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No, Congress Did Not Debate Whether Shirley Temple Was A Communist

By spreading the Shirley Temple lie, our media showed us once again how easy it is for them to rewrite history to suit a particular agenda.

To mark Shirley Temple Black’s death this week, Jonathan Freedland — columnist for the Guardian, presenter of BBC R4’s The Long View, and writer of thrillers under the name Sam Bourne — tweeted to his 48,000 followers:


As you can see, this was retweeted over 1,500 times and marked as a “favorite” by more than 500 people.

It spread across the internet, as these things do, and ended up being reworked at various sites. Here, for example, was the Washington Post headline on the matter:

Congress once debated whether Shirley Temple was a communist. She was 10.

We were all able to smugly pat ourselves on the back about how awful Congress is and how deluded anti-Communists were. Again.

Which is funny (or interesting or sad) because what Jonathan Freedland tweeted out and other reporters copied reflexively didn’t have the benefit of being in any way, well, true.

Here’s the deal. The House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities (HUAC), so named in 1946, is well known. But there were a variety of Congressional hearings on Communist and Nazi activity over the years, beginning early in the 1930s. In 1938, Martin Dies and Samuel Dickstein launched a committee to investigate Soviet and other anti-American activities. Which is funny in and of itself because it turns out that Dickstein was a traitor taking cash money from the Soviets at that time.

The Shirley Temple falsehood wasn’t created yesterday. It was actually a smear from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration. Dies wrote about the Temple issue in particular in a report to Congress about how the executive branch was obstructing — and even attempting to sabotage — the committee’s work:

As an illustration of the deliberate misrepresentation of the testimony by certain Cabinet officers, I wish to cite one instance. J. B. Matthews, a witness who appeared before our committee, testified as follows:

Whatever your thoughts on Communism, HUAC (and its predecessors), Soviet spies, Shirley Temple, or Harold Ickes, the media characterization of Congress debating whether Shirley Temple was a 10-year-old Communist is just flat-out wrong.

As our media show us regularly, reading comprehension is hard and rewriting history to suit a particular agenda is easy.

A media that was a little bit less in love with progressive spin and a little bit more committed to providing context and accuracy would be a welcome change.

Follow Mollie on Twitter.

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