Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Fall of Alger Hiss

From The Avocado:
Hiss went first. And before the television cameras, the cool, collected Ivy Leaguer lost his composure, along with the Establishment credibility he’d accrued over the past three weeks. All that remained, it seemed, was outrage. He insisted that “the important charges are not questions of leases, but questions of whether I was a Communist.” He claimed that Chambers, “a self-confessed liar, spy and traitor” was inherently untrustworthy, denying both the broad strokes and details of his accusations. He also cited a witness confirming that Chambers used the alias George Crosley. This was Samuel Roth, a publisher of erotic literature who’d printed several poems by Chambers in the ’20s. This, however, was the only point Hiss scored in the entire hearing. 
Richard Nixon wouldn’t let him escape. “The issue in this hearing today is whether or not Mr. Hiss or Mr. Chambers has committed perjury before this committee, as well as whether Mr. Hiss is a Communist,” the Californian replied, outlining the evidence of the leases and car sales supporting Chambers’ testimony. Stripling produced a photostatic record proving that Hiss owned the property where Chambers resided. Hiss conceded that the document’s signature “also looks not unlike my own handwriting,” and claimed Stripling had withheld the documents from him. Stripling responded that the car dealer still possessed the original; he merely procured a copy. 
To viewers at home, Nixon and Stripling’s questions might have seemed arcane, even unfair. Hiss could be forgiven for not remembering trivial details years later. But Hiss’s combativeness undercut him. He sparred over these obscure points, avoiding lifelines that might have shored his credibility. He seemed bored, angry or agitated, straining or resting his head in his hands (caused in part by Hiss suffering from partial hearing loss). He repeatedly questioned Chambers’ state of mind, demanding to know “whether he has ever been treated for a mental illness.” Both in words and presentation, Hiss didn’t resemble an innocent man. (Read more.)

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