January 24, 2008

I leapt from my easy chair as soon as I read it. Stunned, I rushed down the stairs shouting to my wife, “€œYou won”€™t believe what this review in National Review is accusing Stan of”€”plagiarism!”€ 

Nothing I have read in National Review during my over 30 years as a subscriber shocked and angered me more than Ron Radosh’s nasty review (Dec. 17) of M. Stanton Evans’s Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies. When I first learned that Evans was researching a biography of one of the most maligned figures in American history, universally remembered as a bullying demagogue whose anti-Communist crusade ruined the lives of thousands, I knew that Stan would be excoriated in all the usual places. He had already argued vigorously in numerous articles during the past several decades that the Wisconsin Republican was much more victimized by the vicious smear campaign directed at him than were any of his supposed “€œinnocent”€ targets. The documentary evidence, according to Evans, supported McCarthy’s grim warnings about the growing influence that the Soviets had exercised over American society and institutions during and immediately after World War II.  Not surprisingly, such observations met the expected hostility from the academic and media establishment. Evans had touched what he calls “€œthe third rail of Cold War historiography.”€ Any writer who ventured into such dangerous territory would suffer immediate professional death.

For Evans, however, to find himself lambasted for his views in the pages of NR is a wholly different matter. “€œHaving been around the block a time or two,”€ as the astonished Evans confessed in a letter to the editor (Dec. 31) in response to Radosh, “€œI guess nothing should surprise me, but I have to admit I was profoundly shocked by Ronald Radosh’s onslaught against my work”€”and honor”€”in what professed to be a review of my new book about Senator McCarthy.”€ If Radosh’s purpose was to do maximum damage to Evans’s reputation, he couldn”€™t have been given a better opportunity, given the publication’s history and standing as a premier journal of conservative opinion. In 1954 NR‘s founding editor, William F. Buckley, co-authored with his brother-in-law, L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies, the first book that questioned the motives of McCarthy’s critics. Many NR contributors in the 1950s and 1960s vigorously took up McCarthy’s cause. Evans could not afford to ignore an assault emanating from a onetime implacably anti-Communist publication.  “€œHad this Radosh invective been printed in The New Republic or the Washington Post“€”where it would have been more fitting”€”I probably wouldn”€™t have bothered to reply.”€ Evans explains, “€œAs it appeared instead in the once-beloved pages of National Review, with which I have been connected since its inception, I can hardly let these poisonous charges against my writing, and my character, go unanswered.”€ 

Evans is hardly an unknown figure on the Right. In addition to being a columnist, an author of many popular books, and a sought after lecturer, he has been for over 20 years the director of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. Given his reputation as one of the most respected and prominent spokesmen for conservative principles, he deserved the courtesy of a fair review in what is reputedly a conservative publication. The way his book was treated in its pages strongly suggests what the fortnightly editors may really think about Evans.

Let me summarize a few of Radosh’s criticisms to illustrate why the adjectives “€œfair,”€ “€œaccurate”€ and “€œbalanced”€ cannot be applied. He considers Evans’s book “€œa defense counsel’s brief for his client,”€ a one-sided polemical tribute “€œthat seeks to exonerate McCarthy on virtually every count.”€ This is inaccurate. While Evans describes McCarthy as “€œa good man and true”€”better and truer by far than the teams of cover-up artists and backstage plotters who connived unceasingly to destroy him,”€ he does not hide his subject’s weaknesses and excesses. “€œThat McCarthy was a flawed champion of the cause he served is not in doubt,”€ he observes, “€œIt would have been better had he been less impulsive, more nuanced, and more subtle in his judgments.”€ He cites many examples in this long and detailed account of when McCarthy was his own worst enemy. Radosh claims that Evans adds little to what we already know about McCarthy since he “€œmoves through well-trod ground.”€ That claim is easily refuted by looking at Evans’s extensive footnotes, which include numerous citations of newly available archival material and missing documents discovered by Evan’s personal sleuthing. Then, Radosh, resorting to his old liberal habits, decides to brand Evans as a McCarthyite. Evans’s “€œown exaggerations and unwarranted leaps,”€ Radosh proclaims, “€œparallel those made by McCarthy.”€ 

Such a litany of damning criticisms should be enough to sink Evans’s book. But Radosh apparently believes that more is needed to discredit the work. Radosh slanders Evans by claiming that his book was plagiarized. In a paragraph in which the famous spy case of Far Eastern scholar Owen Lattimore is discussed, we learn from a sentence bracketed by parenthesis: “Full disclosure: Harvey Klehr and I are co-authors of The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism, a book from which Evans takes virtually all of his material and which he does not acknowledge.” This sentence is so badly constructed that it appears at first glance that Radosh is asserting that Evan’s entire book was lifted from the 1996 book he had co-authored with the Cold War historian Harvey Klehr. Of course, since Evan’s book deals with the entire McCarthy era, of which Amerasia (a journal of Far Eastern affairs that published purloined secret government documents) was only one episode, it is improbable that is Radosh’s true meaning. What he probably was trying to say was that only those sections of Evans’s book dealing with the Amerasia spy case were lifted without attribution. But why would Evans need to plagiarize the Klehr-Radosh book when he had written about that case ten years earlier? If he had plagiarized anyone, he plagiarized himself. Another possible interpretation of this sentence is that Radosh is merely jealous that a study he co-authored goes unmentioned in Evan’s book. Radosh’s feelings were hurt. 

Evans certainly believed his integrity had been questioned. Barely restraining his fury, he responded: “€œI have been a journalist for upward of 50 years, most of them with some connection or other with National Review. In all that span, many things have been said about me and my work, not all of them positive in nature. But at no point in my career has anyone to my knowledge ever accused me of plagiarism, one of the most serious charges that can be leveled at a professional writer. Nor do I recall even my most determined left-liberal foes, however much they might disagree with me, accusing me of being in any way dishonest. It remained for these sinister charges to be made in the year 2007 by Ronald Radosh”€”in the pages of National Review. What all that says about Radosh, National Review, and me, I will leave to judgment of the reader.”€

In his response, Radosh feigns surprise at Evan’s angry reaction to his review. Evans, Radosh asserts, is “€œoverreacting.”€ I am reminded here of the old French saying. “€œThis dog must be mad, when you hit it, it bites.”€ Most people get testy when their honor is questioned. What did Radosh imagine would be Evans’s reaction to such an ugly accusation? Did he think he would just suck it up? If Radosh were a man of character, he would have either apologized for his words or provided convincing evidence for his allegation. Instead, he does neither. He instead claims, “€œI never wrote anywhere that Evans plagiarized our book. I only noted he ignored its findings and trumpeted his “€˜discovery”€™ of the Amerasia cover-up, while ignoring those portions of the FBI files he read that contradicted his claim that John Service was a Soviet agent.”€ Well, if that were what he intended to say, why didn”€™t he put it more clearly? Go back and read his exact words. Can one get any meaning out of them other than a charge of plagiarism? Everyone I know who read Radosh’s words interpret them exactly the way Evans, my wife and I did. Ann Coulter emphatically concurs. Radosh chooses the coward’s option of asserting he was misread. If so many people have misread him, then maybe Radosh should try to learn how to write clearly. Later in his response, he complains, “€˜Why does Evans not cite our work anywhere in his book, although he acknowledges that he himself reviewed it favorably when it appeared?”€ This adds credence to my earlier observation that one possible motive for Radosh’s nasty accusation is his overblown sense of self-importance. 

My good friend and colleague (and frequent contributor to Takimag), Paul Gottfried, has been urging me for years to drop my subscription to “€œthat neoconservative rag.”€ He took it as a personal insult that I dared to send National Review any money. Paul has also on occasion ridiculed my supposed “€œneoconservative”€ inclinations. I am an admitted fan of FOXNews, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O”€™Reilly, and Glenn Beck. Ok, I probably need paleoconservative rehab. I read National Reviewlargely out of nostalgia for what the magazine once was when its contributors included such notables as Russell Kirk, Will Herberg, Frank Meyer, Willmoore Kendall, and James Burnham. In its golden years, NR wasn”€™t calling for the removal of Confederate flags, singing hosannas to Martin Luther King, or calling critics of Zionism anti-Semites. Even in its present degraded state, though, I find the magazine to be a useful source of insights into neocon and inside-the-Beltway thinking on particular policy issues. At least that’s how I rationalized my subscription to what even Ann Coulter is now calling “€œan increasingly irrelevant magazine.”€

Why did the NR editors publish such a vicious and spiteful review that irresponsibly slanders a respected former contributor? Were the editors ignorant of the magazine’s history and who Evans was? Or, were they trying to disassociate themselves from their pro-McCarthy past? Was an incompetent book review editor unaware of what the implications of this review would be for the magazine? It can”€™t be explained just as a neocon hit job on the reputation of a revered Old Rightist. The Weekly Standard, the ultimate “€œneo-con rag,”€ published a highly favorable review (Nov. 17) of Evans’s book done by none other than Robert Novak. So, not all neo-cons are apparently on board with this conspiracy to “€œdeep-six”€ Evans’s book. I have heard rumors that there was considerable debate among the NR editors over the wisdom of publishing Radosh’s review. I hope this is the case. There is also a rumor that there has been a shake-up of the NR staff. For some time, NR has been receiving complaints from subscribers who are unhappy with its current direction. Maybe this incident has forced the big shots there to wake up and change their ways. Alas this may be an idle hope!

W. Wesley McDonald is professor of political science at Elizabethtown College and is the author of Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology.


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