Let’s start with the Random House press release, replete with “Praise for Perjury“–a reissue of Allen Weinstein’s book on the Hiss-Chambers case. Here is Alfred Kazin twenty years ago, on the original 1978 Knopf edition: “It is impossible to imagine anything new in the case except an admission by Alger Hiss.” Other hyperbolic kudos follows from an impressive and ideologically motley crew of reviewers: Irving Howe, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Garry Wills, John Kenneth Galbraith, George Will, Walter Goodman, Murray Kempton, Merle Miller, William F. Buckley. The list goes on and on.
It turns out Alfred Kazin’s imagination wasn’t what it used to be, that there is something new to be said about the case after all. Indeed, the press release continues, the “newly revised edition…incorporat[es] recently released critical evidence from the KGB archives opened exclusively to the author,” and Weinstein adds “a new concluding chapter…examining the public controversy over the Hiss-Chambers case” that has erupted since his book was first published. Finally, for those still in doubt, the denouement: “a conclusive, comprehensive and dramatic book that points to one inescapable conclusion: Alger Hiss was guilty.”
The release ends with a bio. The good professor, it seems, is also founder, president and C.E.O. of the Center for Democracy (which recently co-sponsored a conference with the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency on the so-called Venona files) and the author of “forthcoming in 1997 The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America with Alexander Vassiliev.”
True to its genre, the press release omits information that is not, how shall I say it, on message. We are not told that, aside from their enthusiasm, the one thing all the Perjury endorsers have in common is that they were each previously on record as believing in Hiss’s guilt. And, of course, it is not for a press release to reveal that Weinstein has, at long last, come out of the scholar’s closet. If in edition one he portrayed himself as the honest scholar impartially weighing the evidence, with the publication of the “conclusive” edition, he is quite openly in the business of protecting his earlier verdict.
The news that The Haunted Wood is “forthcoming in 1997″ is more important than one might suspect. Here’s an example of why. As early as page 4 we’re told that a major player in the old domestic spy wars, Elizabeth (“Red Spy Queen”) Bentley–thought by the late Richard Rovere and by Herbert Packer, author of Ex-Communist Witnesses, to be a witness of dubious reliability–wasn’t so unreliable after all. “Recently released material from the KGB archives,” writes Weinstein, “amply confirm [sic] the substance of Bentley’s testimony.” The proof? A footnote says, “See Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America (New York: Random House, forthcoming), passim.”