not report the news fairly or objectively. Segregationists in the South complained that the “northern” or “eastern” press portrayed them as ignorant racists, when they, in fact, had legitimate grievances about the alleged usurpation of states’ rights by the federal government. Derisive nicknames such as the “Nigger Broadcasting Company” and the “Communist Broadcasting Company” were used by white southerners who resented the New York-based networks, and on occasion violence was directed at newspaper and television reporters in the Deep South.
Though few Jews called the Deep South home before and during the Cold War era, a pervasive strain of anti-Semitism ran through the fundamentalist Protestantism that dominated the post-Civil War South. During the Populist era of the 1880s and 1890s, when the South was in the midst of an agricultural depression, some farmers believed that a Jewish financial conspiracy based in New York was to blame; in the 1930s, during another era of economic woe, Jews were accused of communist “agitation.” The Klan’s anti-Semitic worldview also played a role in seeding ideas among southern whites about Jews and communism. During the civil rights era, Jews were increasingly associated with communism, liberalism, and civil rights. In Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964, local whites murdered three civil rights workers, including two young Jewish men from New York City, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. Before the murders, a white mob burned down a black church in Meridian, Mississippi, where Schwerner had spoken, and someone in the mob shouted, “Keep that Red Jew nigger-lover out of here.”
Jews were seen by integration opponents as liberal/radical outside agitators because they played direct, active roles in civil rights activism and also because they owned, edited, or worked for the news media outlets that many southerners blamed for portraying their region negatively. The idea that Jews in television and the newspapers—especially eastern or northern—were responsible for distortions and bias on racial issues was a common thread for whites on the far right in the Deep South and outside it. For example, in 1971 Common Sense printed a front-page cartoon that depicted a television news camera labeled “Propaganda,” while a man behind the camera with the Star of David emblazoned on his shirt held up a cue card reading “Jews and Negroes are Tops”; the “Stupid Goyim” being interviewed dutifully repeats the phrase verbatim.
The fact that the nation’s largest and most powerful news media were based in New York was a major reason that Jews were associated with print and electronic journalism. In the 1970s New York City was seen by many on the right as the headquarters of liberalism: a “Sodom on the Hudson” where welfare, sloth, crime, unions, permissiveness, and pornography reigned. New York City was home to the nation’s and world’s major financial institutions; the United Nations, regarded by many anticommunists as a communist-driven world government conspiracy and by anti-Semites as an insidious institution committed to Jewish/Communist world government; the nation’s most powerful newspaper, the New York Times; the three television networks; and major magazines and book publishers. For anti-Semites, then, New York was the headquarters for the Jewish banking, world government, and news and entertainment media conspiracy. New York’s reputation as a city of sin, vice, and perversion also did little to endear it to conservatives, anti-Semitic and non-anti-Semitic alike. For example, the California anticommunist preacher J. Vernon McGee found it appropriate that the despised UN was located in such a “sordid” and sinful city. In addition, many anti-Semites believed that Jews were “smut peddlers” who controlled the pornography business from New York.
Anti-Semites recognized the New York Times as the epitome of Jewish news media power. It was owned by a Jewish family and employed many Jewish editors and reporters on its staff (though some editors and writers downplayed their Jewishness by changing the spellings of their last names or using initials instead of first names). The apparent eagerness of the Times to send reporters south to cover civil rights protests and acts of white-on-black violence was criticized by southern proponents of segregation, but for opponents of integration who also held anti-Semitic views, the attention the Times paid the civil rights movement was proof that the Jewish news media were active conspirators in a communist conspiracy. When Times education reporter Benjamin Fine covered the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957, he comforted a frightened female African American student. A Little Rock news editor said afterward that Fine had, in the eyes of segregationists, proven that New York Jewish reporters were conspiring to destroy the South’s racial order. Other East Coast-based news media outlets, including the major television networks, the Washington Post, and the national magazines Time and Newsweek, were also identified by anti-Semites as Jewish owned and controlled.
The Ku Klux Klan had long associated the news media with New York Jews. By the 1960s and 1970s, the Klan has split into a number of independent organizations. One such organization, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, published the monthly newspaper the Klansman, which it claimed was the world’s most widely read “White oriented newspaper.” As befitting a Klan newspaper, the Klansman was outspokenly anticommunist, anti-liberal, anti-Semitic, and racist. It blamed the “powerful, Jew-controlled, media of television,” which included New York-based news networks as well as television stations owned by Jews. The Klansman found it appropriate that the so-called Jewish news media was headquartered in a city known for its sin and perversion. In 1979 it noted that Klan Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson had appeared on a New York City television program, which the Klansman said was hosted by “a particularly vicious New York Jew.” The Klansman declared victory: “We showed the Communists, Jews and other perverts of New York City that the Ku Klux Klan is not afraid to take them on in their most formidable capital.”
Like so many conservative newspapers that criticized the news media, the Klansman supported opponents of court-ordered busing for school integration in locations such as Boston, San Francisco, and Jefferson County, Kentucky. Like explicitly racist newspapers such as the St. Louis Citizens Informer, it argued that busing opponents were fighting for the rights of whites. In May 1978, the Klansman ran a reprint of an article declaring opposition to affirmative action that originally appeared in Pax Centurion, the official newspaper of the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association and a strident opponent of busing. The Klansman called Pax Centurion “a newspaper with guts!” The Citizens Informer also reprinted articles from the Pax Centurion in the late 1970s, which raises questions about links between Boston’s antibusing movement and white supremacist newspapers such as the Citizens Informer and the Klansman. It should be noted, however, that anti-Semitic rhetoric was not used by the Citizens Informer. Unlike the Citizens Informer, the Klansman made explicit anti-Semitic charges by blaming the “Jewish news media” for favoring blacks over whites in its busing coverage and other issues.
Another anti-Semitic hate sheet of the 1970s that supported busing opponents in explicitly racist terms and targeted the “Jewish news media” was Liberty Bell, a monthly founded in the early 1970s by George P. Deitz of Reedy, West Virginia. Liberty Bell was originally affiliated with the John Birch Society, but Deitz split from the society in the mid-1970s because it refused to embrace an anti-Semitic worldview. Liberty Bell criticized the news media before and after the society split, but following the break it used explicit anti-Semitic language to do so. The front cover of the June 1979 issue depicted the skeleton of Uncle Sam in front of a television set with the Star of David on its side—Uncle Sam, the cartoon indicated, had been killed by Jewish television propaganda. (The same cartoon was also used by the anti-Semitic Polish Freedom Fighters of the U.S.A., publishers of S.O.S., U.S.A., Ship of State.) Liberty Bell advertised stickers sold by Deitz such as “Jews Control the Media,” “6 Million Dead Jews? Find Them in New York,” “The Jews Created Communism,” “Buy Christian,” and “Hitler Was Right.” It also used explicitly racist and anti-Semitic language when it backed busing opponents in Boston and Jefferson County and criticized the news media’s coverage of busing. In 1976 Liberty Bell printed a photograph of a Jefferson County antibusing sign that read, “You ain’t bad, You ain’t cool, Get the niggers, Out of our school.” The caption accompanying the photograph declared, “THESE ARE OUR WHITE PEOPLE. All they need is WHITE POWER LEADERSHIP!” In another caption accompanying a photograph of busing protestors scuffling with Louisville police, the Liberty Bell blamed Jews for “pitting White man against White Man!”
The Hazy Borderlines
In 1967, Benjamin R. Epstein and Arnold Forster of the Anti-Defamation League published the book The Radical Right: Report on the John Birch Society and Its Allies. Epstein and Forster used the term “hazy borderlines” to describe the gray areas that existed between right-wing organizations such as the JBS, which tried to distance itself from anti-Semitism but sometimes tolerated it, and “the peddlers of overt or disguised anti-Semitism.” This article use the term “hazy borderlines” to describe publications and columnists of the far right that avoided, for the most part, explicit anti-Semitic rhetoric but alluded to Jewish banking and news media power through the use of coded language.
During the late 1960s and 1970s white conservatives increasingly used “color-blind” rhetoric rather than explicit appeals to racial differences and white supremacy. Such rhetoric included language emphasizing constitutional rights as well as coded racial signifiers such as urban “blight,” “crime,” “welfare,” and “law and order.” In much the same way, some anti-Semites on the far right employed color-blind rhetoric that referenced constitutional freedoms, the Founding Fathers, and the Spirit of ’76, as well as coded anti-Semitic language. Newspapers and writers that navigated the anti-Semitic hazy borderlines in the 1970s employed code words such as “invisible government,” “international finance,” and “international cabal” to allude to a communist world conspiracy, but they usually avoided making explicit references to Jews. (Even explicit anti-Semitic hate sheets such as Common Sense used color-blind language about rights and freedoms that co-existed with coded language and with explicit anti-Semitism. As the historian Clive Webb suggests, the name Common Sense was indicative of how the anti-Semitic and racist far right could take the moral high ground “by maintaining that they were acting in the interest of protecting individual liberty against a despotic government.”) Publications and columnists in the hazy borderlines also wrote about topics that reflected their beliefs about secret and nefarious international conspirators: the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR), the Federal Reserve, the Bilderbergs, the Rothschilds, and the Zionist lobby were topics given frequent coverage by explicit anti-Semites as well as publications and syndicated columnists. Such publications and columnists in the anti-Semitic hazy borderlines also employed color-blind language and anti-Semitic code words when they criticized the news media. Terms such as the “Eastern Establishment,” “New York elites,” and “East Coast liberals” were used to describe the allegedly biased news media by both explicit anti-Semites and publications and columnists that existed in the hazy borderlines.
The hazy borderlines of color-blind rhetoric and anti-Semitic code words are best exemplified by two far right newspapers of the 1970s. The first, the Councilor, was a fortnightly tabloid founded in 1962 that was published and edited by Ned Touchstone of the Citizens’ Council of Louisiana, an organization rooted in opposition to racial integration and white supremacy. Unlike other Citizens’ Council leaders who distanced themselves from anti-Semites and even cast them from the Council’s ranks, Ned Touchstone never abandoned his anti-Semitic worldview. The second newspaper, National Spotlight, was a twice-weekly tabloid founded in 1975 by Liberty Lobby, an anticommunist organization with a long tradition of anti-Semitism (National Spotlight later changed its name to Spotlight). Both the Councilor and National Spotlight were widely read by conservatives in the 1970s; the newspapers both reported a circulation of about 250,000.
Criticism of the news media was a major theme in both the Councilor and National Spotlight. The debut issue of National Spotlight included a front-page editorial that argued that the mainstream news media were hopelessly biased. With few exceptions, National Spotlight argued, “American newspapers, radio and TV news reporting is not merely inaccurate, it is often deliberately distorted and selective.” The Councilor regularly argued that the television networks and daily newspapers brainwashed Americans with lies about the Vietnam War, international communism, the UN, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Both newspapers believed that the news was distorted because Jews controlled the news media. However, they relied on coded language to suggest, rather than explicitly state, that belief. For example, National Spotlight declared in its debut issue that the liberal media, including newspapers, radio and television networks, and wire services, were unable to provide the truth because they were “controlled by big multinational business organizations and certain ‘minority’ pressure groups which censor your news just as effectively as any governmental censorship body that ever existed in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.” In 1973, the Councilor examined why the truth was kept out of newspapers and concluded that New York was the tail that wagged the American dog, and “a very small group of men in New York control the wagging.”
National Spotlight also used other methods besides coded language to navigate the hazy borderlines and allude to alleged Jewish control of the news media. A 1975 cartoon depicted a newspaper managing editor, drawn in a Jewish caricature, ordering a reporter to play down a story about an international disarmament conference. The Councilor and National Spotlight also focused on issues that implied that a secret, “invisible government” controlled finance and diplomacy. Both newspapers ran article after article on “secret meetings” being held by international bankers, the CFR, the UN, the Rothschilds, and the Bilderbergs, as well as the machinations of secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Secret meetings by secret groups of powerful men, readers were told, were determining the future of the free world. National Spotlight and the Councilor regularly warned against the influence and power of the “Zionist lobby” but usually stopped short of arguing for the existence of a Jewish world conspiracy.
The Councilor and National Spotlight stressed that they were truth-tellers offering the facts denied to Americans by the mainstream news media. The Councilor‘s outspoken promotion of its journalistic courage and integrity was embodied in its slogan, “If You Read It in the Councilor, It Has to Be True.” A June 1971 cartoon in the Councilor depicted a news editor explaining to a reporter that he had to “control” the news that appeared in newspapers and other publications. On the next panel, an angry man holding a copy of the Councilor declared, “I like to get my information straight—without censorship!” Like the Councilor, National Spotlight used a front-page slogan, “The Paper You Can Trust,” to position itself as an independent news source that provided the truth that the mainstream news media denied to its readers, listeners, and viewers. Both the Councilor and National Spotlight called attention to its independent research on issues allegedly ignored or distorted by the mainstream news media, such as Chappaquiddick, marijuana use, IRS harassment, secret US deals with Israel, the crime epidemic, the Rothschilds, the Bilderbergs, and the CFR. Among the National Spotlight readers who believed the newspaper provided the truth was Ned Touchstone of the Councilor. In a January 1976 letter published in National Spotlight, Touchstone wrote that the newspaper had “taken the biggest step toward journalism truth taken by anybody in this world during the last 13 years.”
By using code words such as “international cabal” rather than “international cabal of Jews,” and “Zionists” instead of “Jews,” National Spotlight and the Councilor sought to appeal to a broad consensus of anticommunist conservatives. Yet those who chose to read between the lines could detect the anti-Semitic beliefs that rooted the worldviews of National Spotlight and the Councilor. Both newspapers ran advertisements for anti-Semitic books available directly from the bookstores affiliated with the newspapers. The Councilor also pointed readers to explicitly anti-Semitic publications. In 1970, the Councilor printed a photograph of a street vendor offering copies of Common Sense for sale and praised the newspaper without mentioning its virulent anti-Semitism. Similarly, National Spotlight reported in October 1975 that the Ku Klux Klan was becoming increasingly “respectable” and noted Klan leader David Duke’s criticism of the news media but did not mention that Duke’s newspaper, the Crusader, published explicitly anti-Semitic material. Liberty Lobby also chose other print venues—namely, its publication America First—for more explicit anti-Semitism than what was found in National Spotlight. An America First advertisement in National Spotlight declared that America First called attention to issues such as Zionist control of Congress and Zionist atrocities; the advertisement copy lamented “the sad truth … that because of a combination of ignorance and misinformation spread by the Zionist-controlled American press, too few Americans understand what Zionism is all about.”
On occasion both the Councilor and the National Spotlight let the veils that covered their anti-Semitic beliefs slip. In a 1971 article that praised Charles Lindbergh, the Councilor accused the Anti-Defamation League and “sinister non-Christian” international bankers of using newspapers such as the New York Times to smear Lindbergh. At the end of the article, the Councilor referred to the immense power wielded by the “jewelry business, the publishing industry, the budding radio networks and other profitable and influential segments of American commerce.” The article then concluded with the following: “Editor’s Note: And anybody who doesn’t know what that means is stupid.” Oddly enough, National Spotlight‘s anti-Semitism was most explicit when it criticized the entertainment media, particularly Hollywood films. Anthony J. Hilder, the newspaper’s entertainment editor, employed coded language when he blamed the “Bildergberger bank barons” for manipulating the masses with liberalism via the movies and television. In a 1975 review of the “anti-Christ” films Dog Day Afternoon and Day of the Locust, however, he opted for more explicit rhetoric. Hilder blamed Jews’ control of Hollywood and the mass media for “anti-Christian and anti-American pictures” and levied a warning to Jews in Hollywood:
The Jews are a minority in America. Though they control the mass media, many positions in government, much money, and the motion picture industry … their position is still precarious. Anglo-American people can be angered by these continual attacks upon their culture and Christianity, and turn upon them as a whole with violence and vengence [sic].
National Spotlight regularly covered issues such as busing using a mixture of “color-blind” rhetoric as well as periodic statements about the need for whites to protect their rights. As a Citizens’ Council publication, the Councilor was less reluctant to state explicitly racist views. Both newspapers attacked the “deification” of the “troublemaker” Martin Luther King Jr., and they blamed the liberal news media for anointing King with sainthood status. National Spotlight demonstrated its support of the antibusing movement in a 1975 issue that included a photograph of members of the Jefferson County antibusing group Union Labor against Busing (ULAB). The ULAB members posed for the camera at a Washington, DC, antibusing rally, proudly holding copies of National Spotlight. The ULAB members surely would have appreciated National Spotlight‘s strident news media criticism, but it is unknown if they were aware of the newspaper’s anti-Semitic views. National Spotlight also backed Boston busing opponents and criticized what it believed was biased reporting on busing and school violence by the Boston Globe. A 1975 article on busing in Boston quoted outspoken busing opponents and news media critics such as the Boston city councilor Dapper O’Neil and Chester Broderick, editor of the Boston Police Patrolman’s Association newspaper Pax Centurion (Broderick’s Pax Centurion articles also appeared in the St. Louis Citizens Informer and the Klansman).
Several right-wing syndicated columnists of the 1960s and 1970s navigated the same careful paths taken by National Spotlight and the Councilor through the hazy borderlines between explicit anti-Semitism and color-blind conservatism. However, on occasion Jewish groups accused such journalists of anti-Semitism. Most of the columnists who operated in the hazy borderlines criticized the news media for alleged liberal distortions. Hazy borderlines columnists included John R. Rarick, a US Representative and member of the Louisiana Citizens’ Council, who contributed to the National Spotlight and the Councilor and argued the news media was controlled by the CFR; and Tom Anderson, who served on the Liberty Lobby board, wrote for the Councilor, and was the far-right American Party vice presidential candidate in 1972. Other right-wing columnists who operated in the hazy borderlines included Dan Smoot, Daniel Lyons, Jeffrey St. John, and E. P. Thornton.
It would be incorrect, however, to assume that all references by conservatives in the 1970s to an Eastern establishment or even New York “cabals” were coded references to Jews. In the 1975 book Power Shift: The Rise of the Southern Rim and Its Challenge to the Eastern Establishment, Kirkpatrick Sale characterized members of the East Coast elite establishment as “Yankees,” primarily a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, Ivy League-educated, patrician elite—an elite that included liberals and conservatives. For example, Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run for the presidency represented a challenge by a fledgling southwestern Republican Party power base to the traditional East Coast GOP nexus. Jewish conservatives of the 1970s employed the kinds of language found in publications such as National Spotlight to criticize the news media. In 1973 the conservative Jewish journal Ideas accused an “anti-Nixon cabal” of conspiring to destroy the president. That same year, a retired Massachusetts rabbi, Baruch Korff, founded the National Citizens’ Committee for Fairness to the Presidency and ran advertisements in newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, that accused the television networks, national magazines, and major daily newspapers—the “big corporate merchants of hate”—of “waging a campaign of rape” against the president and the nation.
“Say It Again, Spiro”
Controversial uses of anti-Semitic code words to criticize the news media also occurred in the political mainstream during the late 1960s and 1970s. Spiro Agnew’s criticisms of the news media in 1969 and again in 1976 sparked a debate over whether he had intentionally used coded rhetoric to suggest that Jews controlled the news media. To be sure, Agnew’s colorful, strident speeches that attacked the news media as well as other targets in 1969 transformed him into a hero who conservatives believed spoke for the so-called silent majority; one conservative newspaper, the stridently anticommunist and frequent news media critic Point-Blank, printed an illustration of a button reading “Say It Again, Spiro” and deemed it a “tell-it-like-it-is” button. White House staffer Patrick Buchanan, who wrote Agnew’s Des Moines speech, later reflected that it was Agnew “who put the issue of supposed news-media liberalism and elitism on the national radar, where it stays to this day.”
For many conservatives, Agnew’s criticisms of the news media validated what they had long believed about liberal bias. In fact, some conservatives on the far right accused Agnew of being an opportunist who was late to the media-criticism game. For the most part, however, the vice president’s criticisms were greeted with enthusiasm throughout the conservative publishing spectrum. Among the publications that praised Agnew’s press attacks were daily newspapers such as the Peoria (IL) Journal-Star and William Loeb’s Manchester (NH) Union Leader; the Raleigh, North Carolina, television station WRAL-TV, whose executive vice president, Jesse Helms, regularly criticized the news media in on-air editorials; right-wing periodicals including the Independent American, Free Enterprise, and Louisiana Freedom Review; and Christian anticommunist newspapers such as Christian Crusade Weekly. Some newspapers ran the text of Agnew’s Des Moines speech in its entirety; the influential conservative weekly Human Events printed the transcript on its November 22, 1969, front page.
Agnew’s news media criticism was also welcomed by publications of the racist and anti-Semitic far right. For example, Gerald L. K. Smith of the anti-Semitic Christian Nationalist Crusade congratulated Agnew for pointing out the existence of a “mindwashing establishment operating tyrannically” in New York City. Agnew’s references to “a small band of network commentators,” a “little group of men,” and the “geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, DC, or New York City” were used by explicit anti-Semites as well as “hazy borderlines” publications such as the Councilor to refer to Jewish news media and financial power. Thunderbolt, the newspaper of the National States’ Rights Party, was among the anti-Semitic publications that saw in Agnew’s remarks “code words” for Jews in the news media. Daniel Lyons, the Catholic far right syndicated columnist who allied himself with Hargis and Christian Crusade in the mid-1970s, praised Agnew’s criticisms of the news media and took the opportunity to complain about alleged overrepresentation of Jews at the three television news networks while doing so. At a January 1970 speech in Saint Louis co-sponsored by the Catholic anticommunist organization the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, Lyons said, “Not 5 percent of the directors of the three networks are Catholic. Only 10 to 15 percent are Protestant. The rest have very Jewish names.” Indeed, the American Jewish Committee said that anti-Semites used Agnew’s comments “to justify their hate programs,” and, following Agnew’s speeches, news media outlets and professionals across the country received anti-Semitic hate mail. Norman E. Isaacs of the Louisville Courier-Journal and Louisville Times, the first Jewish person to serve as president of the American Society of News Editors, rebutted Agnew’s criticisms of the news media on national television; afterward, he received a flood of anti-Semitic hate mail. Television stations in Los Angeles reported that they received scores of calls complaining about “Jew-Commies on the air” in late 1969.
Some observers accused Agnew of intentionally using anti-Semitic code words, while others, including the syndicated columnists Frank Mankiewicz and Tom Braden, said he had done so unintentionally. Stephen D. Isaacs wrote in the 1974 book Jews and American Politics that Agnew’s references to the East Coast, big-city, liberal news media “have long been code words to many Americans: each of them means Jew, or under Jewish influence.” Agnew denied that he implied anything anti-Semitic in his speeches, directed his staff to answer any letters expressing anti-Semitic opinion by disclaiming anti-Semitic views, and met with New York media and business executives to declare that he did not mean anything anti-Semitic about his remarks (Isaacs wrote that Agnew’s protestations “did not go over” with the news media representatives). Agnew’s denials are complicated by the anti-Semitism prevalent in the Nixon White House. Richard Nixon had long maintained resentments against “Eastern establishment” elites that he felt never accepted him, and he used explicit anti-Semitic language and slurs to describe Jewish elites, including Jews in the news media. According to his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, himself a Jew, Nixon believed that Jews controlled the news media, in particular newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post and magazines such as Newsweek, and he considered such publications powerful and dangerous enemies. Comments about Jewish media power were also made shortly after Nixon’s resignation by George S. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that Jews “own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.” Nixon’s deep resentment of the press and his administration’s active campaign to harass the news media has also been well established.
The year before Nixon resigned in 1974, Agnew resigned the vice presidency after pleading no contest to charges of tax evasion. He re-emerged in 1976 to promote his novel The Canfield Decision. The novel’s main character was a vice president who battled with members of the news media, and it included a powerful newspaper owned by Jews. Agnew soon attracted controversy for making explicit arguments about Jewish news media power on national television. In a May 11, 1976, appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Agnew told host Barbara Walters that Zionist influences in “the nationwide, impact media” helped to shape US policy on Israel. Agnew’s comments came at a time when Zionism was being debated nationally and internationally. In November 1975, the United Nations General Assembly declared that Zionism was a “form of racism and racial discrimination,” which touched off a wave of criticism of the UN and support for Israel among Americans (ironically, anti-Semites believed the UN was a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy).
Agnew’s remarks were widely criticized, and he was denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and President Gerald Ford. Writing in the New York Times, former Agnew speechwriter William Safire, a Jewish man, suggested that the former vice president blamed Jews in the media for forcing his resignation. Safire said that Agnew’s “diatribes” against the press had brought him fame in 1969, and now he was pushing a new angle of news media criticism, a “crusade to persuade the American people that they are being manipulated by a cabal of Jews who sit astride most of the channels of communication, and thereby encouraging an irrational hatred of Jews.” Safire insisted, however, that the Agnew of 1969 who criticized the news media was not an anti-Semite. Buchanan wrote in a July 1976 syndicated column that Jews had “overreacted—badly” to Agnew’s comments. Buchanan also denied anything anti-Semitic in Agnew’s 1969 news media speeches, which he wrote “were delivered to rally national opinion, not against the ethnic background of those who own the networks, but against the anti-conservative bigotry and bias” of the networks.
Agnew’s remarks about Jews and the news media in 1976 “struck a particularly sensitive and painful nerve among Jews in the media,” according to Stephen Birmingham, the author of the cover story “The Jews in Agnew’s ‘Cabal’” in the July-August 1976 issue of More: The Media Magazine. Birmingham concluded that though Jews in the news media dismissed Agnew’s accusations “as absurd and unfounded, they are nonetheless sensitive—very sensitive—to them.” Once again, the debate over the idea of a “Jewish news media” had moved outside the right-wing anti-Semitic fringe and into the mainstream.
The idea that Jews manipulate and control the news media rested on the assumption—a false one—that large numbers of Jews worked for, ran, and owned news media organizations. As Stephen J. Whitfield wrote in American Space, Jewish Time, as of 1988 Jews owned less than 3 percent of the 1,700 daily papers in United States, a percentage that matched the proportion of Jews in the total US population. In the 1970s, of the eight hundred members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, only twenty were Jewish.
What was true and what provided ammunition for critics of the “Jewish press” was that in cities such as Washington, DC, and New York City—the cities identified by Agnew as the centers of the East Coast liberal media establishment—Jews were overrepresented in the print and broadcast journalism ranks, and Jews “were conspicuous at the top” in executive and editor roles at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and major magazines. Yet prominent Jewish editors, columnists, and reporters often downplayed their Jewishness; at the New York Times, for example, several Jewish staffers opted to use initials rather than their first names in article bylines. Anti-Semites, however, likely interpreted such the use of initials as deliberate attempts to conceal that the Times was, in fact, a duplicitous member of the worldwide Jewish news media conspiracy.
This article does not dispute the argument that the early civil rights era was an important moment in the diffusion of the liberal media bias idea, but it also argues that deeply rooted anti-Semitic ideas held by whites inside and outside the Deep South also helped to solidify the idea of a northeastern, urban, and liberal news media. The role of anti-Semitism in the creation of the liberal news media idea should not be overlooked by media scholars, historians, or journalists. Ideas about Jewish news media control have not gone away, nor has “hazy borderline” rhetoric about East Coast news media elites. An anti-Semitic far right continues to argue that Jews are responsible for the liberal bias of the mainstream news media. Today, many anti-Semites make claims about Jewish news bias and attack Jewish journalists using the relative anonymity of the Internet and social media.