I wrote last week about the Hollywood blacklist era in the 1950s. As I wrote in the previous column my interest was first piqued when I did research for a Alger Hiss story.
Hiss was sent to jail for perjury after Whittaker Chambers named him as a communist before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
It was an intriguing story that included the “Pumpkin Papers,” which helped sink Hiss and propel Richard Nixon into the spotlight. The state department papers were documents Chambers said he received from Hiss, which brought the case to the level of espionage.
Nixon referred to Hiss and the Pumpkin Papers many times over the course of his career. It was likely one of the reasons he was chosen as Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952.
I have always been intrigued by Nixon and why he figured Hiss was lying.
Nixon saw Hiss as urbane and an Ivy League snob. Hiss was a Harvard lawyer. Nixon hated Ivy League lawyers and anyone he felt was condescending to him.
When I worked on the Hiss story, I was fascinated reading about Nixon’s visceral disdain for Hiss and how he used this part of his personality to bring Hiss down. That same slice of the Nixon’s personality that moved him into the national spotlight in the Hiss case eventually brought him down in a crash of conflict. The stuff of stories.
Like so many stories I have worked on over the years, what I thought I was writing changed over time.
So many stories shift once the writer gets far enough inside and the complexity and conflicts of the personalities come to the surface.
I have never covered a story in depth where I haven’t been surprised by something on the inside.
That is one of the reasons I never predict political races. Every time I think I am certain, I get surprised by the how unpredictable people are.
I would much rather bet on horses than any political race. Politics are the classic paradigm for human conflict and complexity, which is also what makes it all so interesting – and important.