1956 January 4

Senate Subcommittee Investigates The New York Times for Alleged Communist Influence


A Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigation of about 40 newspapers for alleged Communist influence began on this day. The ACLU protested the investigation as a serious threat to freedom of the press. Thirty New York Times staff members were subpoenaed. Three were later cited for contempt of Congress on November 26, 1956, for refusing to answer questions under their First Amendment rights.  After much legal maneuvering, none of the three ever had to serve a prison term.

One of the Times employees was Robert Shelton, who was twice convicted of contempt but had both convictions overturned on technicalities. The Times “punished” him by reassigning him to the low-status entertainment beat, from which he later wrote a highly influential review of a young Bob Dylan that boosted his career. Shelton also became a close friend and biographer of Dylan.

Note: This Senate subcommittee was not as famous as the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee, which it closely resembled. The subcommittee is also not to be confused with the investigations conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy.

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

Read about the history of the New York Times: Harrison Salisbury, Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and its Times (1980)

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