On March 24, 1948, Thomas G. Buchanan was fired from The Washington Evening Star for absolutely no other reason than his political views and affiliation — even though his editor acknowledged explicitly that his work had always been satisfactory and that he had never let his political opinions distort the truth in his reporting.
One can speculate as to whether there were any other American journalists before Buchanan who were fired for being communist, but under a different pretext. If there were, the real reason had never before been explicit. The Buchanan dismissal was, therefore, the first case of blacklisting in the field of journalism.
As he noted in his article, “Stand Up and Be Counted“:
“I think the case has very far-reaching significance, extending beyond me, beyond The Star, beyond the Communist Party, to encompass the entire progressive movement in this country.”
Did his colleagues agree? And how was the news of this case reported in papers across the country?
By July of that year, Buchanan’s colleagues at the American Newspaper Guild national convention voted 273 to 18 in favor of defending Buchanan as a matter of principle and precedent-setting. However, the majority of members in the local chapter — the Washington Newspaper Guild (WNG), now the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild (WBNG) — continued to choose not to go to bat for him.
Through an online search, we’ve collected a few references to the media coverage at the time. However, there may have been many more across the country. So if you have any archives of the coverage that you could share with us to add to this documentation, we would welcome your emails of links, clippings, or recollections.
The June 1948 issue of The Guildsman, the newsletter of the Washington Newspaper Guild (WNG), displayed the headline “Members To Decide Buchanan Case” and included the following related pieces:
The Buchanan Case – A Summary
Prepared by Chris Mathisen, vice-president of the WNG. After an outline of Buchanan’s history at The Star and a brief description of the circumstances of dismissal, the summary reports the sequence of relevant meetings and resolutions held by the Guild units and board:
Under date of March 28, 1948, Buchanan wrote a memorandum to the local unit stating his position. He explained that the importance of the issue involved prompted him to leave to the Guild the decision as to whether the discharge should be protested under grievance procedure.
The memorandum was read at a meeting of the Star unit. The unit took no action.
The case first became the subject of official Guild action at the April general meeting of the WNG. Buchanan was present and spoke. The meeting adopted the following resolution:
“Resolved: That the membership meeting recommends that the Executive Board take up the discharge of Brother Buchanan and that the Board prosecute the matter to the fullest extent.”
On April 29, 1948, after the general meeting, Buchanan sent a written request to the chairman of the Star unit that grievance procedure be instituted. The chairman of the Star unit notified the president of the WNG, who informed him the WNG Executive Board would take original jurisdiction in the case, as permitted by the WNG administrative policy on grievance procedure .
The Executive Board began consideration of the case at a regular meeting and continued it at a special meeting on May 12, 1948. At the latter session, the Board adopted the following resolution by a vote of 5 to 4 with the chairman of the Employer Relations Committee abstaining:
“Resolved: That, having considered the record of the discharge of Brother Buchanan by The Evening Star for membership in the Communist Party, the Board is of the opinion that the severance cannot successfully be resisted as a breach of the Star-WNG contract.”
At the May meeting of the WNG Unit Council, the following resolution was adopted:
“Believing that the welfare of the Guild would best be served by a definitive declaration by the general membership, the Unit Council directs that a referendum beheld on the following question ;
“‘Shall the Executive Board be instructed to prosecute the grievance of the Guild and, of Brother Buchanan by reason of his recent discharge for membership in the Communist Party, such grievance to be prosecuted to the fullest?'”
Statement of WNG Board – Minority Report
Signed by 5 WNG board members, arguing the position that the WNG should defend Buchanan.
“The issue in Buchanan’s case is not whether he is a Communist. It is whether the Guild, to which he has paid dues, will represent his interests as a normal procedure–just as a lawyer represents the interests of a client with whom he may disagree.
Many non-communist Guild leaders have defended the rights of union members with whom they sharply disagreed. The Washington Newspaper Guild should not set a precedent which may damage the interests of other union members fired for political reasons.”
Statement of WNG Board – Majority Report
Signed by the majority of the WNG board, explaining their position against defending Buchanan.
“The Star-WNG contract provides that there shall be no discharge except for just and sufficient cause. Is membership in the Communist Party such a cause? […]
We believe membership in the Communist Party to be such a cause. […]
There have been statements to the effect that Buchanan was dismissed for his political beliefs. We believe these statements to beg the question, for they take for granted that Communist Party membership is political affiliation, and nothing more. We hold the Communist Party to be much more, to be a tightly controlled, rigidly disciplined organization with purposes far beyond political activity.”
Question: Shall Guild Prosecute This Grievance?
Announcement and practical details about the referendum about whether to prosecute the grievance, on which the WNG members at large were being asked to vote.
The Story of Tom Buchanan
Buchanan’s article, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” was reprinted in this issue of The Guildsman, with an introduction by the chairman of the Committee in Defense of Tom Buchanan, who said:
“This is the story of Tom Buchanan.
It was written for publication in a New York periodical and submitted to us, upon our request, for presentation to all Guild members.
We think everyone who votes on this question should know the facts about Tom Buchanan and we believe Tom should have a chance to speak, himself.”
There follows a brief biographical sketch that highlights Tom’s status throughout his life (issuing from a family of Scotch descent that has been in America for over 200 years; graduating from Lawrenceville at the head of a class of 150 of which he was the youngest; attending Yale and GW; serving in WWII as an antiaircraft officer, commanding captain of an automatic weapons battery of 5 officers and 150 men; receiving an army rating of “Superior”…).
Then follows a description of Tom’s personality, popularity, and reputation:
“After the war, The Star assigned Tom to its medical beat, where he won the liking and respect of his sources and his competitors.
His fellow workers on The Star liked Tom.
They knew him as a quiet, unassuming reporter, serious and hardworking. “A darn good reporter,” one co-worker said.
He wasn’t given to light conversation, but when asked his opinion, he didn’t hesitate to give it.”
And in conclusion, a reminder of what’s at stake and why Buchanan’s statement is included:
“We publish Tom Buchanan’s statement below because we think it should be heard.
Because we believe in a free press.”
The page on which Tom Buchanan’s piece and its introduction were printed, also included the following exhortation in big letters at the bottom of the page:
VOTE “YES” IN THE REFERENDUM
The Washington Post
Guild Won’t Aid Ousted Reds
The Washington Post – Washington, D.C.
May 18, 1948
William S. Pryor, president of the Washington Newspaper Guild said yesterday that the executive board had decided to take no action on the Washington Evening Star’s recent dismissal of a news employe for holding membership in the Communist Party. […]
The Washington Post – Washington, D.C.
May 23, 1948
The Washington Post of May 18, carried an account of the action of the Washington Newspaper Guild’s executive board in maintaining that the discharge of a reporter by the Washington Star for holding membership in the Communist Party could not be resisted as a breach of contract. […]
Buchanan Firing Before Guild
The Washington Post – Washington, D.C.
Jun 30, 1948
San Francisco, June 29 (AP). — A spokesman for the American Newspaper Guild (CIO) said tonight its current national convention would consider the dismissal of a Washington reporter who admitted Communist party membership. […]
The Press: Stand Up and Be Counted Out
Monday, June 28, 1948
Three months ago, earnest, angular Editor Ben McKelway of the Washington Star called one of his reporters on the carpet. To 29-year-old Tom G. Buchanan Jr., who covered the medical beat, the boss put one question: Are you a Communist? Reporter Buchanan, an ex-Army captain, replied that he was (an admission that most good Communists regard as naive). McKelway carefully assured Buchanan that his work had been satisfactory. Then he fired him.
By being so honest with each other McKelway and Buchanan raised a clear-cut issue that had the C.I.O. American Newspaper Guild in a dither of soul-searching last week. […]
The Press: No Grounds
Monday, July 12, 1948
Because he was a Communist, Reporter Tom Buchanan was fired by the Washington Star. The Washington local of the American Newspaper Guild refused to go to bat for him (TIME, June 28). Last week, at its annual convention in San Francisco, the A.N.G. overwhelmingly (273 to 18) reversed the Washington local (“Political belief [alone is not] just and sufficient grounds for discharge”), and urged the local to try to get Buchanan’s job back. […]
The Press: No Contest
Monday, Sept. 13, 1948
At its annual convention, the American Newspaper Guild sternly urged its Washington, B.C. local to go to bat for Reporter Tom Buchanan, who had been fired by the Washington Star because he was a Communist (TIME, June 28). Last week the local, in effect, told the A.N.G. to mind its own business. By a 2-to-1 vote, the Washington Guildsmen decided for the second time not to contest Buchanan’s firing. […]
We can’t help but notice the use of the words “Commie” and “admitted” in some of the smaller papers. So much for objectivity in journalism.
Newspaper Guild Defends ‘Commie’ Fired at Capitol
Miami Daily News-Record (Miami, Ottawa County, Oklahoma)
4 July 1948 › Page 13
SAN FRANCISCO, July 3— UP — The American Newspaper Guild CIO) was under instruction today to go to bat for a member discharged as an admitted Communist. A resolution approved by the convention declared it did not believe such political belief, in the absence of a showing of overt misfeasance, “constitutes just and sufficient ground for discharge” of a newspaperman. Delegates, at closing sessions yesterday, acted in the case of Thomas G. Buchanan. He was fired from the Washington, D. C., Star after he admitted Communist party membership. The guild’s Washington local declined to protest his dismissal. The convention, however, urged the Washington guild to press for a hearing for Buchanan. Several speakers declared the resolution in no way meant the ANG supported Communists or Communism. They argued that if such cases went without challenge, they might lead to firing of newsmen holding political views opposite those of their employers. […]
Newspaper Guild To fight Commie Case
El Paso Herald-Post (El Paso, El Paso, Texas)
5 July 1948 › Page 13
SAN FRANCISCO, July 5— The American Newspaper Guild (CIO) was under instruction today to go to bat for a member discharged as an admitted Communist. Delegates, at closing sessions, acted in the case of Thomas G. Buchanan. He was fired from the Washington, D. C., Star after he admitted Communist Party membership. The Guild’s Washington local declined to protest his dismissal. The convention, however, urged the Washington Guild to press for a hearing for Buchanan as a matter of principle. […]