On Dec. 1, 2003, this obituary headline appeared in the New York Times: “Sylvia Bernstein, 88, Civil Rights Activist, Dies.”
Though the passing of Mrs. Bernstein was reported in almost every major newspaper in the country, there is a good chance you missed it.
Too bad. Because the headline and the obituary tell you a great deal about the moral compass of mainstream American (and world) journalism.
For, if you read through the entire piece (almost always either a verbatim or edited Associated Press report), you will come across this one line: “Members of the Communist Party in the 1940s, the Bernsteins were targets of government scrutiny.”
Note the headline: Mrs. Bernstein is described simply as a “civil rights activist.” Indeed the whole obituary is a laudatory description of her and her husband’s work “to desegregate area restaurants, an amusement park and pools and playgrounds. She advocated home rule for the District of Columbia and protested the Vietnam War and the development of nuclear weapons.”
Quite a terrific lady, no?
According to every one of the seven major newspapers I checked, Mrs. Bernstein was described as essentially a wonderful, idealistic lady. So what if she was a member of the Communist Party at a time when Joseph Stalin was murdering and enslaving more human beings than anyone else had in history? So what if she was a member of the party that supported those who wished to destroy America, the land that her parents had fled to in order to be free people? So what if she remained in the Communist Party even after it supported the Soviet peace pact with Hitler’s Nazi Germany?
None of this matters to mainstream journalists. For these people, the fact that a person was a member of the American Communist Party when it obeyed Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Communist Party is as irrelevant to a moral assessment of that person as if she had been a member of a stamp club. In fact, the only time her membership was even mentioned in the AP obituary printed in the New York Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere, was to invoke Mrs. Bernstein’s victimhood.
As noted above, in the words of the AP report as printed in the New York Times: “Members of the Communist Party in the 1940s, the Bernsteins were targets of government scrutiny.”
In the Washington Post’s words: ” . . . the Bernsteins were Communist Party members in the mid-1940s and endured long persecution by the government for their political beliefs.”
The poor Bernsteins. Investigated by the American government for being members of a genocidal, totalitarian, anti-American party.
Our language has become Orwellian. Communists are described as “social activists”; and when communists are investigated by a democratic government, the government is the villain and the communists are victims.
To better appreciate the nonchalance with which mainstream (i.e., liberal and leftist) journalists greet Communist Party affiliation, imagine if Mrs. Bernstein had been a member of the American Nazi Party or the Ku Klux Klan, and had gone on to be a prominent “social activist” on behalf of right-wing causes in America. Needless to say, if her death would have been reported at all, her membership in those organizations and her subsequent right-wing social activism would not merely have been noted in passing. They would have been noted in the headline and featured in the body of the text.
As a New York-born and raised Jewish liberal, when I am asked when I left liberalism, I answer that I never left it. It left me — first and foremost over the issue of communism. At one time, to be a liberal meant being anti-communist as well as anti-fascist. Shortly after the death of John F. Kennedy, however, liberalism ceased being anti-communist. Instead it became anti-anti-communist.
Though communism is largely dead, this has not changed. That is why our press regards Sylvia Bernstein merely as a social activist.