Max Holland: Protests "unbecoming behavior" of columnist

Historians in the News

Dear Mr. Kurtz,

I'm writing to bring to your attention some unbecoming behavior at Slate by one of its columnists, Ron Rosenbaum.

Four months ago, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr wrote an article for the website I edit, Washington Decoded, about McCarthyite tactics being employed by Alger Hiss's shrinking band of true believers. The article,"The New McCarthyism," was also linked from the History News Network site, thereby achieving a wider readership than would be the case if it had only appeared on the website.

I also made a point of e-mailing the article to many journalists who have written about the Hiss case in the past, including Ron Rosenbaum.

On Monday, Rosenbaum published an essay in Slate, in which he made the argument that Hiss's shrinking band of true believers are now engaged in"Nixonian tactics." Rosenbaum's only nod toward the Haynes/Klehr article was a passing reference in one paragraph, where he wrote that H/K"have noticed this problem" (meaning the problem with the Hiss defenders' new analysis). He neglected to point out that the entire thrust of H/K article was to point out the irony that Hiss's defenders are now resorting to McCarthyite tactics.

Rosenbaum is certainly entitled to have the same perspective, and to write an article that echoes the same theme. But his brief reference to their work is stingy and unprofessional, to be charitable about it. He should have noted that H/K reached the same conclusion months before he, Rosenbaum, took pen in hand to write this piece.

The curious fact that Rosenbaum chose Nixon rather than McCarthy as his whipping boy is something of a giveaway. Most people would take"Nixonian tactics" as an allusion to Watergate-era transgressions from the 1970s, not the kind of guilt-by-association that is synonymous with 1950s-era McCarthyism.

Rosenbaum was intent on denying credit where credit is due, and patting himself on the back for a shrewd analysis that was made elsewhere first. It would not have detracted from his article to admit it.

Kurtz's Response

I get so many complaints about total ripoffs. While I understand how you feel, at least there was SOME acknowledgment in the piece.

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