Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television was an anti-Communist tract published in the United States at the height of the Red Scare. Issued by the right-wing journal Counterattack on June 22, 1950, the pamphlet-style book names 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcast journalists, and others in the context of purported Communist manipulation of the entertainment industry. Some of the 151 were already being denied employment because of their political beliefs, history, or mere association with suspected “subversives”. Red Channels effectively placed the rest on the industry blacklist.
The case is made
In May 1947, Alfred Kohlberg, an importer of Chinese textiles and an ardent member of the anti-Communist China Lobby, funded the for-profit organization, staffed by a group of former FBI agents, called American Business Consultants Inc., which issued a newsletter Counterattack, Kohlberg was also a founding director of the ultra-rightwing John Birch Society, whose self-declared purpose was to “expos[e] the most important aspects of Communist activity in America each week”. A special report, Red Channels: the Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, was published by Counterattack in 1950.
At this juncture, three founder members remained: John G. Keenan, company president and the businessman of the trio; Kenneth M. Bierly, who would later become a consultant to Columbia Pictures; and Theodore C. Kirkpatrick, officially the managing editor of Counterattack, and the group’s chief spokesman. A former Army intelligence major, Francis J. McNamara, was the primary editor of Counterattack. The introduction to Red Channels, running just over six pages, was written by Vincent Hartnett, an employee of the Phillips H. Lord agency, an independent radio-program production house, or “packager”. Hartnett would later found the anti-Communist organization AWARE, Inc. The tract, released three years after the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating purported Communist Party influence in the entertainment field, claims to expose the spread — by means of advocacy of civil rights, academic freedom, and nuclear weapons control — of that influence, in radio and television entertainment. Referring to current television programming, the Red Channels introduction declares that
“[S]everal commercially sponsored dramatic series are used as sounding boards, particularly with reference to current issues in which the Party is critically interested: “academic freedom”, “civil rights”, “peace”, the H-bomb, etc…. With radios in most American homes and with approximately 5 million TV sets in use, the Cominform and the Communist Party USA now rely more on radio and TV than on the press and motion pictures as “belts” to transmit pro-Sovietism to the American public.”
Red Channels went on to describe how the Communist Party attracts both financial and political backing from those in the entertainment industry:
No cause which seems calculated to arouse support among people in show business is ignored: the overthrow of the Franco dictatorship, the fight against anti-Semitism and Jimcrow, [sic] civil rights, world peace, the outlawing of the H-Bomb, are all used. Around such pretended objectives, the hard core of Party organizers gather a swarm of “reliables” and well-intentioned “liberals”, to exploit their names and their energies.
Red Channels served as a vehicle for the expansion of the entertainment industry blacklist that denied employment to a host of artists it considered sympathetic to “subversive” causes, attempted to forestall criticism by claiming that the Communist Party itself engaged in blacklisting when it criticized anti-Communists, seeing to it that “articulate anti-Communists are blacklisted and smeared with that venomous intensity which is characteristic of Red Fascists alone.”
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