The allegations in Ronan Farrow’s recent book, “Catch and Kill,”that top execs at NBC News had squashed his revelatory reporting on Harvey Weinstein -- NBC’s loss was The New Yorker’s gain -- ripped open in me old psychic wounds. I thought I had put these to bed on my birthday in 2002, when I learned a man I felt a part of reinjuring, Junius Scales, had died.

The history of high-level interference in what we see on TV news sadly did not begin with Fox News. At ABC News, where I worked, the heavy hand of the executive floor came down only rarely, and was careful not to leave any fingerprints. For me, and for one man whose story we tried to tell, that hand had a hard hit.

I was assigned to the brilliant producer Helen Whitney in late 1982. She set out to depict “The American Inquisition,” the McCarthy era of the 1950s when “Are you now or have you ever been…?” rang in the halls of Congress.

Helen’s intellectual honesty led her, after researching the topic, to decide not to take the easy path of revisiting only non-Communist victims of false allegations. Rather, we sought out card-carrying Communists as well, to turn over the stonier ground that the Constitution is about protecting even beliefs we find antithetical to our own core values, not just guarding against accidental victimization.

Our investigation led us to one of the gentlest souls I have ever met, Junius Scales, who toiled in welcome obscurity as a proofreader at The New York Times for decades. Junius, the scion of a notable family from North Carolina, was an idealistic WWII vet when he left the Army to champion his cause at heart of civil rights. The most prominent group leading the charge in the South at that time was the Communist Party. Heedless of consequences, Junius soon chaired the North Carolina chapter.

In 1954, Junius was arrested under the Smith Act, allegedly for advocating violent overthrow of the government. The Junius I knew wouldn’t overthrow a dinner plate. But his aims and his card-carrying prominence in North Carolina made him a target, and the Feds made an example of him. It didn’t matter that in 1957, after Nikita Krushchev’s revelations of the atrocities of the Stalin era, Junius belatedly quit the Party for good. The damage was done.

Junius became the only Communist convicted under the Smith Act, a conviction upheld in a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court. He entered Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in October of 1961. He slept with a razor blade in his cheek in case of assault. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other notables petitioned for the release of this gentle man. On Christmas Eve, 1962, JFK commuted his sentence, and Junius slipped away to a quiet second act out of the limelight.

Despite the deep trauma of his experience, Junius agreed to return to his cell in Lewisburg with me, believing that sharing his story on ABC News would be a catharsis for him and a lesson for the country in freedom of speech. I remember that day as one of the most emotional I ever spent. Lewisburg brought the past to painful life.

When the documentary was edited, we were told by our executive producer that upper echelon muckety-mucks at the network wanted the segments of the film dealing with actual American Communists to be cut in their entirety.

The only profiles in the documentary ABC broadcast in June of 1983, acclaimed even in its truncated state, were the stories of classic “innocent victims.” We were devastated. This was cutting the Constitutional guts out of the program. It would still carry the instructive story of Luella Mundel, an art teacher in Fairmont, West Virginia, who lost her job for speaking out at an American Legion meeting and exposing her students to modern art. Good story. But no Junius Scales.

It felt as if the McCarthy era were alive and unwell in the exec suite at ABC News, echoing the very story we told. That I had subjected Junius Scales, whom I had come to know, to a heart-wrenching return to Lewisburg only to see him again silenced was sundering.

My journalistic chagrin was nothing compared to how Junius must have felt. It was the Fifties all over again. People in power, this time at ABC, were still making capricious decisions that diminished the work and abused real human beings. Network news was an emperor unclothed.

I tried to forget, and for too long I succeeded. But now, in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s excoriating of the equivocation by NBC News honchos, the suffering of Junius Scales is alive in me again.

Every birthday I will remember Junius. Ronan’s tale rings a bell. Et tu, NBC?

Dalton Delan is a writer, editor, television producer and documentary filmmaker. His column is copyrighted by Berkshire Writers Group.

           

Dalton Delan

The allegations in Ronan Farrow’s recent book, “Catch and Kill,”that top execs at NBC News had squashed his revelatory reporting on Harvey Weinstein -- NBC’s loss was The New Yorker’s gain -- ripped open in me old psychic wounds. I thought I had put these to bed on my birthday in 2002, when I learned a man I felt a part of reinjuring, Junius Scales, had died.

The history of high-level interference in what we see on TV news sadly did not begin with Fox News. At ABC News, where I worked, the heavy hand of the executive floor came down only rarely, and was careful not to leave any fingerprints. For me, and for one man whose story we tried to tell, that hand had a hard hit.

I was assigned to the brilliant producer Helen Whitney in late 1982. She set out to depict “The American Inquisition,” the McCarthy era of the 1950s when “Are you now or have you ever been…?” rang in the halls of Congress.

Helen’s intellectual honesty led her, after researching the topic, to decide not to take the easy path of revisiting only non-Communist victims of false allegations. Rather, we sought out card-carrying Communists as well, to turn over the stonier ground that the Constitution is about protecting even beliefs we find antithetical to our own core values, not just guarding against accidental victimization.

Our investigation led us to one of the gentlest souls I have ever met, Junius Scales, who toiled in welcome obscurity as a proofreader at The New York Times for decades. Junius, the scion of a notable family from North Carolina, was an idealistic WWII vet when he left the Army to champion his cause at heart of civil rights. The most prominent group leading the charge in the South at that time was the Communist Party. Heedless of consequences, Junius soon chaired the North Carolina chapter.

In 1954, Junius was arrested under the Smith Act, allegedly for advocating violent overthrow of the government. The Junius I knew wouldn’t overthrow a dinner plate. But his aims and his card-carrying prominence in North Carolina made him a target, and the Feds made an example of him. It didn’t matter that in 1957, after Nikita Krushchev’s revelations of the atrocities of the Stalin era, Junius belatedly quit the Party for good. The damage was done.

Junius became the only Communist convicted under the Smith Act, a conviction upheld in a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court. He entered Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in October of 1961. He slept with a razor blade in his cheek in case of assault. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other notables petitioned for the release of this gentle man. On Christmas Eve, 1962, JFK commuted his sentence, and Junius slipped away to a quiet second act out of the limelight.

Despite the deep trauma of his experience, Junius agreed to return to his cell in Lewisburg with me, believing that sharing his story on ABC News would be a catharsis for him and a lesson for the country in freedom of speech. I remember that day as one of the most emotional I ever spent. Lewisburg brought the past to painful life.

When the documentary was edited, we were told by our executive producer that upper echelon muckety-mucks at the network wanted the segments of the film dealing with actual American Communists to be cut in their entirety.

The only profiles in the documentary ABC broadcast in June of 1983, acclaimed even in its truncated state, were the stories of classic “innocent victims.” We were devastated. This was cutting the Constitutional guts out of the program. It would still carry the instructive story of Luella Mundel, an art teacher in Fairmont, West Virginia, who lost her job for speaking out at an American Legion meeting and exposing her students to modern art. Good story. But no Junius Scales.

It felt as if the McCarthy era were alive and unwell in the exec suite at ABC News, echoing the very story we told. That I had subjected Junius Scales, whom I had come to know, to a heart-wrenching return to Lewisburg only to see him again silenced was sundering.

My journalistic chagrin was nothing compared to how Junius must have felt. It was the Fifties all over again. People in power, this time at ABC, were still making capricious decisions that diminished the work and abused real human beings. Network news was an emperor unclothed.

I tried to forget, and for too long I succeeded. But now, in the wake of Ronan Farrow’s excoriating of the equivocation by NBC News honchos, the suffering of Junius Scales is alive in me again.

Every birthday I will remember Junius. Ronan’s tale rings a bell. Et tu, NBC?

Dalton Delan is a writer, editor, television producer and documentary filmmaker. His column is copyrighted by Berkshire Writers Group.

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