Dark Truth about Dark Money: A rampant bias against conservatives and conservatism

In Jane Mayer’s recent book, Dark Money, we are introduced to Dr. Fred Schwarz, Australian founder of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, and are told that he is

“a melodramatically anti-Communist physician from Australia who had converted to Christianity from Judaism, and who stura6therped across the heartland for his Christian Anti-Communist Crusade preaching that ‘Karl Marx was a Jew,” and “‘like most Jews he was short and ugly and lazy and slovenly and had no desire to go out and work for a living” but also possessed a “superior, evil intelligence like most Jews.'”[1]

These are harsh words, to say the least. Especially about one’s people of birth. The zealotry of converts, some might say. Others may remember the CCAC or even recall Schwarz as a right-winger and feign no surprise. Mayer is, after all, a writer for the New Yorker. This is a “deeply researched” book, according to The Washington Post; “an indispensable new history,” according to The Guardian; “impressively reported and well-documented” according to the New York Times Book Review.

However, in this case, at least, Mayer is guilty of bad scholarship. Terrible, really. Of the kind that should not have met the standards of any field—journalism, academia, even popular works of fiction aren’t so misleading.  Oversites can happen, surely. In a 500+ page text replete with anecdotes and historical characters not every detail is bound to be completely accurate. But, here, Mayer provides a quote, a particularly nasty one, and attributes it directly to a well-known public personality. And it is wrong—Schwarz did not say it; indeed, it wasn’t ever said at all. Even the information Mayer provides about Schwarz is incorrect. He was not a convert from Judaism. Schwarz, like his mother, was born and raised Methodist (it was his father, born Jewish in Vienna, who had converted to Christianity before Fred was born).

Where did Mayer get the quote then? She attributes her information to Bryan Burrough’s 2009 book The Big Rich. Sure enough, in it is the quote Mayer cites (curiously Burrough leaves it in parentheses). He claims that Schwarz said these words at “a rally in Dallas” [2] but has this quote linked to a book published in 1964 and sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. The authors of Danger on the Right sought to write a “definitive book on the attitudes, personnel and influence of the Radical Right.”[3] This piece of ADL literature was harangued by people on the right when it was published. It is an overtly partisan document. But never mind that, considering what’s out there now, they did a decent job.

ADL’s Danger on the Right is misguided, in my opinion, about some of the characters it considers, but it represents honest research. The authors just one paragraph before Burrough’s and Mayer’s source-text state that “In his own talks the Doctor exercises some restraint, and when he is not concentrating on fund-raising, he usually discourses on the philosophy and tactics of Communists.” They go on to note

“Some faculty regulars go about the country to lecture to the students. One of them is…John Drakeford, an Australian citizen, and former Schwarz patient, now a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. Lecturing on the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, the professor declares: “Karl Marx was a Jew”—he adds that he was short, and ugly, lazy and slovenly, and had no desire to go get a job.”[4]

There is a significant difference in the material that Burrough presents and the source material from which he quotes from. The discrepancy is egregious. First, Schwarz did not say what Burrough and Mayer attribute him as saying. The person being referred to here is John Drakeford, not Fred Schwarz. Second, no one said it—in the source-text, the words are paraphrased, not in quotes, and they were hearsay. There is no attribution at all in Danger on the Right, the authors were rather content with an observational summary. Third, it seems impossible that this was a simple mistake on Burrough’s part; and, further, Mayer’s vaunted scholarship is compromised. Mayer failed to do even the most basic of confirmations.

Also, this misattribution—already in at least two bestsellers—is potentially harmful. It paints Schwarz as being a vile person, a rabid anti-Semite who thinks of Jews as “evil.” The reality is that there is no evidence of antisemitism on Schwarz’s part anywhere. Indeed, William F. Buckley Jr. praised him on his popular television show, Firing Line, in 1967, just three years after Schwarz’s supposed hate-speech, saying

“Dr. Schwarz has never made it easy for his critics. He has not, for instance, uttered any memorable inanity. Not that Eisenhower is a Communist or that Communism is a Jewish plot, or that the United Nations was conceived by the third international. He has been infuriatingly sober, and perhaps most offensive of all, he has shown charity for his critics. Not so much as to make him uninteresting…”[5]

I’m not as quick-witted as Buckley was, and I am no lawyer, but there might just be a libel suit in here somewhere. For now, it’s just a bit more evidence of the rampant bias against conservativism in ‘mainstream’ outlets.

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[1] Mayer, Jane. Dark Money : The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right. New York: Doubleday, pg 142, 2016.

[2] Burrough, Bryan. The Big Rich : The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes. New York: Penguin Press, pg. 211, 2009.

[3] Dore Schary, chariman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, in the forward of: Forster, Arnold, and Benjamin R Epstein. Danger on the Right,. Random House, 1964.

[4] Forster, Arnold, and Benjamin R Epstein. Danger on the Right,. Random House, pg 57-58, 1964.

[5] Episode 062, Recorded on June 29, 1967, minutes 1:30-2:00.

About the Author
Alejandro Moreiras is a Ph.D. graduate student in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds an M.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a B.A. from Hampshire College with a Five College Certificate in Middle Eastern Studies.
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