December 18, 2010

IT WOULD BE INEXPLICABLE IF HE WASN'T:

Was Ronald Reagan a secret snitch?: During the 1940s, he simply told the FBI what he told others publicly about communist influences in Hollywood. (John Meroney, December 12, 2010, LA Times)

Did Ronald Reagan secretly give the FBI names of people he suspected were communists when he was a movie star and Hollywood labor chief in the 1940s?

This allegation resurfaced in the media just before Thanksgiving when the San Jose Mercury News, which published excerpts from Reagan's FBI file to great international acclaim in 1985, ran a column revisiting its original story about Reagan the snitch. It implies that Reagan was a shadowy operator in cahoots with the notorious FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, orchestrating their next Hollywood Red scare. [...]

In 1946, Reagan, then a SAG officer, vocally resisted communists as they tried to sway the guild and destroy the stagehands union. (SAG and the stagehands had been bulwarks against party infiltrators.) For this, Reagan became a marked man, and the FBI knew it. In an incident that probably appears in redacted sections of his file — but which he disclosed in his memoir — FBI agents appeared at his house on Cordell Drive, informing him of a secret Communist Party meeting where the keynote was "what to do about that son-of-a-bitching bastard Reagan."

As an "informant," Reagan couldn't add much to the bureau's existing intelligence because he wasn't a Communist Party insider. It operated covertly, holding its meetings in secret. Communists used aliases and code numbers. They shielded themselves behind fronts. And in truth, the FBI's strongest information came from whistle-blowers among party factions, and from undercover FBI agents and operatives.

But if Reagan wasn't providing the bureau with juicy details about communists, what is in the file? And what about the charge of "naming names"?

In one session in April 1947, Reagan and his then-wife, actress Jane Wyman, did describe two groups in the SAG leadership that consistently pushed the Communist Party line, regardless of the issue. But this wasn't clandestine information delivered by a secret snitch; Reagan was telling this to anyone who would listen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2010 6:55 AM
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