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.