The Archives and Allen Weinstein | The Nation


The Archives and Allen Weinstein

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A related problem concerns Weinstein's documentation of his sources in The Haunted Wood. On this point he has been criticized even by people who agree with his conclusions. Sam Tanenhaus, now editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of the leading biography of Whittaker Chambers, criticized The Haunted Wood in The New Republic, where Weinstein has often published. Tanenhaus wrote that he agreed with Weinstein about Alger Hiss and Chambers, but that The Haunted Wood was marred by what he called Weinstein's "failure" to document his sources properly. According to Tanenhaus, Weinstein did not use the accepted system of referencing these archival documents, which he attributed to Weinstein's "weakness for mystification"--not a quality you want in the archivist of the United States.

About the Author

Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey...

Weinstein has also withheld research materials from other scholars--another ethical violation--refusing to make his interviews for his earlier book, Perjury (on the Hiss case), available to historians who disagree with him. This violates the Standards of the American Historical Association (see Victor Navasky, "Allen Weinstein's Docudrama," November 3, 1997). Published in 1978, the book presented new evidence that Hiss, the prominent New Deal figure accused of espionage in 1948 by the former Communist Chambers, was guilty as charged. Most reviewers said Weinstein's new evidence laid the case to rest. Weinstein's research was challenged, however, by Navasky, publisher and editorial director of The Nation, who contacted six of Weinstein's key sources and found that each said he or she had been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented in the book.

Weinstein replied on national TV that he had tape recordings of his interviews to prove he had quoted them correctly. He invited Navasky "and anyone else" to hear the tapes; Navasky accepted. But when Navasky and two colleagues from The Nation arrived at Weinstein's home at the agreed-upon time, Weinstein refused to let them hear the tapes. Weinstein then stated in The New Republic, "All my files and tapes will be available to Victor Navasky and everyone else at the Truman Library later this year. I have been inundated with requests from scholars and others for access to these materials, and have decided this is the best way to provide it without totally disrupting my life and other work."

That was 1978. Twenty-six years later, Weinstein has yet to deposit the tapes at the Truman Library or any other archive. Weinstein's continuing refusal to make the disputed materials available to other scholars violates the AHA "Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct," adopted in 1987, which states that historians should "make available to others their sources, evidence, and data, including the documentation they develop through interviews." Weinstein is also not complying with the 1989 AHA "Statement on Interviewing for Historical Documentation," developed jointly with the Oral History Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists; it declares that "interviewers should arrange to deposit their interviews in an archival repository that is capable of...making them available for general research."

In a 1991 telephone interview, Weinstein, by then president of the Center for Democracy in Washington, DC, told me, "I'm happy to say to that I'm happy to consider any request from any scholar for specific files they would like to look at." But to "consider" requests from other scholars is different from what the AHA Standards of Professional Conduct require: depositing the interviews "in an archival repository that is capable of...making them available for general research." Weinstein went on to say, "I'm happy to donate all the material to the Truman Library; the question is under what conditions." The AHA statement clearly states the conditions: "free, open, equal, and nondiscriminatory access." Truman Library archivist Dennis Bilger, who retired in December 2003, told me that Weinstein "did finally sign the deed of gift, but he never sent copies of the interviews to the Truman Library." Bilger concluded that Weinstein had not complied with the code of ethics of the Society of American Archivists.

Weinstein's interviews on Chambers and Hiss provide vital evidence about a central event in the history of the cold war. Garry Wills, who agrees with Weinstein that Hiss was guilty, told me, "Weinstein said he would donate the tapes; clearly he should do it." He should be asked about that at the Senate hearings.

Weinstein has also been charged with other improprieties and misrepresentation in The Haunted Wood by an unlikely source: his co-author, Alexander Vassiliev. In the course of a recent trial in London, Vassiliev complained, as he had done earlier, that, among other derelictions, Weinstein never showed him the manuscript before it was published. If true, that is clearly improper. Weinstein doesn't read Russian--the deal with the former KGB agents permitted Vassiliev to see documents that he was told were from the archives, which he translated into English for Weinstein. Thus Weinstein has never seen the documents on which his book is based. This is a problem, because Vassiliev has told at least one interviewer--Susan Butler, biographer of Amelia Earhart--that he disagreed with some of Weinstein's claims about KGB documents that appear in the book. If Vassiliev is right that Weinstein has misrepresented the documents, that could disqualify him for the archivist position. Vassiliev should be invited to testify at the confirmation hearings.

Another issue relevant to Weinstein's nomination concerns the sources of funding for his Center for Democracy. The Center's IRS returns list contributions of $2.9 million during 2000-01 from one contributor--this could be a foundation or individual donor--whose identity is blacked out (which is normal IRS practice). Where did this money come from? That's a question that Weinstein should answer at confirmation hearings.

Whatever one thinks of Weinstein's conclusions about Soviet espionage, his methods of dealing with archives have been problematic from an ethical standpoint. A nominee for archivist should be held to the highest standards. Weinstein is not the right choice for this job.

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