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Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the Hiss-Chambers espionage case, which gripped America in 1948 and still provokes controversy. Take a deep factual dive into the story of two brilliant, fascinating men, sensational Congressional hearings, spy documents hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft and a pumpkin, the trial of the century, and the launch of Richard Nixon’s career. Comments and politely phrased corrections or criticism are welcome by the writer and narrator, at



Mar 29, 2023

This is the Podcast of the public hearing at which Chambers and Hiss sat a few feet apart and testified against each other for six hours.  It was one of the big stories of 1948.  A history of HUAC says it was the most dramatic and crowded event of the Committee’s public history.  One newspaper blared that it was “C Day” — C for Confrontation.  People wanting spectator seats were lined up out the building and around the block — and the Old House Office Building is a big building on a long block.  Nixon played the role of patient, plodding prosecutor, with an occasional assist from Stripling.  The other HUAC members chimed in with their reactions, like the chorus in an ancient Greek drama.  Hiss had become extravagantly cautious.  He bobbed, weaved, and ultimately exasperated even his friends in the audience.  Chambers occasionally reveled in the melodrama, warming his friends’ hearts and convincing his enemies that he was mentally ill.  Most telling, however, was evidence from disinterested third parties indicating that Chambers’ story was the truthful one and that Hiss’s was mostly lies.  See what you think of the two men and their stories.

Further Research:

Episode 13:  The August 25 HUAC hearing occupies 131 pages (beginning at 1075) of the Alpha Edition transcript of HUAC hearings cited in the discussion of Episode 5 above.  Hiss’s first memoir covers the hearing at pages 100-49; it is as defensive and meticulous Hiss was at the hearing.  Chambers’ covers the hearing at pages 625-95 of Witness.  At 693, he sympathizes with Hiss:  “the spectacle of that man, hopelessly baited by questions, although in a trap of his own contriving, . . . tormented me as much, or more, than anything I felt about myself.”  For Nixon’s recollections, see Six Crises at 41-44 and RN at 63-66.

Dispassionate observers said that Chambers’ testimony was notably more direct and plausible than Hiss’s (Walter Goodman at 258); that Hiss’s “caution, . . . in the opinion even of his friends, hurt his case” (Bert Andrews at 148, quoting James Reston of the New York Times); and that Hiss had been “swarmed with well-wishers” after his first HUAC testimony” but “stood alone” after the August 25 hearing (Nagle at 126, quoting Chambers with approval).  Professor Weinstein’s book covers the hearing at 55-62, saying at 61 that Hiss’s manner was nervous and emotional while Cambers’ was relaxed and calm.

Questions:  If you were, like Hiss, questioned by a hostile tribunal about your conduct 10-15 years ago, and you feared that mis-dating an event by one month might land you in the hell of a perjury trial, would you be willing to appear like a crook or an idiot by beginning every answer with the words “To the best of my recollection”?  That’s the choice (between two bad choices) that Hiss made.  Do Chambers’ dramatic words about the appeal of Communism and ‘a tragedy of history’ impress you as heartfelt and profound, or as over the top melodrama that makes you doubt his contact with reality?  If you were a journalist reporting on this hearing, would you ‘stick to the facts’ or add the audience’s laughter and your own impressions?  If you were an ambitious first-term member of the lower House, could you have imagined a better introduction to the American people?