Accuracy in Media

“There’s nothing wrong with socialism. Much of Europe is socialist. Much of Western Europe has socialist parties that have democratic roots going back to before the beginning of the 20th century.” This is how Michael Powell, New York bureau chief of the Washington Post, tried to explain why he failed to note in an April 17 puff piece about anti-war organizer Leslie Cagan that she is a co-chair of a group called the “Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.”

But he left out something even more important?that the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) is an offshoot of the old Moscow-controlled Communist Party USA (CPUSA). “I call her a leftist,” Powell protested, as if that were an accurate and complete characterization of Cagan’s ideology.

Powell, a reporter for the paper that broke open the Watergate scandal, apparently could not find it within his power or ability to reveal that Cagan is a co-chair of a group dominated by former veteran CPUSA members such as Angela Davis. The CCDS Web site refers to the Communist Manifesto as a “stirring document” that is relevant today.

Powell’s article did acknowledge that International ANSWER, the Workers World Party (WWP) front group behind several Washington, D.C. protests, was a “Marxist-Leninist grouping that glorifies North Korea?” But he then ignored the hard evidence of Cagan’s communist connections and travels to Cuba. It’s clear that Powell was trying to present Cagan, the head of a rival anti-war group called United For Peace and Justice, as a more responsible activist without the WWP baggage. He could only do that by insulating Cagan from the taint of communism or even socialism.

Powell said that, “She came of age as a radical protesting the Vietnam War, before doing graduate agitating on issues including the nuclear freeze, gay rights, El Salvador and the trade embargo on Cuba.” The closest he came to acknowledging her red roots was when he noted allegations that Insight Magazine had called Cagan a Marxist agitator who has “roots in old Soviet . . . agitprop” and that she had been denounced for “letting various flavors of Trotskyites and Maoists join the antiwar marches.”

But why would Cagan do such a thing? Former congressional investigator Herbert Romerstein, an expert on communist activities, said most of the members of the Committees of Correspondence came out of the CPUSA, where they functioned as stooges of the Soviet Union until the fall of that dictatorship. He said it has “a close working relationship with the Stalinist remnants in the former East Germany, now called the Party of Democratic Socialism?” Romerstein said these were the people who ran the concentration camps and the Communist Party apparatus in East Germany. Powell said he was unaware of this.

Romerstein also cited evidence that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks Cagan organized the first meetings to plan opposition to any United States military action against those responsible. Powell said he was unaware of this as well.

Powell’s article alluded to her work on Cuba, but this is somewhat non-controversial these days. After all, even some Republican businessmen want to lift the Cuban trade embargo. Cagan, however, is an apologist for Castro’s communist system. She was identified as a member of the revolutionary Venceremos Brigades who went to Cuba in the early 1970s for indoctrination. Her bio at the CCDS Web site points with pride to her role as the coordinator of a U.S. delegation to Cuba for the 1997 World Festival of Youth and Students. This was a communist-controlled affair that staged an anti-American tribunal.

There’s no direct evidence that Cagan herself was a member of the Communist Party. She didn’t reply to my questions about Communist ties. Powell said she had denied being a Communist, but he didn’t report that.

As the head of an anti-war group that projected a more “moderate” image, it’s understandable why she would avoid the Communist label. The description of “democratic socialist” is probably something she would accept, although Powell avoided even that. As the East German and CCDS examples show, “former” Communists call themselves “democratic socialists” these days. And Powell finds nothing controversial in that.

The evidence suggests that Cagan has at least been sympathetic to a system that according to the Black Book of Communism killed as many as 100 million people in the 20th century. She is “anti-war” if it is being fought against Communists or other enemies of America and our allies. Michael Powell should have made that clear to his readers.

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