The recent debates over wiretapping are not new, as this film “Are Wiretapping Laws Helping Criminals?” demonstrates. Broadcast as an episode of All America Wants to Know, this segment features a debate about an issue that is as relevant to the ACLU today as it was during this 1962 broadcast.
In addition to Senator Keating, this episode’s panel featured Senator John A. Carroll (D-CO), Virgil W. Peterson, the Operating Director of the Chicago Crime Commission; Frank O’Connor, Queens County District Attorney; and Lawrence Speiser, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington, D.C. office.
Robert Louis Stephenson once wrote that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. And the true reward is to labor. I have travelled hopefully for all these years. So has the ACLU. Some day, some time, but the goal is clear, the road is hard, and progress painful. We are approaching — we are beginning to approach — a tolerable world of peace, order, and justice.
-Roger Baldwin, 95th Birthday Celebration, 1979
Reel Mudd’s showcase of the audiovisual materials from the Records of the American Civil Liberties Union continues with Travelling Hopefully. This 28 minute documentary tells the life story of Roger Baldwin, the ACLU director from 1920 to 1950. The film intersperses interviews of Baldwin by Gail Sheehy and Norman Lear with praise for Baldwin’s actions by Ira Glasser, Andrew Young, Norman Dorsen, Ted Kennedy and others. Much of the praise for Baldwin comes from a 1979 dinner honoring Baldwin’s 95th birthday.
This week Reel Mudd brings you a double feature with Operation Abolition and Operation Correction! Perhaps the term double feature is inaccurate — each film contains the same footage but tells a different story. Operation Abolition describes how Communist infiltrators led riots while the House Un-American Activities Committee convened in San Francisco. Operation Correction, however, talks of misrepresentation by a government agency desperate to remain relevant while its raison d’être faced public scrutiny.
Operation Abolition, a 1960 documentary produced by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (a.k.a House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC), focused on an incident on May 13, 1960 when the Committee convened in San Francisco’s City Hall. While the committee met, students protested in the hallways and outside the building, leading to clashes with the police and the arrest of 64 students. Operation Abolition shows footage of the incident taken from subpoenaed San Francisco TV station newsreels, using that footage to allege that the students were Communists and/or instigated by Communist agents. The film’s narrators, Representative Francis E. Walter, Chairman of HUAC, and Fulton Lewis III, son of a prominent anti-communist radio commentator, suggest that the protesters were members of and/or “duped” by groups whose ultimate goal was to destroy the committee, weaken the FBI, and reduce the enforcement powers of the Federal government. Despite being a newsreel produced by a government agency, Operation Abolition was surprisingly popular. According to Time Magazine, an estimated 15 million people saw this film.
This Reel Mudd highlights a 1955 television pilot known as The Challenge. Intended to be the start of a weekly series highlighting controversial social issues, this episode was co-produced by the Fund for the Republic and noted TV producer Worthington Miner. This pilot shows the story of a school bus driver who is fired from his job and brought before the school board to justify his refusal to sign a loyalty oath.
The program’s co-producer, the Fund for the Republic, was an organization spun-off from the Ford Foundation. The Fund issued grants, commissioned studies, and created original works seeking to explore social issues such as racial discrimination, blacklisting, academic freedom, and the legality and effectiveness of loyalty oaths. As part of these activities, the Fund created a variety of documentaries and shorts for radio and television aimed at helping educate the American public about these issues.
The Challenge’s exploration of loyalty oaths mirrors the arguments raised in Fund for the Republic studies of the issue. It questions whether loyalty oaths were effective in their efforts to prevent Communists from subverting American institutions, whether they were constitutional, and if they led to additional rights or ethics violations.
One of the largest and most frequently used Public Policy collections at Mudd Manuscript Library is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) records. (For a description of the ACLU and its documents, see our previous library blog entry). The ACLU’s Audiovisual Materials Series, however, has been little used, but a few films that were recently digitized will be featured on this blog in the coming weeks. As an introduction, here is a public service announcement (PSA), part of the first television advertising campaign in the history of the ACLU, a result of the organization being drawn into the 1988 U.S. Presidential campaign.
In his nomination acceptance speech, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis asserted that the election would be “about competence, not ideology” and during the campaign that followed, tied his GOP opponent, Vice President George Bush to the scandals of the Reagan administration. Bush countered by portraying Dukakis as a liberal out of the mainstream. Employing a phrase resonant with one used by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, he called Dukakis a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (a statement Dukakis himself had made in a magazine interview the previous year). The ACLU decided to use Bush’s attack as a public relations opportunity. The PSA is one of three television commercials, produced by the ACLU’s Southern California chapter, in which Burt Lancaster, Jill Eikenberry, and Michael Tucker explain why they are card-carrying members of the ACLU. All commercials end with the line: ”No one agrees with every single thing they’ve done. But no one can disagree with the guiding principle – with liberty and justice for all.”The actor, director and producer Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), winner of an Academy Award and Golden Globe, was a vocal supporter of liberal political cases. The actress and actor Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, a married couple, are best known for their appearance together in the popular television series L.A. Law (1986-1994).
Not many collections in the Public Policy Papers at Mudd Manuscript Library contain audiovisual materials. John Van Antwerp MacMurray’s films of China, which were featured over the past nine weeks, and the American Civil Liberties Union records are an exception. So we were very excited when a preservation survey led to the discovery of an unlabeled film reel in one of the most researched collections: the papers of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower from 1953 until his death in 1959. But the canister smelled nasty, a sign that it contained highly combustible nitrate film.
The film, however, was in stable enough condition to be digitized. It turned out to be a Pathé newsreel from around 1934, in which a very young Dulles, an international lawyer at the time who served as American representative at the German Debt Conferences of 1933-1934, discusses France’s “war debts.” France was one of the many European nations who were indebted to the US Treasury for loans made during and immediately after World War I (a total of over 10 billion dollars for all countries). Dulles had participated in the American Commission to Negotiate Peace in Versailles (1918-1919), and in the Reparations Commission (1919).
It turns out that British Pathé still owns the newsreels as well as the copyright. This means that we will not be able to post the newsreel ourselves. If you click the image below you will be directed to the Pathé site instead, where you can not only view the Dulles newsreel but access all other Pathé newsreels too. A fascinating resource!
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For us, the existence of the Pathé archives as well as having our own digital copy means that we can safely dispose of the combustible newsreel far away from Mudd Library’s holdings.