Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remember Otto? The Nation appears to forget

Whether it's Egyptian bloggers or some other persecuted journalist around the world, The Nation magazine likes to pretend it cares. Their motto should be: "We pretend to care a lot."

Now if they really cared, you might ask, wouldn't they note that a journalist who was executed? Especially if the journalist had been a Nation contributor.

In fact, if you read The Nation, shouldn't you expect that a journalist who was executed, one whom the magazine published, would have their name trotted out from time to time?

Strangely, the name Otto Katz isn't enshrined at The Nation.

Maybe the current crew at The Nation would know him by the name of Rudolph Breda? That was one of his many aliases. Simon Katz? Otto Simon? Andre Simone? Anything ringing a bell because he was in and out of The Nation constantly and authored and co-authored many a piece including unsigned editorials. And, of course, the magazine's editor (and one-time owner) Freda Kirchwey was happily joining him at the Sherry Netherland to plan a magazine at one point. Soviet sympathetic, but we digress.

Otto Katz was a Communist. He was also a double or even triple agent. He was implicated in murder. He was frequently denied entry to the US but, when in the US, he could often be found living it up with The Nation. Strange that they would forget him today.

December 3, 1952 he was hanged in the then-Czecholsovlakia. He had gone there thinking he would be a big wheel, having done so much in service of the Communist Party in many countries (including the US, Mexico and France) but Stalin preferred that he be erased. (Not unlike The Nation.)

As a journalist (or propagandist, we'll get to it), Katz was part of a consortium that distributed pieces around the world. A Communist consortium. Other members included Julio Alvarez del Vayo and Louis Fischer. They aren't names that pop up in The Nation today but they wrote for the magazine as well.

Julio Alvarez del Vayo has been so completely vanished that even if you purchase the pricey digital archives subscription, you won't find his 1948 writing on Israel. (Check a bound volume and you will. It does exist.) Someone might want to ask the 'leadership' at the magazine why that is?

Another member of the consortium that The Nation published and tries to forget today was Louis Fisher. He wrote for the magazine from 1923 through 1945 and, get this, he left because Freda was too generous to Stalin.

There's a myth that The Nation refused to publish Communists during the McCarthy era. That's simply not true they were (and are) comfortable publishing Communists as long as the writer will stay in a political closet as so many of those at the top of the magazine over the years have done. We're happy to refute that left meme attacking the magazine as discriminating against all Communists. If it needs more refuting, we can leave the WWII era and bring it up, bit by bit, to today. The magazine lets that myth stand today and, in doing so, does a huge injustice to Kirchwey's strong work calling out McCarthyism and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. But they've always got a candidate to push and have to look 'presentable,' don't they? Might hurt their influence and 'popularity' if they didn't.

Katz was very popular. Not just with The Nation. He hob-nobbed with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and James Roosevelt (FDR's son). (And with Dorothy Parker, FBI informant and film director Fritz Lang, and many others including Marlene Dietrich who knew him by all of his many names.) None of that helped him when he was being tortured and forced to confess. None of that prevented his execution and, of course, none of that prevents The Nation from playing "Otto who?" today.

A year after Katz' execution, the historian Thedore Draper noted, "Otto belonged to the 'it might have happened' school of journalism. It did not matter whether anything was true; it was enough that it could or should have been true; this made it 'politically true' even if it had the misfortune never having happened." As Besty Reed so famously proved recently, that remains the operating principle at The Nation to this day.
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