Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Paul Kengor, the author of the New York Times extended-list bestseller God and Ronald Reagan as well as God and George W. Bush and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. He is also the author of the first spiritual biography of the former first lady, God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life. He is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.
FP: Paul Kengor, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Kengor: Always great to be back, Jamie.
FP: We’re here today to revisit Ted Kennedy’s reaching out to the KGB during the Reagan period. Refresh our readers’ memories a bit.
Kengor: The episode is based on a document produced 25 years ago this week. I discussed it with you in our earlier interview back in November 2006. In my book, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, I presented a rather eye-opening May 14, 1983 KGB document on Ted Kennedy. The entire document, unedited, unabridged, is printed in the book, as well as all the documentation affirming its authenticity. Even with that, today, almost 25 years later, it seems to have largely remained a secret.
FP: Tell us about this document.
Kengor: It was a May 14, 1983 letter from the head of the KGB, Viktor Chebrikov, to the head of the USSR, the odious Yuri Andropov, with the highest level of classification. Chebrikov relayed to Andropov an offer from Senator Ted Kennedy, presented by Kennedy’s old friend and law-school buddy, John Tunney, a former Democratic senator from California, to reach out to the Soviet leadership at the height of a very hot time in the Cold War. According to Chebrikov, Kennedy was deeply troubled by the deteriorating relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, which he believed was bringing us perilously close to nuclear confrontation. Kennedy, according to Chebrikov, blamed this situation not on the Soviet leadership but on the American president---Ronald Reagan. Not only was the USSR not to blame, but, said Chebrikov, Kennedy was, quite the contrary, “very impressed” with Andropov.
The thrust of the letter is that Reagan had to be stopped, meaning his alleged aggressive defense policies, which then ranged from the Pershing IIs to the MX to SDI, and even his re-election bid, needed to be stopped. It was Ronald Reagan who was the hindrance to peace. That view of Reagan is consistent with things that Kennedy said and wrote at the time, including articles in sources like Rolling Stone (March 1984) and in a speeches like his March 24, 1983 remarks on the Senate floor the day after Reagan’s SDI speech, which he lambasted as “misleading Red-Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.”
Even more interesting than Kennedy’s diagnosis was the prescription: According to Chebrikov, Kennedy suggested a number of PR moves to help the Soviets in terms of their public image with the American public. He reportedly believed that the Soviet problem was a communication problem, resulting from an inability to counter Reagan’s (not the USSR’s) “propaganda.” If only Americans could get through Reagan’s smokescreen and hear the Soviets’ peaceful intentions.
So, there was a plan, or at least a suggested plan, to hook up Andropov and other senior apparatchiks with the American media, where they could better present their message and make their case. Specifically, the names of Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters are mentioned in the document. Also, Kennedy himself would travel to Moscow to meet with the dictator.
Time was of the essence, since Reagan, as the document privately acknowledged, was flying high en route to easy re-election in 1984.
FP: Did you have the document vetted?
Kengor: Of course. It comes from the Central Committee archives of the former USSR. Once Boris Yeltsin took over Russia in 1991, he immediately began opening the Soviet archives, which led to a rush on the archives by Western researchers. One of them, Tim Sebastian of the London Times and BBC, found the Kennedy document and reported it in the February 2, 1992 edition of the Times, in an article titled, “Teddy, the KGB and the top secret file.”
But this electrifying revelation stopped there; it went no further. Never made it across the Atlantic. Not a single American news organization, from what I can tell, picked up the story. Apparently, it just wasn’t interesting enough, nor newsworthy.
Western scholars, however, had more integrity, and responded: they went to the archives to procure their own copy. So, several copies have circulated for a decade and a half.
I got my copy when a reader of Frontpage Magazine, named Marko Suprun, whose father survived Stalin’s 1930s genocide in the Ukraine, alerted me to the document. He apparently had spent years trying to get the American media to take a look at the document, but, again, our journalists simply weren’t intrigued. He knew I was researching Reagan and the Cold War. He sent me a copy. I first authenticated it through Herb Romerstein, the Venona researcher and widely respected expert who knows more about the Communist Party and archival research beyond the former Iron Curtain than anyone. I also had a number of scholars read the original and the translation, including Harvard’s Richard Pipes.
Of course, all of those steps were extra, extra, extra precautions, since the reporter for the London Times had done all that work in the first place. He went into the archive, pulled it off the shelf, and the Times ran with the story. This wasn’t rocket science. I simply wanted to be extra careful, especially since our media did not cover it at all. I now understand that that blackout by the American media was the result of liberal bias. At first I didn’t think our media could be that bad, even though I knew from studies and anecdotal experience that our press is largely liberal, but now I’ve learned firsthand that the bias is truly breathtaking.
FP: So what shockwaves did your exposure of this document set off in the media?
Kengor: Well, I thought it would be a bombshell, which it was, but only within the conservative media.
I prepared myself to be pilloried by the liberal mainstream media, figuring I’d be badgered with all kinds of hostile questions from defenders of Ted Kennedy. I still, at this very moment, carry photocopies and the documentation with me in my briefcase, ready for access at a moment’s notice. I’ve done that for two years now. The pages may soon begin to yellow.
I need not have bothered with any of this prep, since the media entirely ignored the revelation. In fact, the major reviewers didn’t even review the book. It was the most remarkable case of media bias I’ve ever personally experienced.
I couldn’t get a single major news source to do a story on it. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC. Not one covered it.
The only cable source was FoxNews, Brit Hume’s “Grapevine,” and even then it was only a snippet in the round-up. In fact, I was frustrated by the occasional conservative who didn’t run with it. I did a taping with Hannity & Colmes but they never used it, apparently because they were so focused on the mid-term elections, to the exclusion of almost any other story or issue. The Hannity & Colmes thing was a major blow; it could’ve propelled this onto the national scene, forcing the larger media to take note. That was the single greatest disappointment. I think Sean Hannity might have felt that I wasn’t hard enough on Senator Kennedy during the interview. He asked me, for instance, if what Kennedy did could be classified as treason. I told him honestly, as a scholar, that I really couldn’t answer that question. I honestly don’t know the answer to that; I’m not a constitutional scholar. I don’t have the legal background to accuse someone of being a traitor. I was trying to be as fair as possible.
Rush Limbaugh, God bless him, appreciated it. He talked about it at least twice. So did blogs like Michelle Malkin’s HotAir. Web sources like FrontPage hit it hard. But without the mainstream news coverage, the story never made the dent I expected it would.
I should note that Ed Klein of Parade magazine recently contacted me. He himself got a rude awakening on the media’s liberal bias when he wrote a negative book on Hillary Clinton. I’ve not heard back from him. But he’s a rare case of journalistic objectivity.
If I may vent just a little more on the mainstream press, Jamie: There’s a bias there that really is incredibly troubling. Over and over again, I’ve written and submitted the most careful op-eds, trying to remove any partisan edge, on issues like Reagan and Gorbachev privately debating the removal of the Berlin Wall (I have de-classified documents on this in The Crusader as well), on Reagan’s fascinating relationship with RFK, on various aspects of the Cold War that are completely new, based on entirely new evidence from interviews and archives. When I submit these op-ed to the major newspapers, they almost always turn them down. The first conservative source that I send them to always jump at them. The liberals, however, are very close-minded. Nothing is allowed to alter the template. You can construct the most fair, iron-tight case, and they turn it down. This is not true for everything I write on the Cold War era, but no doubt for most of it. And certainly for the case of Senator Kennedy and this KGB document.
FP: How about trying to place some op-eds on the Kennedy document?
Kengor: Here again, all the mainstream sources turned me down. I had no alternative but to place the op-eds in the conservative outlets. Liberal editors blacklisted the piece. I began by sending a piece to the New York Times, where the editor is David Shipley, who’s extremely fair, and in fact has published me before, including a defense I wrote on the faith of George W. Bush. This one, however, he turned down. He liked it. It certainly had his intention. But he said he wouldn’t be able to get it into the page.
I sent it to the Boston Globe, three or four times, actually. I got no response or even the courtesy of an acknowledgment. It was as if the piece was dispatched to the howling wilderness of Siberia—right into the gulag—airbrushed from history.
The most interesting response I got was from the editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, another very fair liberal, a great guy, who since then has retired. He published me several times. We went back and forth on this one. Finally, he said something to the effect, “I just can’t believe that Ted Kennedy would do something this stupid.” My reply was, “Well, he apparently did.” I told the editor that if he was that incredulous, then he or someone on his staff should simply call Kennedy’s office and get a response. Hey, let’s do journalism and make news! It never happened.
For the record, one news source, a regional cable outlet in the Philadelphia area, called CN8, took the time to call Kennedy’s office. The official response from his office was not to deny the document but to argue with the interpretation. Which interpretation? Mine or Chebrikov’s? Kennedy’s office wasn’t clear on that. My interpretation was not an interpretation. I simply tried to report what Chebrikov reported to Andropov. So, I guess Kennedy’s office was disputing Chebrikov’s interpretation, which is quite convenient, since Chebrikov is dead, as is Andropov. Alas, the perfect defense—made more perfect by an American media that will not ask the senator from Massachusetts a single question (hard or soft) on this remarkable incident.
FP: So, Kennedy’s office/staff did not deny the document?
Kengor: That’s correct. They have not denied it. That’s important. Because if none of this had ever happened, and if the document was a fraud, Kennedy’s office would simply say so, and that would be the end of it.
FP: Tell us about the success the book has had in the recent past and the coverage it has received outside of the U.S.
Kengor: The paperback rights were picked up by the prestigious HarperPerennial in 2007, which I’m touting not to pat myself on the back but to affirm my point on why our mainstream press should take the book and the document seriously. The book has also been or is in the process of being translated into several foreign-language editions, including Poland, where it was released last November. It is literally true that more Polish journalists have paid attention to the Kennedy revelation than American journalists. I’ve probably sold about 20 times more copies of the book in Poland, where they understand communism and moral equivalency, than in Massachusetts.
FP: One can just imagine finding a document like this on an American Republican senator having made a similar offer to the Nazis. Kennedy has gotten away with this. What do you think this says about our culture, the parameters of debate and who controls the boundaries of discourse?
Kengor: History is determined by those who write it. There are the gatekeepers: editors, journalists, publishers. The left’s ideologues are guarding the gate, swords brandished, crusaders, not open to other points of view. The result is a total distortion of “history,” as the faithful and the chosen trumpet their belief in tolerance and diversity, awarding prizes to one another, disdainful and dismissive of the unwashed barbarians outside the gate.
You can produce a 550-page manuscript with 150-pages of single-space, 9-point footnotes, and it won’t matter. They could care less.
FP: So, this historical revelation is not a revelation?
Kengor: That’s right, because it is not impacting history—because gatekeepers are ignoring it.
Another reason why the mainstream media may be ignoring this: as I make clear in the book, this KGB document could be the tip of the iceberg, not just with Kennedy but other Democrats. John Tunney himself alluded to this in an interview with the London Times reporter. That article reported that Tunney had made many such trips to Moscow, with additional overtures, and on behalf of yet more Democratic senators. Given that reality, I suppose we should expect liberal journalists to flee this story like the plague—at least those too biased to do their jobs.
For the record, I’ve been hard on liberal journalists in this article, and rightly so. But there are many good liberal journalists who do real research and real reporting. And it’s those that need to follow up on this. I’m a conservative, and so I’m not allowed into the club. Someone from inside the boys’ club needs to step up to the plate.
FP: All of this is in sync with David Horowitz’s and Ben Johnson’s new book, Party of Defeat, isn’t it? As the book demonstrates, many Democrats are engaging in willful sabotage in terms of our security vis-à-vis Islamo-Fascism today. And as the Kennedy-KGB romance indicates, a good portion of Democrats have always had a problem in reaching out to our enemies, rather than protecting our national security. Your thoughts?
Kengor: Obviously, as you know and suggest, this does not apply to all Democrats, needless to say. But there are many liberal Democrats who were dupes during the Cold War and now are assuming that role once again in the War on Terror. President Carter comes to mind, as does John Kerry, as does Ted Kennedy, to name only a few. When I read President Carter’s recent thoughts on Hamas, it transported me back to 1977 and his stunning statements on the Iranian revolution, or to 1979 and his remarks on the Soviets and Afghanistan. Many of these liberals and their supporters on the left literally see the conservative Republican in the Oval Office as a greater threat to the world than the insane dictators overseas that the likes of Reagan and George W. Bush were/are trying to stop. That’s not an exaggeration. Just ask them.
History is repeating itself, which can happen easily when those tasked to report and record it fail to do so because of their political biases.
FP: Paul Kengor, thank you for joining us.
Kengor: Thank you Jamie.