NYC Council Hearing on a resolution to investigate WNYC
Tuesday, March 08, 1938
This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Councilman Keegan: During last week's discussion, some inferences were drawn and I would like to correct one about Mr. Morris S. Novik, the director of the station. I know him and his background, and there is little doubt about his Americanism. To the person who tried to intimidate me between last week and today, nothing will stop me from trying to accomplish the adoption of this resolution. Travelogue that omits the machine guns and dictatorship is nothing more than Soviet propaganda. If I don't accomplish what I seek to accomplish here, then I will go to the Federal Radio Communication in Washington and I will resort to every legal process that I can find.
Councilman Baldwin: I have no sympathy with the Communists but a travelogue about the food and costumes in Moscow is nothing that is going to worry me. It is ridiculous to debate this. Russia will exhibit at the Worlds Fair next year. They've been at other fairs. Travelogue discussed things that travelers are interested in. We need to vote against this resolution.
Mrs. Earl: I am opposed. The only non-commercial broadcasting system in the city. One member of the council disagrees and throws us into chaos. I sympathize with Mr. Keegan's concern. This station is offering a great service to the people of this city. I have read the script of the travelogue and it seems to me a rather light-hearted and rather weighted picture of certain conditions of Soviet Russians. Wanted to hear more about the people who are starving in Russia but I am not censoring the stuff that goes one the radio if that is what the people who give that talk wish to depict. Defends writer of broadcast - an author for Scribners, a Son of the American Revolution, a registered Democrat.
Mr. Sharkey: Disagrees with Mr. Baldwin. They had an Arabian lecture that upset Jewish residents because insulting remarks made against their race. Station should be limited in its use. The people are paying for this station. Should be used only for civic and municipal affairs and perhaps patriotic organizations. Need a law to limit this station.
Mr. Bellus: I want to register my objection to a question which has much broader implication. The great American pastime of red-baiting. They do not want to really discuss the issues. Right of free expression should not be abridged. We should not emulate Germany or other non-democractic countries.
Mr Quill: I am against Mr. Keegan's resolution. I believe it's a further step in the program of gag rule carried out by the reactionaries. From the days of the revolution in this country there was a system of broad education. There was an inclination not to draw a smokescreen around the country and not to lead the people to believe that the earth is flat rather than round. No man, since the death of Lenin, has done more for the Communist Party in this country than Mr. Keegan in the past weeks. Because no matter how many thousands heard the original broadcast, hundreds of thousands - especially the unemployed people - heard the oration delivered by Mr. Keegan on the good points of the Soviet Union in the last meeting here. I've learned that the Soviet Union is the worker's fatherland, that it's one-sixth of the earth, under communism in Russia there is no nudism, that everyone is wearing furs, that there is caviar for all. That's what I learned. And If I can be confused to that extent, how about the hundreds of thousands of unemployed listening in? This is a gag rule and we should not go along with it. Red Herring of communism prior to election. It is a further move to discredit La Guardia by Tammany Hall. And on behalf of the Irish Workers of this city I am opposed.
Mr. Keegan: I have to respond. I don't know where Quill gets his mail. I didn't think he would support my resolution, but when he said everyone in the Soviet Union is well fed and clothed, I didn't think he was naive enough to believe that script. In-Land tourists sued and got their money back because of the hellish conditions in the Soviet Union. Should have confidence that what they hear over the city's radio station, which is sponsored by the city and paid for by them, should have the semblance of truth. There must have been something in his conscience for him to defend his Americanism? Waving the flag and then talking about red-baiting? I think the council needs to look into the operation of this radio station. And if we don't do it, the Federal Communications will. Question: Is the purpose of this resolution to...? Keegan: This is to keep the radio station from giving out propaganda for anybody. Several court orders have been violated on numerous occasions. Councilman Strauss: Keegan said the director of the station is not a Communist. Was this travelogue Communist propaganda? If so, what do we do about it? On the list of the National Travel Club -- advisory board for program.....goes through the board and finds no communists. Talks about how Lady Chatterly's Lover was banned at first. If you want to advertise communism, ban it. Thomas Jefferson was accused of being a Jacobin. That was a communist then. Jacobins were precursors to Democrats. Councilman Keegan, I'm going to give you a book. (A book on Russia). Russian government is on its last legs. We don't have to worry about communism because it has pretty much failed.
Councilman Strauss: Non-commercial stations perform an important function. Give the new director a chance. He has a good reputation. I'm sure the rest of the travelogues will go elsewhere in the world. Is Mr. Keegan prepared to withdraw the resolution. Keegan: No.
Mr. Sharkey: This station should be restricted in its use. Mr. ?: My good friend Charney Vladeck has picked the first victims of the revolution when it comes here. I believe there should be some supervision of this station. George Washington did say our country would ever fall not because of enemies without, but enemies within. This radio station is the property of the taxpayers. Very good station. But, with disturbed conditions in Russia, Italy or Germany - why do we need to hear travelogues about those countries? How about our country? I think the people who sued him (Keegan) are very touchy. I've been accused by Mr. Heywood Broun of sounding like Cotton Ed Smith of South Carolina. I might sue Broun because he writes these articles. Those in charge of the station need to keep a closer watch. This is the only country where more than one party can be on the ballot. I won't go to Russia. I think this sensitiveness should be kept in mind by the station. Resolution should be held over for a couple of weeks. Let's see if the station won't meet you half way. Question: Won't go to Russia? What do you mean by that? Been to the zoo? Commentary goes off on a tangent (a lot of laughing).
Mr. Armstrong: Can we get down to business. This is on the radio we're objecting to. I'm not going to vote for this. Mr. Novik is a righteous man. Religious man. And a member of the American Labor Party. I'm a member. We represent the working people. Calls for roll call.
B. Charney Vladeck: The Mayor took over the station only in January. Management of station was in hands of Mayor Walker until a month ago. This program in question was arranged by previous personnel. All travelogues are bunk. Propaganda. I agree with Keegan, the travelogue was in the words of Mark Twain, "exaggerated". Travel is not a bad thing. Educational. If we had travelogues that told the truth, that would be a good thing. Mr. Novik should be given a chance to show what the station can do. There is no reason why WNYC cannot render good service. I intend to vote no.
Mr. Keegan: Nothing most of you have said had anything to do with the issue. Responds to Vladeck. Yes, propaganda. But that's not the issue. Move to the issue. Roll Call. Stops. Mr. Burton: Control the affairs of the station. It is a city agency. Can't see what harm or good an investigation will do. I vote aye. Roll call continues.
Mr. Kinsley: When an attempt is made to protect American priciple by charging red baiting then.....The appointment of an avowed communist to public office. Boro President ? Boring from within. A statement made over WNYC last week. WNYC has a place on the airwaves but it must remember that the taxpayer pays for it. Mr. Keegan is correct.
Mr. Nugent: I'm a member of Tammany Hall and I'm proud of it. The resolution is a worthwhile one. We in America have great scenes - why not bring that to the attention to WNYC listeners? Aye.
Councilman Mike Quill. Good speech. Mr. Kinley's chicken coup resolution? Tammany Hall - reason to believe that Tammany money never made it to Irish revolution as Mr. Nugent says. Don't worry about Russia. We need to make our own America a much greater America. Lots of corruption here. Lynching in Southern State. Let's educate to make a better America and for that reason I vote no. Sharkey has the floor.
Mr. Sharkey: Station should be curtailed and report only on city agencies and activities. Vote Aye.
Stellman: let me start by saying, I "deprecate" as much as anybody in this chamber red baiting tactics. A disgusting performance. Agree with many here, that for many years particularly this last decade, every measure which has had any liberal tendency has been immediately surrounded by this mysterious aura called communism. Before that, like workman's compensation. Those measures were branded by same reactionaries, "Tammany Hall measures", because they were introduced by Alfred Smith and Bob Wagner. When we have to call each other names we have reached a pretty sad path. Attacks Quill for claiming to represent the Irish-American vote. I am not going to vote for this resolution because it is alleged that there is Soviet propaganda at the station any more than if it were alleged there was fascist propaganda. Words Tammany Hall apply only to three members of this council. Cowell, Nugent, and Spellman. Defends Tammany Hall. You cannot brand a true Tammany Hall man such as I am - my actions as anything but proper or improper in accordance on the way I vote. We who are the representatives of the Manhattan democracy have received instructions from Tammany - to vote on your conscience even if it hurts you to vote against members of your party. Let's have an armistice on the calling of names and debate issues on their merits. The Irish American voters of our city would be ashamed that anyone person would claim for himmself their sole representation. (Attack on Quill) Free Speech and be responsible for the abuse of free speech. Licentiousness of language is not permitted. I vote aye. Councilman ?: Story of Voltaire. I disagree with what he says, but defend to the death his right to say it. Vote no. Councilman ?: Language is not as extreme as Keegan says it is. But I intend to listen to WNYC in the future to see that the station is going to exercise a discretion. Immigrants should exhibit the highest Americanism and conform themselves to the customs here. Vote no.
Councilman Charney Vladek: Sorry to rise again. The tone of the debate shows clearly that it's not only the resolution we are discussing. Fundamentals. Birthplace is not an issue. Native born need to be gentleman too. Culture and breeding have no country. There is something in the discussion that is malicious. Councilman Spellman making a plea for decent debate. I agree. But himself - availing himself of the privileges of the floor - attacks a fellow councilman
without knowing the truth. Quill did not pay any income tax because before last July he did not make enough money. Nobody owes anybody an apology. You were elected by people of City of New York who come from all over the world. We are all New York. If anything, it is the people represented by Mr. Quill, Mr. Hollander and myself - others who represent the immigrants. When we speak of Tammany Hall, we speak of the history of the city. Which is in the records. Tammany has looted the city for the benefit of a small group of people. We're not talking about Wagner or FDR, we voted for them. We're talking about the men who make politics their business. Speculators. Looters.
Councilman Keegan: He's not explaining his vote. He's going into the history of Tammany Hall - not the issue. Attack on Quill's brokerage account of $16,000.
Councilman Keegan: continues attack on Quill.
Councilman Vladek: I'm sorry I felt compelled to say things that are not pleasing to all of you. I was provoked by statement of Mr. Spellman. In order to avoid this repetition, let us start by teaching each other manners. I don't like to have members of the council and lecture us on decency and manners. We are not accomplishing anything just engendering sea of bigotry and intolerance. US is still an island. We are trying to arouse the prejudices that are now pulling Europe to brink of ruin. We shouldn't do that. Nothing threatens our country except our own ignorance. I vote no.
Resolution - 14 yes, 12 no. Resolution will go to Mayor for his signature. Mr. Novik: ? Mr. Kinsley: Arguing with chair. Council has right to appoint committees. Mr. Keegan: resolution goes to rules committee - says Chairman is wrong. Debate over where the resolution goes - to the Mayor or to Rules Committee. Tell Novik to ignore instructions of Chair. Kinsley: Do you intend to rule that this body has no power by resolution to appoint a committee? Hope the stenographer will get this.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 8328
Municipal archives id: LT2276