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The Blacklisting of Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges, a top-notch journalist who wrote for the New York Times from 1990 through 2005, was fired because of his outspoken opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. Since then he has written regularly for a dissident website edited by Bob Scheer while publishing books and giving talks to make a living. (Hedges, 56, has a wife and four children.)

In 2014 he agreed to produce a segment called “On Contact,” for Russia Today, a TV outlet owned by the Russian government that featured Jesse Ventura and many lesser known US dissidents. Larry King, deemed too old by the networks, conducted informative interviews for RT. As explained by Matt Taibbi, “The Russian state was happy to give voice to figures covering structural problems in American society, and those quasi-banned voices were glad for the opportunity to broadcast what they felt is the truth, even understanding the editorial motivation.”

In late March Hedges wrote on ScheerPost, “The entire archive of On Contact, the Emmy-nominated show I hosted for six years for RT America and RT International, has been disappeared from YouTube... I received no inquiry or notice from YouTube. I vanished. In totalitarian systems you exist, then you don’t. I suppose this was done in the name of censoring Russian propaganda, although I have a hard time seeing how a detailed discussion of ‘Ulysses’ or the biographies of Susan Sontag and J. Robert Oppenheimer had any connection in the eyes of the most obtuse censors in Silicon Valley with Vladimir Putin. Indeed, there is not one show that dealt with Russia. I was on RT because, as a vocal critic of US imperialism, militarism, the corporate control of the two ruling parties, and especially because I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, I was blacklisted. I was on RT for the same reason the dissident Vaclav Havel, who I knew, was on Voice of America during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. It was that or not be heard...

“Challenge the official lie, as I often did, and you will soon become a nonperson on digital media. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden exposed the truth about the criminal inner workings of power. Look where they are now. This censorship is one step removed from Joseph Stalin’s airbrushing of nonpersons such as Leon Trotsky out of official photographs. It is a destruction of our collective memory. It removes those moments in the media when we attempted to examine our reality in ways the ruling class did not appreciate. The goal is to foster historical amnesia. If we don’t know what happened in the past, we cannot make sense of the present... 

“The Ukraine war, which I denounced as a ‘criminal war of aggression’ when it began, is a sterling example. Any effort to put it into historical context, to suggest that the betrayal of agreements by the West with Moscow, which I covered as a reporter in Eastern Europe during the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the expansion of NATO might have baited Russia into the conflict, is dismissed. Nuance. Complexity. Ambiguity. Historical context. Self-criticism. All are banished. 

“My show, dedicated primarily to authors and their books, should have been, if we had a functioning system of public broadcasting, on PBS or NPR. But public broadcasting is as captive to corporations and the wealthy as the commercial media, indeed PBS and NPR run commercials in the guise of sponsorship acknowledgements.”

Hedges asked readers to subscribe to his new venture, the Chris Hedges Report on I did —$50 for a year. Hedges was welcomed to Substack by Matt Taibbi, who had arrived on that shore two years ago and seems to be making it, as is Glenn Greenwald. In an interview with Taibbi, Hedges predicted, “They’ll shut down Substack, I absolutely know. Either that, or they’ll create a way that sites like yours and mine won’t be on it…

“You have this amazing specter of Democratic congressmen hauling in CEOs from these platforms to the Hill, and begging them to commit more censorship. But it’s because they can’t deal with the fundamental problems that have befallen the country. Their attempt instead is to banish or silence the critics who speak the truth about what’s happening. That really is, I think, what’s going on…

“As things deteriorate, and I believe they will deteriorate, that pressure, which was already pretty heavy, is going to become heavier... In the end, Substack is a commercial operation. They exist to make money. And when that is your primary goal, you are very susceptible to that kind of pressure.”

Chris Hedges grew up in Vermont, went to Divinity School and, like his father, is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He looks the part, too, with thick rimless glasses and a very calm demeanor. You wouldn’t make him for a jock —a boxer, no less. Matt Taibbi, on the other hand, is a brawny 6’ 2” and favors baseball caps. He once played for a basketball team in Ulan Bator and got dubbed “The Mongolian Rodman.” He was leading the league in rebounding and outrageous antics until he came down with pneumonia. (Google “Cavan Taibbi” to get the whole scoop.) 

Possibly unbeknownst to Taibbi, when Hedges was with the Times 20 years ago, he wrote a magnificent tribute to Walt Frazier, the Knicks great point guard who had become a broadcaster. Hedges acknowledged Frazier as an educator. 

“The Rolls-Royce, once an integral part of his New York persona, was sold two years ago. Even the wide-brimmed brown velour hats that earned him his nickname, Clyde, as in ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ are tucked up on a shelf in his basement. They all belong to another time, another person…

“He wrote a book of vocabulary words for students, ‘Word Jam: An Electrifying, Mesmerizing, Gravity-Defying Guide to a Powerful and Awesome Vocabulary’ (Troll Communications, 2001), and carries a dictionary and notebooks of words when he travels with the team. He reads the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times, laboriously copying out adjectives used by critics to describe theater and film. He collects words the way some people collect stamps.

“ ‘When you use words people are cognizant of what you say,’ he said, ‘but when you use clichés no one says anything. People will tell me I used ubiquitous two times while other guys use clichés the whole game and no one thinks anything of it…

‘‘ ‘When I first started I hated myself,’ he said. ‘I thought, “Why did you start this?” I couldn’t read two or three sentences right. I had to go to the dictionary. I had to look up a word. But I found words are like people, the more you see them the more you relate to them.’

“So at each game, out they come, words like cohesive, vociferous or discombobulated, along with his rhyming phrases like dishing and swishing or shakin’ and bakin’. They are as much a part of Clyde now as the Rolls, fur and championships of another era.”

THE FRONT (1976) is a very good movie about leftist writers trying to make a living in 1951 when McCarthyism was still on the rise. It's set in NYC, where the television industry used to be centered. Woody Allen plays Howard Prince, an apolitical, low-end bookie who agrees, for a 10% commission, to submit scripts in his name that were written by an old friend from the high school chess club, (Michael Murphy). The ruse works, and other blacklisted TV writers start using Howard to put his name their scripts, too. Howard wins the heart of classy Andrea Markovici, a network employee who thinks he’s a great writer and politically liberal. 

The Front is not a Woody Allen movie —Walter Bernstein (blacklisted in 1950) wrote the script and Martin Ritt (blacklisted in '51) directed it. Which may be why it's Allen's best performance.

When the movie came out in ’76 I was so down on the US left that I found fault with it. The Hollywood 10 got so much publicity, I groused, you’d never know that public school teachers like my mom were losing their jobs because they wouldn’t answer questions about Local 5... Dalton Trumbo and Gordon Kahn didn’t have it so bad down in Cuernavaca... Etc., etc.

But watching The Front on TV the other night I was moved and grateful that Bernstein and Ritt had made such a heartfelt fairy tale about how they and their colleagues hustled and made it through the season of the toad. (Trumbo's phrase —unfair to toads.) Many a writer and artist suffered a class fall, and several committed suicide (as Zero Mostel does in The Front). The actors Canada Lee and Walter Bromberg are two I recall the grown-ups talkingabout... Some say that the stress of the class fall brought on John Garfield’s heart attack at age 39.

One Comment

  1. Harvey Chess April 29, 2022 – fits well here.

    My experience in times past posting Hedges’ work on Facebook — I know, I know — is that those who bothered to respond, almost always democratic party fanciers, would throw up a lot of yabuts and profess being annoyed.

    Thanks for reminding of The Front. I’ll go find it to watch again after many years.

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