In mid-August, actor and director Judd Apatow put this tweet out to his 2.35 million followers, castigating Fox TV talk-show host Laura Ingraham for proclaiming she was not a racist and opposes all the things white nationalists stand for.
Apatow had a reason to be angry. Ingraham had complained on the air that it seems “the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”
She attributed this to “illegal and in some cases legal immigration” that is leading the country to become increasingly made of people of color. In her statement, one could hear echoes of the anti-immigrant sentiment directed against almost every nationality, ethnic or religious group who arrived on America’s shores after the first Northern European settlers.
She then tried to take it back, claiming that her views had been distorted, especially by white nationalists who had applauded her and by one unnamed racist. “You do not have my support,” she said. “You don’t represent my views, and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear.”
It was far too late for an apologia. Apatow correctly understood what she was getting at.
On August 17, Apatow was joined by actor John Leguizamo, who tweeted out a list of Ingraham’s sponsors, adding:
Like Apatow and Leguizamo, I have contempt for Ingraham’s views, and for her being a dutiful part of the Fox News prime time Trump TV lineup. But I find it strange and disheartening that the cultural Hollywood left is calling for viewers to boycott her sponsors, and thus force her off the air.
There was a time, indeed, when that left made blacklists a term of opprobrium and dishonor. On the blacklist’s anniversary in 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted a major museum exhibit in Los Angeles, called “Reds and Blacklists: Political Struggles in the Movie Industry,” for the purpose of documenting “the complicity of various studios, guilds and unions” in perpetrating the odious blacklist.
For decades, Hollywood has celebrated the supposed integrity and bravery of those celebrities who refused to name names in the 1950s. They focused on the Hollywood Ten, the group of directors and screenwriters who were the first to refuse to answer HUAC’s question of whether they were Communists. They cited the First Amendment and were found guilty of contempt of court and sent to prison.
The call to boycott the sponsors of TV shows is not original and has been tried before. In the 1950s, as the late journalist David Everitt showed in an important book, the blacklist also was deployed against radio and television back then. It was propagated by a group of four people, led by an upstate New York grocer named Laurence Johnson, who did precisely what Apatow and Leguizamo suggest today: They browbeat sponsors and demanded that someone whose views they found repugnant be fired, lest they would institute a boycott of said sponsors’ products.
Along with a former naval officer named Vincent Hartnett, they at first published a small magazine called Counterattack, and soon changed it to one that was sent out to the owners of every radio and TV station, called Red Channels. They gave notice to the media industry to be careful about whom they employed.
The blacklist that ensued was far more damaging than the one in Hollywood. The medium of broadcasting employed far more people than the movie industry, and scores of the actors and writers were Communists or fellow-travelers. The result was staggering. Radio and television personalities—many of them genuine stars—began to lose their jobs.
The list included Irene Wicker, the “Singing Lady” who had a popular children’s television show; Philip Loeb, who played the father on the popular sitcom The Goldbergs and who committed suicide after he was fired; the actress Jean Muir; the great stage actor and comic Zero Mostel; the folk group the Weavers, who had topped the charts with “Goodnight Irene”; the actor Everett Sloane, confused by the blacklisters with someone more suspicious named Allen Sloane; the actresses Lee Grant and Kim Hunter, who followed Mr. Hartnett’s instructions to redeem herself politically by attacking those in the business who were on the left in New York.
That blacklist began to break down in 1957, when a humorist named John Henry Faulk filed a lawsuit against the blacklisters. Faulk was heralded in a best-selling book by lawyer Louis Nizer, titled The Jury Returns. Later a TV docudrama was produced and broadcast by one of the very networks that honored the blacklist. Faulk’s suit prevailed in 1962, and he was awarded $500,000 in damages.
However, Faulk was being disingenuous. He presented himself as a naïve and principled liberal, while the truth was that he was a hardened left-winger with communist sympathies. As late as 1967, Faulk was still publicly defending the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, arguing that the Hungarian people’s unified protest would restore fascism to the country.
Today, Ingraham is arguing that people misinterpreted her comments. “Despite what some may be contending,” she said on the air, “I made explicitly clear that my commentary had nothing to do with race or ethnicity.” Her statement was rightfully taken with a grain of salt. During Faulk’s trial, one friend asked him if the charges made against him by Red Channels were true. Faulk answered: “Oh honey. What does that matter? Don’t you see these people are fascists. If they didn’t have something on us, they’d have made something up.”
Faulk, unlike Ingraham, didn’t pretend to mask his real views to friends. Nevertheless, the blacklist was wrong then, and calls for it against Ingraham are wrong now. There is a way to oppose Ingraham’s views. Do not watch her. Turn on the other cable news channels during her time slot. Eventually, the business side of Fox News will feel she is no longer popular, and her prime-time spot could come to an end.
If you don’t do this, blacklisting her will increase her audience and help make her a martyr to the right… who might then come after Rachel Maddow and demand a boycott of her sponsors. The past clearly shows that taking this tack never ends well for people on the left, since they are setting up a standard for how the right will hit them in the future.