A History of the UCLA Daily Bruin, 1919-1955
The Myth of 'The People's Bruin': Part 2
by George Garrigues
Printed edition © 1970, 1997
Internet Edition © 2000, 2001
All rights reserved, but you are welcome to download electronic copies, send e-copies to your friends or make printouts for yourself.
Go to the Front of the Book
Preface, Contents, List of Editors, Bibliography and Index
Go to the First Part of This Chapter
9A. The Myth of 'The People's Bruin'
By 1947, a "Red image" radiated from the UCLA campus, but Provost Dykstra, at least, understood that the reputation was "in part . . . our own fault," based upon Dr. Moore's widely reported statement in 1935 that the campus "teemed with Communists." (Chanc, 1947, Folder 105, 12/15/47.)
Unhappily, Dr. Dykstra himself followed in Dr. Moore's footsteps in April 1948 when he scheduled an off-the-record luncheon meeting with downtown newspapermen in an effort to downplay the extent of Communist influence at UCLA. His attempt had just the opposite effect, because the Los Angeles Times decided to blow the cover off the story. The result was an eight-column headline in the Times charging that UCLA was "one of Communism's prime postwar educational targets" and that at least 30 "regular dyed-in-the wool party Communists" had gathered about them "upwards of 400 fellow travelers, sympathizers, 'front organization' members and misguided dupes" who "seek to capture key spots on the . . . collegiate newspaper." (LAT, 4/5/48.) The story quoted no source and gave no evidence to support its charges. It was, in all, a sloppy piece of journalism.
Dr. Dykstra was overwhelmed at the public reaction. He complained in a letter to Times publisher Norman Chandler that "the material . . . did not come from the labors of any Times reporter or of anyone on the Times' staff. The facts were presented by University authorities . . . at an off-the-record meeting . . ." Chandler replied that reporter James Bassett had telephoned Dean of Students Milton Hahn, who had repeated and amplified the remarks made at the meeting. "It's what we need," Chandler quoted Hahn as having said about the proposed Times coverage. (Chanc, 1947, Folder 105, 4/13/48 and 5/6/48.) Nobody on the outside knew, however, that the sensational story had not come about through independent newspaper investigation but was, instead, a "plant" by people inside the University itself. To the casual reader, moreover, "UCLA" was once again linked with "Red infiltration" and the damage was unalterably done.
The Daily Bruin, which at this time was going through a more-or-less conservative stage, was taken in, too. Editor Elmer L. Chalberg said:
UCLA hangs as a ripe plum for the Communists. As brought out by the Times, the vast building program scheduled to get underway shortly, the fact that the school rates among the top American educational institutions, its atomic research project, and its forthcoming world's largest scientific computer center -- all of these things make it a juicy target, a place to "get in" while the gettin's good. (DB, 4/5/48.)
It was no wonder that UCLA became fair game for redbaiters and witch-hunters of all stripes. In 1950, the venerable Saturday Evening Post added to the tarnishing of UCLA's reputation and the perpetuation of "The People's Bruin" myth with a lead article entitled "U.C.L.A.'s Red Cell: Case History of Campus Communism." About the Bruin, the Post said:
The publications field always attracts communists, and the present status of the U.C.L.A. daily Bruin is a test of their effectiveness.
. . . [It] is an organization which can be controlled by any group able to send along enough volunteer reporters and keep them working after others have tired and quit. The bloc with the greatest numerical strength is in a position to . . . perpetuate itself . . . [W]hether it ever reflects majority opinion is debatable . . . [T]he staff nominated Helen Edelman, a professed member of the Communist Party, as society editor . . . the council turned down the nomination, but . . Bruin editors promptly named Miss Edelman as a political writer . . . [T]he Bruin editorially invited students to an off-campus communist meeting, but made no such invitations for other off-campus political meetings; gave wide publicity to the Committee for Campus Equality without emphasizing its membership; . . . although it has only the one professed communist on its staff, [it] carries party propaganda just as faithfully as if it were loaded . . . Conservative students are convinced that they have been frozen out . . . (Saturday Evening Post, 10/23/50.)
And, again echoing the charge once made by Maxwell Rafferty in 1937, it quoted an unnamed fraternity president as saying, "The Red tag on my diploma is going to hurt."
UCLA's reputation was soiled, as Scop, the campus humor magazine, put it, in "every home, drug store and barber shop in the United States." CBS radio newsman Chet Huntley decried the publicity and asked, "Why then do they [the Communists] get space in the Saturday Evening Post? How come they jeopardize the reputation of a great school? . . . isn't it absurd . . ?" (Quoted in a retrospective look by the UCLA Alumni Magazine, spring 1969, p. 51.) [Scop published an amusing parody of the Post article in its December 1951 issue. Titled "U.C.L.A.'s Sex Cell: Case History of College Sex," the article quoted a student as saying, "That Red lipstick on my diploma is going to hurt."]
Sadly, it wasn't the Communists who had cracked the pages of the Post. Again, it was the conservative forces in the UCLA Administration itself that had taken their cause to the public beyond the gates. The idea for an article of "paramount importance" was suggested to Post managing editor Robert Fuoss by Joseph A. Brandt, chairman of the UCLA Graduate Department of Journalism, two years before it saw print. In a letter to Fuoss, Dr. Brandt wrote:
Ever since I've been out here I've been puzzled by the rather universal acceptance on the part of even informed people that UCLA is a red institution. I have discovered that, by and large, this is due to a beautifully executed policy by the Communist Party. Here at UCLA they have apparently moved in, and by virtue of a single slate election of an editorial board . . . control the student newspaper which is, of course, the daily voice of the University . . .
Brandt then outlined many of the themes that later showed up in the Post article. "I think you will agree that this problem should not go unchallenged . . . I think you might have a startling article which should be of the highest value to the country." (Chanc, 1949, Folder 105, 12/13/49.)
Like a little rolling stone gathering dirt around it, the myth of the leftist Bruin even found its way into a church sermon -- given on Aug. 12, 1951, at the Beverly Hills Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Robert S. Jordan, who had graduated from UCLA the preceding June. The Communist Party, he said, had "abused the privileges accorded to all students by printing a series of anti-UN, anti-US, anti-American-troops-in-Korea articles in the student owned newspaper . . . This series of propaganda articles resulted in a severe shake-up of Campus newspaper policies and personnel." (Chanc, 1951, Folder 228, 8/12/51.)
By this time, McCarthyism was in full flower. And the University Administration had begun to develop a tactic for throwing off the wolves: Admitting that Communism was a serious problem in the past but that it was completely under control today. For example, public affairs director Andrew Hamilton gave this background note in 1953 to reporter Grant MacDonald of the Los Angeles Mirror, who was preparing an article on UCLA:
The year 1946 probably saw the largest number of student Communists on the U.C.L.A. campus . . . In that year there were about 50 or 60 hard-shelled, dyed-in-the-wool Communist students . . . Today there are not more than 15-20 . . Communists have little or no influence in student affairs today. Other students recognize left wing tactics and the party line, and easily outwit the Commies on the Daily Bruin, the Student Executive Council and other student organizations.Then, he added in all seriousness, "No Communist has ever been a member of the football squad at U.C.L.A." (Chanc, 1953, Folder 288, 9/16/53)
Richard Rovere, an experienced Washington political writer, wrote in 1959 that McCarthyism "diverted attention from the moment and fixed it on the past, which it distorted almost beyond recognition.'' (Rovere, 1959, p. 40.) This diversion and distortion was clearly demonstrated in 1957, when the state Senate Committee on Un-American Activities held its last hearing into Communist infiltration at UCLA. Chancellor Raymond B. Allen and Dean of Students Milton Hahn took the opportunity to "admit" that Communist influence once held sway over the Bruin, but that the campus was at that point completely free of such subversive tendencies. [The complete testimony of Dean Hahn is included in the Appendix.]
The Los Angeles Examiner said:
Daily Bruin Control
Once by Reds Told
. . . Revealing he has a day-by-day, page-by-page analysis of the newspaper since he came to UCLA in 1948, Hahn cited the high tide of Red influence in 1949-50 . . .
The dean then explained how such Reds and fellow travelers passed control of the paper from year to year, until a revision of the regulations . . . put it back on a democratic basis . . . [Before 1955,] midnight meetings would be called at out-of-the-way places, causing apprehensive mothers to refuse permission for their daughters to attend, leaving control in the hands of subversives. (LAEx, 12/11/56.)
And, according to the Los Angeles Times, Chancellor Raymond B. Allen said, "'it appeared a few people were controlling or endeavoring to control the organs of communications . . . the publications. I never could satisfy myself of any overt activity. And it has not been observed this year." (LAT, 12/11/56.)
The Bruin, in other words, had stopped beating its wife. To appease the Un-American Activities Committee, the University was willing to sacrifice the reputations of students who were long gone from the campus and who could not raise their voices in denial. As a tactic, it was perhaps admirable. As an exercise in academic integrity, it was indefensible.
The committee accepted and even embellished the testimony of Dean Hahn and Dr. Allen. Its printed report (1957) said:
. . . The Communist minority always endeavors to get its members elected to positions of control on student newspapers. Thus, one or two dedicated, hard-working young Communists can capture the editorial control of a medium for propagandizing that reaches every student in the university and most of the faculty members . . . (Ninth Report, p. 2.)
[T]he editorial policy of the paper has been taken over by such a group of radical young Communists and they became so firmly entrenched that their clique became self-perpetuating . . . [T]he committee obtained files of The Daily Bruin extending back to the early '40's, and has carefully analyzed the propaganda content thereof . . . (p. 5.)
The articles have been copied and preserved and are now on file at the committee's office for the inspection of any properly qualified individual who may be interested in seeing the evidence. It is enough to point out that the paper was replete with articles defying university administrators, undermining and smearing anyone who presumed to oppose the editorial policy of the paper, in articles written by students who proudly proclaimed themselves as young Communists and leaders of Communist front groups, and a constant barrage of Communist and party line propaganda that appeared year after year, as the clique of young radicals perpetuated itself in control of the newspaper from one academic term to another. (p. 6.)
The conservative leaders of the Bruin of that era, which had been purged of such "radicals" at the end of 1955, bought the myth completely. Editor Joe Colmenares welcomed the probe by the committee and stated that
The public has not forgotten the "little red school house" of the forties and early fifties which shocked the State with its blatant support of Communism. The rallies, the Daily Bruin editorials, the pamphlets, the Commie youth groups, all initiated by an active cadre of vociferous left wingers, reflected as a pink glow on the entire campus which has been difficult to rub off. (DB, 12/10/56.)
And feature editor Walt Gabrielson said in another editorial:
DB HAS BEEN USED
For the politically naive or misinformed I shall again point out that one of the most important facts brought out to date in the hearings is that the Daily Bruin was once influenced by people who could not be called Democratic minded. (DB, 12/14/56.)
One staff member who was not convinced, however, was Bennie Benson, managing editor, who said she examined the files of 1951 through 1954 "purposefully looking for evidence of Red control." Though she claimed the Bruin had been mistaken in its news judgment, especially on coverage of the controversial UC loyalty oath, she said that
In those hundreds of inches, I so very rarely found any pro-Communist sympathy . . . Members of editorial boards [tried to] . . maintain the feature page as a "market place" for opinions of all sorts, Red or otherwise . . . I do not believe that any one could have proven, except for one person, who was not an editorial board member, that any one on The DB was a sympathizer. But now that two years have passed and there is no one here to speak in self-defense, the real story comes out. (DB, 1/4/57.)
It is to that "real story" of the ten years after World War II that we next turn.
Go to the Next Chapter
10. The Postwar World (1946-1948)
"FBI once told me they though there were three card-carrying Communists at UCLA -- two of them only occasional contributors to the Bruin, and the third an on-again off-again reporter of little consequence. You must remember that at that time the whole of the Western world never went to sleep without looking for Communists under the bed."