The Angry Man of the Press struck again against his favorite targets: the Roosevelts, the New Deal, and homosexuals. Three weeks earlier, nationally-syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler had written that if it hadn’t been for those nasty Roosevelts, there would be so many queers in the State Department. “No situation ever existed before the long Roosevelt regime which was even comparable to that which was revealed recently by John E. Peurifoy, a deputy under-secretary of state, who testified that 91 homosexuals had been dismissed from the State Department.” And off he went.
Three weeks later, he returns to his favorite topic and argues that the New Deal and homosexuality are more or less the same thing. He does this by quoting liberally from ACLU co-founder Morris L. Ernst, “a pushful New Deal satellite, (who) will do as one witness to set forth and explain the attitude of the New Deal culture toward the queers.” Ernst had defended James Joyce’s Ulysses and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness against obscenity charges. But what had really drawn Pegler’s ire was that Ernst had served as general counsel for the American Newspaper Guild. Ernst successfully defended the Guild in court under the National Labor Relations Act, which allowed the Guild to become a legitimate labor union, with a closed shop and all. Pegler promptly resigned from the Guild and denounced it as a Communist-run organization.
This time, Pegler was still grumbling about the Guild, but he mainly focused on Ernst’s 1948 praise of the Kinsey Report. Ernst expressed satisfaction that the Report had opened Americans’ eyes to the varieties of sexual expression enjoyed by their neighbors. Ernst also criticized the rigid moral code that placed so many of those neighbors outside of realms of respectability, the law, and the church. Pegler decided that Ernst’s criticisms, “as an authoritative New Dealer,” was just one reason “why abnormality flourished in the State Department.” (The other reason — the main reason, of course — would always be the Roosevelts.)
Pegler also pointed out that Ernst had criticized the German public’s reaction to the Eulenburg affair, the 1907 scandal that outed a prominent member of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s court. Eulenburg presented a favorite example among writers of Pegler’s ilk of every danger posed by homosexuals when they are close to power. Exactly what was so dangerous about the private affairs of Prince Phillip of Eulenburg-Hertefeld would remain unclear. But that was always beside the point. The real danger, one supposes, was the ample ammunition Eulenburg’s presence provided to the Kaiser’s political enemies. Among them was the German journalist Maximilian Harden, who had outed Eulenburg and provoked the scandal.
The affair was similarly useful to Pegler. He turned to a “noted American reporter” who had befriended Harden many years later, and quoted approvingly from this unnamed correspondent: “Homosexualism is worse than Communism. It changes the mentality, blurs morality and the outlook, not only on sex but upon life, ideals, principles and scruples. It is a cancer.”
By Westbrook Pegler
The hesitant discussion of sexual depravity in the Roosevelt-Truman bureaucracy, brought to public notice by the dismissal of 91 perverts in the State Department alone, has elicited interesting comments and some references which seem to cast light. Mr. Truman, of course, inherited the corruption. It took root and flourished under Roosevelt.
Morris L. Ernst, a pushful New Deal satellite, will do as one witness to set forth and explain the attitude of the New Deal culture toward the queers. Mr. Ernst has been a busy man in many affairs. He was counsel in the legal complication involving the lamasery on Riverside drive where Henry Wallace made speculative advances toward Oriental deities and his guru, Nicholas Roerich. He was counsel for the Newspaper Guild in the period of its hottest Communist infestation. He was a member of President Truman’s civil rights committee, which promoted the proposition that government should compel employers to hire persons obnoxious to them.
Mr. Ernst nevertheless found time to devote his mind studiously to sex and commit his findings, many of them elusive, to paper. His books include “To the Pure,” “The Sex Life of the Unmarried Adult” and, latest on this preoccupation, “American Sexual Behavior and the Kinsey Report.” In this little work, Ernst remarks angrily that only recently a committee on human reproduction was set up to seek answers “to some of the unknown questions as to how babies are born.” Very soon however, he is expertly discussing sexual practices which, far from propagating people, actually frustrate propagation. The western peoples, he says, have sought to impose their “pattern” or sexual morality, which he calls “customs,” on the rest of the world.
“As if,” he adds, “only one set of sexual customs was either desirable or natural,” from which I earnestly infer that he regards as “desirable” and “natural” some “customs” which are by religion, morals and law abhorrent to western peoples. If he so regards those “customs” then, as an authoritative New Dealer, he has at least established a base. In that case, we know what the New Deal morality really is. In that case, we can understand why abnormality flourished in the State Department, to say nothing of other departments, and why those Americans who are aghast at the revelations are in turn reviled as ignorant hypocrites.
“The Kinsey report shatters some of that complacency,” Mr. Ernst writes. So we were complacent and the word “complacency,” as used here, seems to despise us for a provincial bigotry. In Greece, he says, homosexuality was “an accepted outlet” and, “so far as we can tell, neither the strength of the Greek race nor the standards of its culture suffered.” Except that the race vanished, Mr. Ernst might have something there, but I find more interesting the author’s attitude toward the “outlet.”
“Our habits,” he says, “both of thinking and acting, have been so conditioned by the blind acceptance of standards fitted to another age that we do not know what a practical attitude toward sex behavior should be. What is normal? What is moral? What is pure? How much of the legal code dealing with sex is sensible? What is healthy?” He rejects judges, doctors and clergy as authorities on normality, morality, purity and good sense in law. In particular, he holds in contempt “celibates” who “have been the most dogmatic expounders of the normal and moral.”
Who then, however, would Mr. Ernst prefer — prostitutes, homosexuals and other perverts as arbiters of sexual behavior? Them and Mr. Ernst? The proportion of his writing on sex to the whole of his opera would thrust him into prominence. He is an authority. A New Deal moralist.
Although this book was published in 1948, long before the disclosure of the condition in the State Department, Mr. Ernst, by the merest accident, no doubt, seems to anticipate that explosion and to enter a plea long in advance. Speaking of the historic scandal in Kaiser Wilhelm’s court, he says there is difficulty in deciding whether public outcry is based primarily on the outrage “said to have been done to public opinion” or on a desire for political advantage.
Taking leave of Mr. Ernst, I now refer to a letter from a noted American reporter who has spent many years in Europe, especially Germany. He was a friend of Maximilian Harden, the journalist who exposed the perverts in the Kaiser’s court. Harden’s motive was “political” but in a patriotic sense. “Politics” is the science of government and Harden realized that this condition among the men who manipulated the Kaiser was dangerous to Germany. Had the perverts vanished when they were warned, Harden would have made no scandal.
My correspondent in Germany writes: “You say 91 homosexuals have been dismissed from the State Department in the last three years. What a terrible state of morals in our government. Is it confined only to the State Department? Not likely. Homosexualism is worse than Communism. It changes the mentality, blurs morality and the outlook, not only on sex but upon life, ideals, principles and scruples. It is a cancer. That is why I am so troubled that it has made such inroads in our State Department. Blackmail through threats of exposure is a powerful weapon often used to make a victim do a thing he does not want to do.”
But, see, this is the outmoded superstition or a Victorian bigot. If we consult Mr. Ernst, “such customs” do not “blur morality” and the outlook on sex, life, ideals, principles and scruples. On the contrary, it is the western “pattern” of sexual morality which blurs morality and the outlook. Abandon that “pattern” and the blur is cured and a beautiful, spiritual, intellectual and sexual existence comes into clear focus.
But Mr. Ernst himself seems confused and other-handed, for he follows these remarks with this one: “It Is not suggested that on the basis of these facts we change our standards, our ideals or even our laws.”
Pegler’s column was distributed by King Features Syndicate to more than a hundred papers across the country. His rants reached more than six million readers until 1962, when he fell out with executives at the syndicate’s owners, the Hearst Corporation. He then found work writing for the John Birch Society’s American Opinion. He lost that job in 1964 because he griped too much about the Jews and Eleanor. He then wrote for the White Christian Council and Billy James Hargis’s segregationist and virulently anti-Semitic Christian Crusade.
Jeff Sharlet also wrote a detailed profile of Westbrook Pegler in 1999.
On the Timeline:
For April 14, 1950:
|President:||Harry S Truman (D)|
|Vice-President:||Alben W. Barkley (D)|
|House:||261 (D)||168 (R)||2 (Other)||4 (Vacant)|
|Southern states:||101 (D)||2 (R)||2 (Vacant)|
|Senate:||54 (D)||42 (R)|
|Southern states:||22 (D)|
Headlines: Pravda suggests that a Navy plane that went missing over the Baltic had received a “proper lesson” when it allegedly flew over Soviet territory. Defense Department announces plans to inter a World War II servicemember at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next year. Sen. Robert Taft (R-OH) accuses President Truman of libeling Sen. McCarthy. Truman responds, “Do you think that is possible?” South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond signs legislation placing literacy and property ownership requirements on registered voters.
In the record stores: “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake” by Eileen Barton, “The Third Man Theme” by Anton Karas, “Music! Music! Music!” by Teresa Brewer, “It Isn’t Fair” by Don Cornell and the Sammy Kaye Orchestra, “The Third Man Theme” by Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra, “Peter Cottontail” by Gene Autry, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy” by Red Foley, “Sentimental Me” by the Ames Brothers, “Peter Cottontail” by Merv Shiner, “My Foolish Heart” by the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra.
On the radio: Lux Radio Theater (CBS), Jack Benny Program (CBS), Edgar Bergan & Charlie McCarthy (CBS), Amos & Andy (CBS), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), My Friend Irma (CBS), Walter Winchell’s Journal (ABC), Red Skelton Show (CBS), You Bet Your Life (NBC), Mr. Chameleon (CBS).
On television: The Lone Range (ABC), Toast of the Town/Ed Sullivan (CBS), Studio One (CBS), Captain Video and his Video Rangers (DuMont), Kraft Television Theater (NBC), The Goldbergs (CBS), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (CBS), Candid Camera (NBC), Texaco Star Theater/Milton Berle (NBC), Hopalong Cassidy (NBC), Cavalcade of Stars/Jackie Gleason (DuMont), Meet the Press (NBC), Roller Derby (ABC).
New York Times best sellers: Fiction: The Wall by John Hersey, The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson, The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. Non-fiction: The Mature Mind by H.A. Overstreet, Chicago Confidential by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master by Rev. Peter Marshall.
Westbrook Pegler. “Fair Enough” column for April, 14, 1950, as it appeared in the (Butte) Montana Standard (April 16, 1950): 4.