- Use promo code GIFTBOOK18 to save $5.00 when you spend $20.00 or more on Books shipped and sold by Amazon.com. Enter code GIFTBOOK18 at checkout. Here's how (restrictions apply)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.75 shipping
The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America Paperback – March 30, 2009
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Special offers and product promotions
An outstanding book: lively, engaging, thoroughly researched and beautifully written. It provides a clear view of the many activities of the CIA to gain the support of Americans during the Cold War, and raises important questions about the place of such secret efforts to mobilize popular opinion in a democracy. (Allan M. Winkler, Miami University)
Fusing the perspectives of intelligence and social history, Wilford has written the first authoritative overview of the CIA's recruitment of private American citizens to fight communism. Combining meticulous scholarship with a fluent narrative style, he tells a story that will appeal to a wide range of readers. His argument, that American individualism frustrated the CIA's efforts to control, will provoke debate for years to come. (Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, author of The FBI: A History)
Wilford's book is superb, by far the most comprehensive work to date on the front groups through which the CIA sought to project U.S. cultural and political influence. He has an inviting, perceptive, allusive style that pulls in the reader, humanizes and harmonizes the material, and in the end generates the incisive moral or historical point. It was a pleasure to read. (Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California, Santa Barbara)
By turns hilarious and horrifying, the story of the CIA's attempts to disseminate anticommunist propaganda through a variety of front organizations...This superb account will provide CIA aficionados with some welcome comic relief. (Kirkus Reviews 2007-10-01)
Hugh Wilford has unearthed from archives the myriad links between the CIA and various citizen front groups attempting to counter communist influence in The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Coming forty years after the magazine Ramparts exposed the CIA propaganda program, this book is sure to be relevant to our own era of "hearts and minds" campaigning. (Bookforum 2007-12-01)
[An] elegantly written, diligently researched examination of the CIA's glory days...The fronts that Wisner built were more errors than terrors, shrill tunes on that tin whistle--which Hugh Wilford plays with sentient skill. (Peter Preston The Observer 2008-02-03)
[A] brisk yet thorough narrative...No one has written a more comprehensive or sophisticated account of the pro-American fronts from their creation in the late 1940s to the investigative report 20 years later in Ramparts magazine that first exposed the CIA's cultural offensive and left people such as [Gloria] Steinem with a bit of explaining to do. (Michael Kazin Washington Post Book World 2008-01-27)
Hugh Wilford has given us the first comprehensive and thorough report of how the CIA--modeling its policies on the Comintern's creation of Communist front groups--created their own fronts, with recipients who included not only the white male writers and artists who made up much of the postwar cultural establishment, but women, African-Americans, students, the labor movement, Catholics, and journalists. Mr. Wilford undermines rather than bolsters the boast made by CIA man Frank Wisner, who called his agency a "Mighty Wurlitzer," a mass of information and intelligence capable of playing the tunes the rest of the world would dance to. The old view, that the Agency was composed of "puppet masters" and that its recipients were simple marionettes, is not only inaccurate, but highly misleading. Mr. Wilford carefully shows that in almost all the cases, those funded understood the high stakes of the Cold War with the Soviets. Rather than following CIA orders, most used whatever funds they received to carry on the work they had already started, and often discarded the advice of the Agency handlers...[A] first-rate book. It is doubtful whether another survey of this subject will ever be necessary. One can differ with his own conclusion that covert funding "stained the reputation" of America and still find the book of immeasurable merit. (Ronald Radosh New York Sun 2008-02-06)
Remarkably detailed and researched...There were indeed fronts directly established by the C.I.A. for a particular goal, and the story Wilford tells of them in The Mighty Wurlitzer is fascinating, involving a surprising collection of well-known figures in American life...There is a great deal to be learned from this book. Wilford has consulted an astonishing number of scholarly and popular accounts, along with the papers and records of some of the central participants and organizations. He's done a remarkable job of research...Wilford has mastered an enormously complex tale in almost every detail. (Nathan Glazer New York Times Book Review 2008-01-20)
[A] superb new account of the underground combat in ideas and checkbooks that unfolded in the 1950s and early '60s...One important insight Wilford brings to this history is that it wasn't necessarily ignoble to promote American values in the face of a menacing communist alternative in those two decades. (Charles Trueheart Bloomberg.com 2008-02-22)
About the Author
Hugh Wilford is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach.
Showing 1-3 of 19 reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
However, we know that the carefully cultivated array of "media assets" Frank Wisner began to assemble had other applications during the Cold War era that had nothing to do with Communism and "the Soviet threat." We can also see evidence that the same methods are currently being applied to managing public opinion about pivotal current events.
The author completely avoids any discussion of the CIA's extensive covert role in the UFO controversy, for example. When hundreds of thousands of "flying saucer" stories began to fill the nation's newspapers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, CIA officials, under direction of Dr. H.P. Robertson, used its Wurlitzer to calm public concerns about an invasion from outer space by covertly working to ridicule and debunk such reports. Top CIA officials also infiltrated key UFO-research groups such as NICAP, orchestrated anti-UFO propaganda programs via CBS TV and other news networks, and worked to squelch embarrassing leaks from airline pilots, military eyewitnesses, and others who knew too much. What is now becoming known is that the CIA's concerns stemmed partly from an alarming pattern of surveillance exhibited by the UFOs, particularly surveillance of our nuclear weapons facilities. In the mid-1960s and again in the mid-1970s, for example, UFOs hovered over and sometimes disabled many of our Minuteman nuclear-tipped missiles. We know this from regional press accounts, government documents, and former Minuteman personnel who have recently broken their silence about these astonishing events. (For further details, see Faded Giant,UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Coverup, 1941-1973, UFOs and Nukes by Robert Hastings (ufohastings.com), and my own modest effort, The Missing Times.)
One academic study showed that upwards of a million articles about UFOs appeared in the nation's newspapers between 1947 and 1966 alone. Yet, this is unmentioned in nearly all contemporary American History books. Such is the power of Wisner's Wurlitzer!
In the wake of the events of 9-11, thousands of academics, government officials, eyewitnesses, architects, scientists, and engineers have called attention to the many serious problems with the official explanation. Public opinion polls also show widespread skepticism about what the Bush White House says took place. And yet, the American news media will never even discuss these facts. Most reporters today know that keeping their jobs depends on keeping their mouths shut about certain sensitive topics.
And the Mighty Wurlitzer plays on....
The liberal label could be misleading, however, if the right meant that the CIA "liberals" were at odds with US Cold War foreign policy goals. Just the opposite was true. The CIA liberals had done their communications research howework, as Christopher Simpson has pointed out in his essential and skinny volume The Science of CoercionScience of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960. They realized that special publications would be needed to tame left-liberal dissent from US global ambitions.
And so publications like Encounter Magazine were created. Five of six articles would be left liberal, to win over this small BUT INFLUENCIAL group of tweedy professors and quasi-professionals who were capable of footnoting their bad moods. Once they thought that "this magazine is on our side' they would be more suceptible to the raison d'etre of the whole glossy: the monthly gatekeeping article that would keep this caffinated crew from openly opposing US Cold War Foreign Policy objectives.
Just so was the intention behind CIA subsidies for domestic front groups such as labor unions, art critics, and journalists within the US. The author deals skillfully with the individuals involved: many of the individuals did not know that their organizations were being supported by the CIA. Others did know and walked on eggshells to preserve their collegues' virgin curiosities.
The author is carefull to give people who cooperated with the Agency a fair shake. It is doubtful that Gloria Steinem could get a fairer shake than she does in this book; true she was young but a handshake or two with arch-conservative Psychological Warfare veterans like Time-Life CIA's C. D. Jackson should wake one up a bit.
The author points out that there were many times when the front group bahaved in ways contrary to the wishes of their CIA funders. In fact, one wonders if the point is not overemphasized. The point was never to turn the targetted audience into armchair McAthurs: rather it was to prevent theier becoming vocal critics of Greater Containment. A little slackening of the leash now and then would have been appropriate for these scientists of coercion.
In short, the CIA front groups, as is emphasized more strongly in Francis Stonor Saunders book (The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters ) were left-gatekeepers with rightist ends in mind. This point about the project could bear much stronger emphasis. On the other hand there is plenty of fresh detail in The Mighty Wurlitzer. The author openly acknowledges his debt to Saunders book but there is fresh information and detail in nearly every chapter. I recommend this book for everyone interested in post World War history and journalism.
One will never read The Nation in quite the same way!
Descriptions of the CIA and the organizations it backed reminded me of my college days, when I roomed with the president of SDS. (Since I was apolitical, I was the only one who'd split the rent with him.) Little did I know that the other side was behaving equally immaturely.
I thought I heard the strains of The Mighty Wurlitzer recently when Frank Wisner's son visited Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and (rightly or wrongly) I was not at all surprised to learn that organized counterdemonstrations materialized the next day. After reading Wilford, Marchetti, Prouty, and Hunt, I'm amazed at how many people refuse to see the CIA in the honey trap set for Julian Assange, or in the cyber attacks on his site. The CIA did publically announce an anti-Assange team, after all. (Not that the book is about espionage, but it *is* partly about infiltration, demonstrations, manipulation and dirty tricks.)
In summary, if you don't mind appearing paranoid to the unwitting, and if you don't mind a slow read, the book is quite revealing. Don't worry. There are no CIA fronts at all anymore... and the nonexistent fronts are so obvious by now that it doesn't really matter.
OK. Maybe I *am* paranoid, but then so was James Jesus Angleton, and he was on the inside, so his delusions must have been well-founded. Also, the book clearly wasn't meant to have this effect. It was just meant to be dull and studious. But Hey! There you are.