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A Challenge to the Editors of the New Yorker: A Call to Open Your Pages

I have a simple question to ask. Would the Nation, or the New Yorker for that matter, print an article by a conservative that sharply criticizes a book by a liberal writer they all revere? Such a review would have to be from a position not shared by any liberals. For example, an article on race and affirmative action by Abigail Thernstrom or Shelby Steele. Articles like the recent one attacking Paul Berman from the left are not evidence for Hertzberg’s argument.  Show me one example, if there is any. Yet, National Review, even if some of their editors did not like it, ran my review of Evans and no one asked me to change one word. Could it be that conservative journals and magazines are more open-minded than liberal ones?

Hertzberg goes out of his way to say about The Rosenberg File, which I co-authored with the late Joyce Milton in 1983, “thoroughly and convincingly debunked the ‘progressive’ mythology surrounding the famous Cold War espionage case.” I appreciate Hertzberg’s judgment of the case we made for the Rosenbergs’ guilt.  But later he writes that because of the pro-Communist left’s reaction to the book, since then I have exaggerated  “the influence of pro-Communists, anti-anti-Communists and lamebrained ‘New Left’ academic Rip Van Winkles on the center-left American liberal mainstream.”

Here, he is dead wrong. Let me take a key example: his colleague Nicholas Lemann’s essay on Soviet espionage which appeared in -- you guessed it -- the New Yorker. I have already discussed it at length earlier in one of my blogs so I won’t repeat all the arguments I made there.  The main point is that in discussing this topic, Lemann repeated the old canard that those of us who write about Soviet espionage support “a conservative view.”   I wrote the following in the blog:

Cannot someone who sees himself today as a political liberal acknowledge that his liberal ancestors might have had a blind spot in the late 1940s about the extent of  Soviet espionage in the United States ? If they answer in the negative, they are substantiating the claim of Ann Coulter who continually argues that liberals are incapable of understanding that America has real enemies.

I could give Hertzberg chapter and verse about how very mainstream figures continually argue that Alger Hiss is innocent; that the Rosenbergs gave nothing of value to the Soviets even though they may have spied for them, etc. As Hertzberg knows, NYU’s Center for the Cold War ran a major pro-Hiss conference two years ago, and hosts a website pledged to Hiss’s innocence. And The American Scholar ran a lead story by Pulitzer Prize winner Kai Bird co-authored with Svetlana Chervonnaya which argued that if there was a Soviet spy at Yalta, it was a man named Wilder Foote and not Alger Hiss. Can one get any more mainstream than this publication?

I would also refer Hertzberg to the review of Spies by Amy Knight that appeared in the prestigious Times Literary Supplement (London) in the June 26, 2009, issue. Knight accused co-authors Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes of trying to punish Cold War dissenters by accusing them decades later of having been Soviet spies, and “to silence those who still voice doubts about the guilt of people like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, I. F. Stone and others.” Ignoring the fact that Klehr and Haynes offer solid evidence, she reverts to the standard Old Left  argument meant to close off all discussion -- that of accusing her intellectual opponents of McCarthyism. And Knight is a respected author firmly part of the mainstream liberal community.  I do not recall Hertzberg or Nicholas Lemann taking her on at all.

So I would like to see Rick Hertzberg be brave and  open the pages of the New Yorker to a wider spectrum of views, if only to hold an honest debate on the important issues facing us today.