BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Donald Warren, why, on the cover of your book, do you call Charles Coughlin
`the father of hate radio'?
MR. DONALD WARREN, AUTHOR, "RADIO PRIEST: CHARLES COUGHLIN, THE FATHER OF HATE RADIO:" He was a pioneer in using radio for a very let's call it
activation of the audience, to get them to respond, to take action on the
issues of the day. And some of those actions we would call hateful. And I
feel that there's a connection between his activities back in the '30s and
what we've seen emerge recently.
LAMB: Where did he live?
MR. WARREN: He lived he was born in Hamilton, Ontario. Then he moved on to
Detroit and Royal Oak, where the Shrine of Little Flower is located is just
north of the city, still standing; in need of some repair now. And he spent
most of his life then in the US, although he was Canadian born. And then he
did convert to American citizenship in his 30s, I believe.
LAMB: What kind of a priest was he?
MR. WARREN: He was much more than a priest. He was, for his parishioners, a
figure who provided financial advice and the other missionary activities that
are associated with the priesthood. But more than that, he was a figure who
was a teacher, educator and put people in a position to understand the world
LAMB: Here's a picture of his mother and father, and he's standing there in
the middle. Where was this?
MR. WARREN: That was taken in the early '30s. He was very close to his
mother. She was a very important figure. She was the one that prayed that he
would enter the priesthood and, indeed, he did. A father not so so active in
his life, but they both later helped sell souvenirs at the shrine. And so
this was a picture showing his strong family values. And he was a figure
really of the era, but also of our era as well.
LAMB: What was his relationship to Joe Kennedy, the father of Jack Kennedy?
MR. WARREN: They were buddies, comrades often. They exchanged jokes with
each other. They met frequently. They fell out around the New Deal politics.
Joe Kennedy ended up having to try to cool down Charles Coughlin's passions
and to try to do something about his opposition to many of the New Deal
programs and policies.
LAMB: His relationship to Huey Long, and who was Huey Long?
MR. WARREN: Huey Long, of course, this marvelous figure from Louisiana. They
probably only met once or twice, but their politics were seen as quite
similar. And the idea that they might come together to form a third party was
a very serious concern to the Democratic Party.
LAMB: When was Father Coughlin at his most powerful point?
MR. WARREN: I would say it was at the time that Franklin Roosevelt was
elected and the next year or two after that, when Coughlin could be both the
spokesman for the administration he claimed that and at the same time going
off on his own agenda. And as he began to move away from the New Deal, he
lost support. There were incidents that occurred also that affected his
credibility. He speculated in the stock market, even though he claimed to be
one of those who was totally against any activity of that sort. I would say
that '33 and '34 were his peak years. Ran as a candidate or at least he
organized a party in '36. It didn't do as well as he had hoped. And after
'36 he began to be marginalized to the extremes of the political spectrum.
LAMB: You get a lot of mixed signals on people. He was a friend of FDR's and
a friend of Douglas MacArthur's, a friend of Everett Dirksen's.
MR. WARREN: Yes.
LAMB: What was his relationship first, though, with Herbert Hoover, the
MR. WARREN: Actually, they had no relationship at all, although he claimed to
have spoken with him. Charles Coughlin built his national reputation on
attacking Herbert Hoover and condemned his policies, his insensitivity to the
concerns of the Depression. And he was the first political figure that
Charles Coughlin used as a stepping stone to his own national fame. Hoover's
attitude toward World War II, though, brought them back together, ironically,
by the end of the '30s.
LAMB: Brought the two men back together?
MR. WARREN: Yes. They had similar views on the need to avoid any
entanglements in Europe. But certainly at first they were bitter enemies.
Hoover tried to find out how Coughlin was being supported and funded. There
were attempts to take him off the radio during the time that Hoover was
president. This was the first example, really, of an attempt to curb
Coughlin, under the Hoover administration. And this is an interesting story
in itself. The early days of radio there wasn't really a precedent. Charles
Coughlin was a pioneer of political radio, in terms of the advocacy that he
had of particular programs, ideas and even, at least indirectly, candidates.
LAMB: How did you get interested in this story?
MR. WARREN: Well, a couple of reasons. I was brought up in Detroit, raised
hearing about him, had actually heard him speak once. And I became fascinated
with the potential that this local boy had to become a world figure. When I
was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I thought I'd do a
dissertation. My department felt, though, that they were not interested in
case studies. And so in the early '60s I put it away, and then began studying
the Wallace movement. And I developed a view of...
LAMB: Henry Wallace?
MR. WARREN: George Wallace.
MR. WARREN: I developed a view of a kind of distinct politics. We don't
really have any category. We have conservatives and liberals, left and right.
And I began to see George Wallace, as well as Charles Coughlin, presenting a
kind of distinct politics that combined left and right: a concern with the
elite exploiting the middle class, and a concern with ethnic minorities
sometimes seeming to gain power, with the middle class more or less squeezed
in the middle. I call these middle American radical politics. And I saw that
the George Wallace movement of the '70s really had an antecedent in Charles
Then I was given a an address that Coughlin had made, the tape and the
transcript. And I was fascinated to read one paragraph in the address. And
what Charles Coughlin said was that, `The middle class is being ground under
in the twin threats from above and below.' And I thought, `Well, this is very
contemporary. A lot of people are feeling that way in our country.' And
Charles Coughlin was the first to identify this kind of usually called
populist politics, but I see it as having populist elements but really perhaps
somewhat unique in itself.
LAMB: Anybody today that fits I mean, would you say can you put a name on
it that would be like Father Coughlin?
MR. WARREN: Well, not exactly. I would say, though, that this set of
political talk radio hosts that's been very active in the last few years would
carry on the tradition of the very vociferous commentary using this medium. I
would say that the third party developments that we've seen recently share
some of the need to ask the question, `Does the existing political structure
work?' And Coughlin said it didn't and that we needed to do something to
change that. I would say also that Charles Coughlin shifted ground, so that
if you were to call him a right winger, there's some validity to that. You
could call him a left winger; he attacked capitalism vociferously. And
Hoover, who was very angry at the very personalized attacks on him he he
then described Coughlin as one of the most dangerous leftist radicals in the
country. Coughlin later would see leftist politics as a great danger, and he
himself having quite opposite views.
LAMB: We're going to play an excerpt here in a minute from one of his radio
shows. But I noticed it in the back, when you list all the interviews, almost
all of them were done in the mid '80s.
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: How come?
MR. WARREN: Well, part of the reason this is a kind of biography that
shouldn't have been written and couldn't have been written in terms of the
conventional approaches of papers of the individual and all those materials.
I began trying to interview people who were still living, and I began that
process in the late '70s and early '80s. I had taught out at his high school,
which is a mile north. Our university, Oakland University, has extension
courses. And so I began interviewing in the early '80s as part of that effort
to try to reach anyone who was still alive who could give me some personal
insights on Charles Coughlin. And so for the next few years I tried to reach
as many of those people as I could.
LAMB: How many did you reach?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think there were about 130 or 140 persons that I
contacted and some extensive interviews, some telephone interviews. But it
was, I would say, in that vicinity of well over 100. And a number of these
were parishioners or people who had worked or known Coughlin. Some were his
bitter opponents who had gone back to the years of the '30s. I tried to get
a a spectrum of views on him. Very difficult. Some people were very
I remember arranging an interview with Bill Paley at CBS. CBS had put
Coughlin on for one year. It was a national contract, 1930. It had been
arranged because one of the advertisers on CBS was the owner of station WJR in
Detroit. He was also a General Motors car dealer, and his advertising was
noticed by CBS. And as a favor to Bill Paley, the contract was arranged.
Coughlin gave a bitter attack on the Versailles treaty that caused tremendous
controversy. And as a result of that, CBS tried to get out of the contract,
and it was terminated.
Well, I thought it would be important to try to pick up on the details of that
story. And Frank Stanton, who had been very helpful, had arranged this
interview with Bill Paley. And I recall going up to the CBS offices in New
York and passing a number of secretaries to the inner sanctum. And when I
sat down, he was very gracious. He welcomed me. And then I said `I'm here to
talk with you about Father Coughlin.' At that point his face changed in
demeanor. He said, `I have to ask you to leave. This is a subject I cannot
and do not wish to talk about.' And so rather unceremoniously I was escorted
out. And I think that reflected some of the still prevailing power that
Charles Coughlin had in the mid 1980s even, and up to the present day, for
those that had been involved with him in some way.
LAMB: Did you ever get an explanation on why Mr. Paley escorted you out?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think the whole question of anti Semitism and and
Charles Coughlin was such a looming question throughout his career that I
think Bill Paley felt that he didn't want to associate himself in any way with
LAMB: Let me just show the audience this. There's a I don't know, you can
explain what this is, but it it says, it says a lot there in few words.
MR. WARREN: Yes. Yes. This is a pamphlet that reprints a article that
appeared in Coughlin's Social Justice magazine. And throughout a good part of
his career he had the view that Jewish international bankers were undermining
capitalism and that, also, Jewish radicals were bringing Communism to our
shores as well as to Europe.. And so this was one of his dominant views.
LAMB: After you read your book, the first question you you kind of want to
ask is: How could someone be this anti Jewish and be a Catholic priest?
MR. WARREN: Well, there was a real contradiction there. And it was something
which partly was reflected in his network of people that he associated with,
all of whom shared these views. The church itself, of course, had condemned
anti Semitism, but it was part of sort of the popular culture in the '30s.
And while the church did condemn it officially, unofficially it was not
unusual for Catholic priests or persons from other denominations to carry a
rather significant set of ideas about the Jews and their inordinate influence
And Coughlin himself then tested, really, the limits of tolerance of his
bishop. He continued to broadcast speeches and talks. His bishop tried to
rein him in. At one point the Vatican was contacted, and the idea was to
clearly state to Coughlin that he was in violation of church teaching. And
such a reprimand was received by him. But his bishop, Cardinal Mooney at that
time, did not make this public. So what happened was these private
remonstrances against him for his anti Jewish attitudes never were public
enough so that even today many people in the Jewish community feel that the
church was not strong enough in condemning him. And he did have persons,
though, within the Catholic community that that agreed with his views. And
he proselytized these views very widely among his clerical associates and
anyone that he could reach.
LAMB: He spoke to the Democratic National Convention in 1932.
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes.
MR. WARREN: Well, this was part of his coming to the center stage with
Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt, through an intermediary, Frank Murphy, who was
mayor of Detroit at that time, later of course, Supreme Court justice and
attorney general Roosevelt had sent out feelers about Charles Coughlin. He
was tremendously popular by this time, 1932. And so a meeting was arranged,
and Coughlin agreed that he would support Roosevelt's campaign. And he was
invited as one of those persons to give a supportive speech. He coined one of
his marvelous phrases. He, in that speech, said, `My friends, it is either
Roosevelt or ruin.' Later he would change that to say, `Roosevelt and ruin.'
But it was the kind of talk that helped Roosevelt gain supporters among those
who saw Charles Coughlin and he as really forming a kind of partnership.
LAMB: How long did he live?
MR. WARREN: He died at the age of 88, 1979, long after his national fame had
LAMB: Did you ever talk to him?
MR. WARREN: Not personally. I heard him give a midnight mass in 1958.
Memorable. I'll never forget the appearance. Tremendously theatrical. This
was true, of course, throughout his whole career. I recall the exact words,
as a matter of fact. In 1958 he declared that, `I predict by the end of the
next year that blood will be running in the streets of Moscow, that the people
will rise up against their leaders.' Not quite accurate, but the power I
shall never forget the power of his presentation. And if we do hear some of
that from radio broadcasts, I think people will begin to understand.
LAMB: Where is Royal Oak, Michigan?
MR. WARREN: Royal Oak is a few miles north of Detroit. It's one of the
suburbs out Woodward Avenue, which is the main street going out toward the
suburbs. It was a town which was with had dirt roads and one main street.
And he set up a wooden church there in 1926, and with help from the bishop,
giving him the money to build that.
LAMB: Which church is this?
MR. WARREN: That's the original wooden structure.
LAMB: Still there?
MR. WARREN: No, it burned. They're not clear how it happened. It was
replaced by this magnificent stone structure that is depicted below.
LAMB: This thing here?
MR. WARREN: Yeah. You notice the octagonal design, which was completely
radical. The whole structure broke away from traditional Catholic style of
architecture. And in that sense he was a radical. And and his original
church he claimed that the Klan tried to stop its construction by burning a
cross on the lawn. This became one of the things that he used to identify
himself with tolerance; that he was always opposed to prejudice. And when I
tried to trace down this story, whether the Klan had really burned a cross on
the lawn, I couldn't find any evidence to support that early myth that he had
created about how he got into national politics.
LAMB: Is this shrine still there, and can you go visit it?
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes, indeed. Yeah. It's got some problems. It's sinking a
little bit, not quite like the Leaning Tower. But it's a magnificent
structure. And the parish, of course, still functions. There have been other
persons who have marched up the stairway to the tower where he had his private
office. It got to be dangerous, so they don't allow visitors up there because
of the insurance problem. I think a woman tripped at one point. But you can
go there. You can visit there's some memorabilia even that the shrine still
And there's a little bit of a story. I don't know if I brought this up in the
book. When he was retired and still at the shrine in the '50s, he was very
concerned with the pigeons who were sitting atop that magnificent structure.
And so he asked the groundskeeper, was it possible to get rid of those pigeons
that were besmirching the edifice. And he said, `I want you to do something
to get rid of them.' And he ordered the groundskeeper to take a rifle and
start shooting at those pigeons. The sheriff of Royal of the county came
over and told him, `You can't be shooting up there because the bullets are
landing out on Woodward Avenue into the traffic.'
LAMB: Let's listen to a little bit of a radio broadcast. Do you I think
this is '37?
MR. WARREN: Yes. April of '37, right. This was the 20th anniversary,
really, of the US involvement in World War I. And so his entire address is
devoted to the need to avoid such entanglements. And this is wh a a classic
speech where you can hear the style and the force of the voice.
LAMB: We're going to keep our mikes open, so if you want to comment, you can.
MR. WARREN: OK.
(Excerpt from April 1937 radio broadcast)
Father CHARLES COUGHLIN: ...obscene deaths created not out of the wealth of
the country for purposes of production, but out of the borrowing power of the
government from bankers whose institutions had been closed because their
vaults were empty, empty of everything practically, save a bottle of ink and a
fountain pen. And thus with their fountain pens and their ink, they began
writing out checks of billions of dollars. They began issuing these checks to
the United States government with little or nothing to back them. The United
States government in turn began to issue bonds to these bankers for those
worthless checks, bonds that contracted for you and for me to pay in real,
hard earned money by the sweat of our brows, not only their capital sum...
MR. WARREN: Classic Coughlin.
LAMB: Have you listened to a lot of him?
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes. There is an organization that distributes his radio
addresses. And I have a colleague who is doing some research on the
rhetorical style of those addresses.
LAMB: Why would someone sell his radio addresses today?
MR. WARREN: Well, they feel that he has been pushed aside as a figure; that
he has something important to say, and they're keeping alive his ideas. And
they believe strongly that his voice was a voice appropriate to America.
LAMB: He was silenced for 25 years by the Catholic Church. How?
MR. WARREN: Complicated process. There's some myths about it. It was
really a combination of his own actions and the church. He had begun to have
contacts with Nazi Germany. He had made contacts before with Fascist Italy.
He had actually written letters to Benito Mussolini offering his help for
his Mussolini's economic policies. So by the end of the '30s there were
examples of his staff and people who'd made contact with the German
government. And his closest aide, Louie Ward, had actually been a working on
behalf of the Japanese government as an unpaid as a paid agent of a foreign
power. And the legislation passed in 1938 said if you don't register, you're
liable for fines or imprisonment. So the federal government was finding out a
number of things about his contacts.
In addition, the church was just appalled by what he was doing, and the
attempts to restrain him were complicated. When there was a there was a
private meeting, an unscheduled meeting, with Franklin Roosevelt and Cardinal
Mooney, sort of warning the cardinal that, `There's quite a file building up.
Why don't you try to do something? It would be much better if the church
itself could take care of its own errant' as Cardinal Mooney referred to
him `this bad boy.' And so there was an effort to have some ecclesiastical
And there were several fiery meetings between the attorney for Charles
Coughlin and the bishop. Coughlin in these meetings threatened to pull
millions of his followers out of the church. But he was afraid that he might
have to go to jail, and he warned the cardinal as well that, `If I go to jail,
you would have to testify, and if you give me the ecclesiastical punishment,
that will ensure that I will have a secular punishment because my character
would be vulnerable.'
So a kind of elaborate arrangement was worked out, a private understanding
that if Charles Coughlin would was would withdraw from any kind of political
activity, that he could continue on at the shrine; there would be no civil
punishment; there would be no ecclesiastical punishment. But he would no
longer be able to speak on directly political matters, that he could not
organize movements and could not be part of any political activity. And so
in May of 1942 he signed this agreement. And until he died in 1979, the next
37 years, he was not active in the way that he was before.
He did write, however. He wrote several books bitter condemnations of the
church. But by then he was long forgotten, and only a few hundred of his
closest friends and associates would know of his work. And he continued to
rail against what he saw as the deterioration of American society. He had a
number of views on well, Joe McCarthy, for example, who he thought was a
positive force; John Kennedy he supported him for president, although
apparently there were real concerns in the Kennedy campaign that Charles
Coughlin would openly express that support. And so they quietly suggested to
him, `Say nothing about your enthusiasm for John Kennedy.' So right till the
end of his life he spoke and wrote and was, though, no longer a figure on the
LAMB: How often was he on the radio?
MR. WARREN: Weekly.
LAMB: And for how long?
MR. WARREN: Weekly, beginning in the fall of 1926, urged on by a group of his
friends and WJR's owner to try it out. Received a few letters the first time.
So from 1926 until 1940 that would be 14 years he was on the radio at least
once a week, although not in the summer. His season would begin in the fall
and run through to the spring.
LAMB: What time of night?
MR. WARREN: Well, it would usually be in the afternoon and would vary across
the nation. It would start at three. And there would be not necessarily
rebroadcasts; these were live. He wouldn't repeat them. But what he would do
is these would be they had these old fashioned kind of discs that they could
transcribe. And so for the West Coast, some of those were transcribed. But
it was every afternoon at three on Sunday.
LAMB: How long?
MR. WARREN: Oh, usually an hour. And it would begin with organ music, a
very religious theme. The announcer would now introduce him. He would then
give a sermon, which would be religiously focused, but then very quickly turn
to a controversial political matter of the day.
LAMB: And were they sponsored?
MR. WARREN: He had his own network. After the CBS experience, he put
together, through his agent, contracts with up to 60, I think it was at one
point 60 separate local stations, including New York, Washington, all the
major areas. And through his agent they arranged for the contracts. And they
were paid by contributions coming from listeners, although technically he
wasn't allowed to do this and the announcer would not specifically ask for a
solicitation. It was just understood that if you liked and enjoyed these
broadcasts, that you might fold up a dollar bill and that was the very common
way that it was done and just send it on to the shrine. You might get a
booklet in return or some acknowledgment so that it wasn't really directly
supporting the radio broadcast.
LAMB: And how big was his audience at the biggest moment?
MR. WARREN: Well, Brian, this is a question that's still debated. I would
say in the early '30s it looks like an estimate of 30 million to 40 million
is not impossible. Later on, by the late '30s, it was down to five million to
10 million, and at the very end, probably no more than a million and a half to
LAMB: And in those years, no television. So what kind of what kind of
con I mean, s how many people would be in this country in 1930?
MR. WARREN: Oh, about 120 million.
LAMB: So he had a third of the country listening to him.
MR. WARREN: Well, that's an underestimate, really, because if you went to
many of the neighborhoods in the major cities, and let's say you didn't have a
radio, but your neighbor did, you could simply walk down the street and you
could hear his voice reverberating. And this was very common in many of the
neighborhoods in New York and Boston. So that people were listening in
groups, they were listening at the local barber shop, they were listening in
homes and, of course, he had his newspaper as well. So I think that he was
reaching an audience that was made up of the majority of the country at one
LAMB: You tell about a meeting that he had with well, first of all, you say
he exaggerated on about all the meetings he had. You might want to explain
MR. WARREN: Indeed, yeah. Well, you know, his character here is is very
contradictory. He is a person of enormous energy, enormous talent and, also,
of enormous sales personality, which meant that whatever he says, you have to
take with a grain of salt. There was a book written, and any of the
interviews that he held with people and I've interviewed some of the people
that interviewed him all say that he would change what he said from one day
to the next. He was a great storyteller. And so he's not a reliable reporter
on his own activities or of others. And so you have to see, though, that in
his approach to anything he was always larger than life.
LAMB: What about the FDR story? I what I've got here is a picture I I
think, if I remember right, he went to this house.
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes. The...
LAMB: Is that the Great is this the Great Barrington house?
MR. WARREN: Yeah. This is the Kelon, yeah. Francis Kelon, yeah, one of his
backers. Fascinating story. I ran across Francis Kelon's sister and was able
to talk with her in New York City. She was quite ill. It was near the end of
her life and see, this this Francis Kelon actually, his whole career, much
of it was in shadow. Many of the things about his immediate backers, his
circle of supporters, really not known. And I was fascinated by how he had
the funds to start the third party. And so I learned that Francis Kelon was a
key figure and I searched the telephone directories of cities and finally ran
across Joanna Kelon in New York City and talked with her. And her brother
owned a number of homes. He was very wealthy. He'd been a Wall Street had a
seat on Wall Street. And this was one of the homes up in Great Barrington.
And when he was...
MR. WARREN: Right. When he was putting together the individuals that would
form the third party cobble, he used Francis Kelon's home. And the local
paper up there had done several stories, and those were the first newspaper
coverage that I'd seen of the Kelon Estate and there was this interview where
he was in this library of the home and he was leaning against the wall talking
with the local reporters only. He didn't allow any of the national media in.
And they wrote a story saying that here the famous Charles Coughlin has come
to our city and he's going to form a new party, and he feels that that party
is going to challenge the existing establishment. So the home itself has
another facet to it.
Joanna told me that her brother and Charles Coughlin, as well as other
guests, would frequently come there and imbibe rather fully in the
evenings and that Coughlin really was the co owner of the home. And
this was not really known.
LAMB: Paid for by the money that he collected on the radio show?
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes. He he had various accounts. He was very sophisticated
in in setting up various non profit organizations for various purposes. The
story she told me was that there was a a miniature shrine put into the back
of the bookshelf in this library. And with the press of a button, the
bookshelf would open up and there would be this altar. And she told stories
that frequently Father Coughlin or others would pray at the altar in a in a
less than sober state. Rumors persisted during World War II that there had
been a Nazi transmitter behind the wall, and when I went to visit the home in
the late 1980s, I was able to ask could we take a look behind the bookshelves.
Indeed, there was a space there, but there wasn't any transmitter and no
LAMB: Who was Francis Kelon?
MR. WARREN: A a Wall Streeter who had gained and lost a fortune several
times, was a figure then who from the beginning of Coughlin's national career
backed him politically, funded the third party and continued to be a funder
for Coughlin's Social Justice publication, which began in 1936.
LAMB: At the height of and how big was the Social Justice publication? How
often was it published?
MR. WARREN: Weekly. Kind of a newspaper, tabloid we'd call it now, probably
at its peak, a half a million. Again, Coughlin exaggerated, said it had a
million or more circulation. At the end, it wa it had a circulation of about
150,000, 200,000. This would be in 1942. That was one of the specific
understandings reached that Social Justice would cease publication. The
federal government actually was very upset about the content once we were in
the war after Pearl Harbor, because week after week it would be a withering
attack on what was happening with defense industries. We were losing, Britain
was losing and so forth.
LAMB: The FDR story I was telling you about is I remember you telling about
him going there and having a meeting and he and the president asked him to
stay over and he said no he had to go on. An it it do I remember that Joe
Kennedy was there with him?
MR. WARREN: Yes. Joe Kennedy had driven him there. Kennedy had actually
called Coughlin in Royal Oak and invited him and said, `The boss would like to
see you.' And so Coughlin took the train out to to Roosevelt's home and
Coughlin I I'm sorry, Kennedy picked him up at the airport and they both
drove to Poughkeepsie to meet with the president...
LAMB: You mean not the airport the airport or trans...
MR. WARREN: I'm sorry. The railroad station.
MR. WARREN: The it was interesting the timing. This was early September
of 1935, and Huey Long had been shot and was dying in the hospital. And as
Coughlin states it, he had the newspaper fresh off from the railroad station
and he brought it up to FDR and said, `Your boy is dead.' I don't know;
that's apocryphal, there's no confirmation. There were no minutes of the
meeting. But Joe Kennedy was there and this was the last time that Roosevelt
really seriously attempted to try to work out some sort of understanding with
Coughlin before there was a final break later that year.
LAMB: Did Joe Kennedy go with him then to Great Barrington to start planning
the third party? Was he involved in that?
MR. WARREN: No. He wasn't. He avoided that.
LAMB: But you do have a picture here of three men, including Father Coughlin
there on the left. I guess it's on the right if you're looking at the screen.
MR. WARREN: Yes.
LAMB: Who are these three men?
MR. WARREN: Well, Gerald L.K. Smith is in the middle, having his hair rustled
by ruffled by Coughlin. He was a Protestant minister who had been very close
to Huey Long. He was he considered himself sort of Long's heir apparent.
LAMB: Was he also his bodyguard?
MR. WARREN: Yes, he was his bodyguard, and, of course, Long had set up these
share the wealth clubs, which were grass roots organizations trying to have
this radical tax reform, where funds from persons who made more than $1
million were to be put into a a giant fund to be distributed. Smith then
allied himself with Coughlin in this third party as one of the triumvirate.
The person on the other side of the photograph is Doc Townsend, who had
formed, again, grass roots organizations dealing with the old age pension plan
that he had set up, and the Townsend Clubs were concerned with getting
something that we now see in the form of Social Security. So these three
formed a very uneasy alliance, with a lot of backbiting and not very much
LAMB: I also remember in the middle of all this reading that Huey Long had a
proposal that, if you made more than $8 million, you you were taxed 100
MR. WARREN: That's right. Yeah, it was a confiscatory plan.
LAMB: Did it ever come close to getting passed?
MR. WARREN: No, it didn't, and it there were various versions of this. I
don't know the plan was that concrete. It was one of those sort of
shibboleths that were put out often by a political figure like Huey Long to
draw himself to the people, and then, when the details would be spelled out,
they would change from day to day.
LAMB: You say that th there's a lot of names in here that pop up in
conjunction with Father Coughlin. Ezra Pound.
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: How? Who was he, and what was that relationship?
MR. WARREN: Well, an American poet who became an expatriate, lived his life
mainly in fascist Italy. He was a literary figure of some note and still
is, but who had deep anti Semitic views. He would see Coughlin as one of the
people taking political action in the United States to support the reform of
the tax system to get rid of the influence of Jews, and Pound himself wrote
letters to Coughlin encouraging him, sent some money supporting him; and, of
course, Coughlin himself had a standing among what were called sort of `The
funny money crowd.'
Social credit in Canada, for example, was one example, where the whole notion
of the faults of the capitalist system had to do with the way in which money
was controlled for example, the Federal Reserve system. This view was that
the Federal Reserve doesn't really do anything at all, but creates sort of
phony money, and that what you needed to do was to have a currency tied to
And also there was a long tradition of viewing modern capitalism, with its
interest as an element of normal business exchange, really being antithetical
to Catholic thought and to the height of the perfect or a much better economic
system which was present during the medieval period. So a number of Catholic
intellectuals and others were attracted to some sort of monetary reform, and
some of it led to efforts such as in Canada to try this out. And in the
United States, we never did, but there were people who were sympathetic to
this view internationally, and Coughlin was one of the figures in that crowd.
LAMB: Philip Johnson. There's a building not very far from here that he
designed. He I think he's still alive. He's in his 90s?
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes. He is, indeed.
LAMB: Yeah, and you talked to him?
MR. WARREN: Yes, I did interview him, and very interesting that he had, of
course, himself formed his own political party in 1934, with the uniforms,
the the sort of fascist style uniforms. He was rather wealthy and was
interested in what he called national socialism as something worth trying.
LAMB: That was the Nazi party.
MR. WARREN: Yes. He had traveled every summer. He traveled to Europe, was
very deeply impressed by Hitler's speeches and what was happening in Germany
in terms of bringing the society together, as he saw it, and when Father
Coughlin sort of sent a call out to talented people to work with him on the
third party, Philip Johnson was one of those who answered the call. He helped
organize rallies. There was this huge, fantastic rally in Chicago, where the
motorcycle police of the Chicago Police Department led the way to Soldiers
Field, and Coughlin gave one of these rousing addresses, and Philip Johnson
helped set that up and organize it, and so he worked as a a party activist;
and then later he wrote some dispatches from Europe for Charles Coughlin's
Social Justice newspaper.
LAMB: When did you talk to him?
MR. WARREN: I believe I interviewed him in 1984.
LAMB: What was his attitude then about all this?
MR. WARREN: Well, his attitude was that he really felt that we needed a
strong leader like Hitler, and he thought Coughlin was that leader, but he
found out that Coughlin did not have the political will. What he told me was
very fascinating. He broke with Coughlin not because of some of his ideas,
but he felt that Coughlin was not genuine and not committed. And, for
example, during the '30s, Coughlin was compared to one of the figures that was
Kate Smith, at the time, who had this marvelous voice, "God Bless America,"
but she was just that, a voice, and didn't have any other credibility in terms
So Philip Johnson began to think that Charles Coughlin was just a voice
without any real commitment and, disappointed, he left him. He had advised
Coughlin to leave the Catholic Church, and Coughlin said, `You want me to do a
Martin Luther?' And so Coughlin, of course, didn't, and Philip Johnson did,
though, have continue to have some association with him, as I said.
LAMB: You also have an interview and some quotes, especially back in the
notes, with James Coelho, who is a sitting federal communications commissioner
in this town...
MR. WARREN: Jim Coelho, yes. Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: ...has been there for a long time, and used to work at WJR Radio.
MR. WARREN: Yes. Wonderfully helpful, had some great anecdotes, really,
about the station and the time. He was not a sympathizer or a supporter, but
he was right involved at the time when Coughlin was making his broadcasts from
WJR. He told me stories about Dick Richards, George Richards, who was the
owner of WJR, and who had been the one to bring Coughlin to the attention of
CBS, and he told me stories about the imperiousness of his boss, who, like
Coughlin, was a very authoritarian style personality.
So Coelho was right there having to deal with all of the problems of a very
controversial radio program, and he gave me some insights, though, in terms of
the atmosphere at WJR at that time, which would not, for example, hire Jews;
that George Richards was deeply and fanatically anti Roosevelt; and later on,
in the 1940s and '50s, some of the most elaborate FCC cases involved the
licensing of WJR because Dick Richards more or less tried to dictate, in an
editorial way, everything that was done on the news programs, and slanting it
very much in terms of his direction. It led to a whole series of cases.
Finally, Richards died before this was all resolved, but it makes a lot of
case history there with the communications issue.
LAMB: In a moment I want to run a little more...
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...of the radio show that was recorded in 1937. You hear some strange
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: I know you refer to it in the book that he was he an Irishman and did
he did he affect the Irish brogue from time to time?
MR. WARREN: People think so. He stretched out his O's, and when he
pronounced Versailles, he would pronounce it Versailles. He had his own special kinds of pronunciations, and
there was probably some affectation to this to reinforce the brogue.
Charles Coughlin was one of these people that was always on stage. So, for
example, as you and I are talking here, he would sound exactly the same way,
as if he were addressing thousands of people, and he would come out with that
very elaborate style. Coughlin also was someone who really knew how to reach
people in terms of any issue that they might respond to.
LAMB: Why don't we listen to a little bit. Again, the mike's open if you
want to comment as we're listening.
MR. WARREN: Sure.
Mr. CHARLES COUGHLIN (WJR Radio): (From radio recording) ...until Congress
begins to coin and to regulate the value of money. We have endeavored to
teach you time and again that there can be no coming out of this depression
until what you earn goes to sustain your wife and your children. But somehow
or other, you're satisfied to sustain the wives and children of those who do
the coining and regulating of money, who live in their palaces and travel in
their yachts. You want that. You voted for that. You herald that. And it's
time that you take that.
MR. WARREN: The style here is very impressive. You can see what he does.
He stands back from the microphone so that the effect is if you're at a large
meeting, and he learned that strategy early. Then he also softens the voice
and comes close to give that intimate tone. And so he could play, really like
the notes of a piano, his voice and the audience, and he's just brilliant at
LAMB: Where would he do this?
MR. WARREN: Well, he would do it in a regular studio. I mentioned the
tower, but he seldom broadcast from that. So it was a regular radio studio
down in in the fisher building, the golden tower, and that's where the
broadcasts would emanate from. They would sometimes be telephoned or by wire
from his shrine office out to the WJR studio.
LAMB: You have in the notes, you have a quote from somebody named Murray
Levin (pronounced LEV IN) or Levin (pronounced LE VIN) from `The talk radio:
an American dream,' whatever that is.
MR. WARREN: Oh, yes, yeah.
LAMB: And I just want to read it. It says you say he he points out that
the medium could serve as a Democratic forum, but instead, quote, "The host is
a professional talker and manipulator. Political talk radio is structured by
the ideology of the host."
MR. WARREN: Yes.
LAMB: Is that today?
MR. WARREN: I think there are a number of examples of that.
LAMB: Can you name us some?
MR. WARREN: Well, rather than naming individuals, what I would say is that
almost every city, and even some small towns, have a radio figure whose
political views are are very strongly voiced and slanted, and that this makes
for exciting and often marketable commentary. And so we have developed this
as a basic institution, and we have those persons who are now picking up some
of the elements of the Coughlin pioneering effort, in the sense that he did
not attempt to give a balanced view. He was not concerned with that. He was
concerned with driving home certain views.
And I think we've come to see that. And it has entertainment value. There's
no question some people listened to Coughlin really not for the ideas, but
that marvelous voice and the excitement that he could bring of a very
controversial statement, a statement that would be offensive, but you just
enjoyed hearing someone challenge and break out of the establishment, and
certainly Coughlin tried to do that.
LAMB: You tell me if I'm wrong you seem to avoid wanting to name somebody
either on the radio today or even you referred to a third party earlier...
MR. WARREN: Yes.
LAMB: ...rather than naming somebody like Ross Perot.
MR. WARREN: Yeah.
LAMB: Are you avoiding that on purpose? I mean, do you want to do you not
want to make this a political thing?
MR. WARREN: Well, I think that it's important to recognize really the ideas
that Coughlin was promoting, which was that there's an economic elite in the
society that is manipulating the society, and that many of the organized
minorities in the society are able to get the ear of those elites, and that
the middle class suffers. So I would say that we have a variety of political
figures who build on that theme. And rather than naming any given individual,
I'd have to start with George Wallace and say that he really was the figure
who developed this middle American radical theme, and we've had a number of
people who have picked up on that because it is a view held by a number of
people, and I I think it's important, rather than even to look at the
speakers, is to look at the audience.
In America today, we have and at the time that Coughlin was speaking people
who were demanding to be heard, who felt powerless, who felt angry, were
looking to blame, and they don't hear anyone that is, let's say, in the
established parties who seems to be voicing their concerns, and so they turn
to others, and Coughlin was one of those, and we have several nowadays.
LAMB: You have a picture in here I showed it earlier in the program; I just
wanted to ask you to explain it before we run out of time of Father
Coughlin on his knees kissing the ring of what priest?
MR. WARREN: This is His Bishop Michael Gallagher. Gallagher is just
returning from a visit to the Vatican which was occasioned by the very severe
criticism that Gallagher was receiving from the church hierarchy about
Coughlin moving into politics and forming a third party and calling the
president of the United States anti God and a liar. And so Bishop Gallagher,
who was in a sense in a father son relationship with Charles Coughlin, was
called to the Vatican for a variety of reasons, but that was one of the main
elements. And in a sense, he was called to task: `Can you go back and really
now do something about your errant priest?' And so when Gallagher comes off
the boat in New York, Coughlin is there to meet him, and then this scene takes
place just out of view, I think, of the mass waiting at the dock.
LAMB: Were there a lot of priests around Father Coughlin back in the diocese
of Detroit that agreed with what he was saying in those days?
MR. WARREN: There were a number, and there still are.
LAMB: Still are?
MR. WARREN: Yes. I interviewed several priests that feel that he was
speaking the truth, that he was speaking things that need to be said.
LAMB: Like what?
MR. WARREN: Well, the view in terms of money control by a conspiracy
involving Jews, and the view that, really in our society, that there is no
real democracy, that both political parties are under the control, if not of
Jews directly, then of the `economic royalists,' as Coughlin would have put it
in those days.
LAMB: Do you consider this to be anti Semitic?
MR. WARREN: Definitely, yes. It is a reflection of a longstanding view that
takes us back, really, to the earliest roots of anti Semitism, in which, while
there's a religious base for it, there is also an economic base, in terms, and
a cultural base, and this these are all elements of anti Semitism for the
last century and a half.
LAMB: Here's a picture of Father Coughlin, off there on the right, and
Douglas MacArthur, with his back to us.
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes. MacArthur had just delivered a speech in downtown
Detroit and drove out to the shrine. MacArthur, of course, had explored
running for president in 1948, and Charles Coughlin supported that candidacy,
and so they did see eye to eye on some issues. Father Coughlin greatly
admired MacArthur, and MacArthur in turn admired Father Coughlin. And so this
is a scene caught where they had a chance to shake hands.
LAMB: Unemployment rate in 1933, you say, was 24.9 percent.
MR. WARREN: Yes, and the rate drops, but then rises again toward the end of
the '30s, again into high double digits.
LAMB: What do you think most people listening to Father Coughlin really liked
MR. WARREN: Well, I think there are two things. First of all, that he seemed
to be speaking to their fears and their anxieties that we'd never pull out.
And he was saying, in effect, `The New Deal isn't going to help us out. It's
not enough. It's not radical enough. It's not doing enough for the average
person.' And so he continued to hold onto those people who feel they hadn't
been helped yet by the New Deal. So I think the Depression clearly is
The other thing is I I think more of a social psychological dynamic, that
wonderful voice that simply exudes confidence and power at a time when many
people were feeling confused and feel that they themselves didn't count
anymore. The society was becoming a mass society, and change was happening so
rapidly, and they did not feel that they were able to express themselves, and
he could do it.
LAMB: You also had a fairly long explanation about a lawsuit that he was
involved in and an an alleged affair.
MR. WARREN: Well, Charles Coughlin's private life is a subject which a
number of people spoke to me about in interviews, and I felt that, rather than
deal with speculation, the only incident that did come up had to do with Drew
Pearson, and this is an interesting chapter. Pearson aired a story on
LAMB: First, for those who don't remember him...
MR. WARREN: Yes.
LAMB: ...who was Drew Pearson?
MR. WARREN: Well, he was a columnist and a radio commentator of the '30s and
'40s, tremendous audience.
LAMB: Jack Anderson's partner.
MR. WARREN: Yes, that's right, and very controversial, and he often had
tidbits of inside information, and this was one of those tidbits that he
shared, that Father Coughlin was having had had an affair, which came up in a
tax case. The defendant in the tax case had a $50,000 sum of money which he
was attempting to declare, but the Internal Revenue Service was concerned with
the source of that income, and he finally said it was for alienation of
affection, and he named Father Coughlin; and Father Coughlin had to testify in
court, denied the charges. The wife of the person who was under indictment,
she denied it. I interviewed her many years later. She continued to deny it.
Drew Pearson then the wrath of the Catholic Church came down on him. This
LAMB: On Drew Pearson?
MR. WARREN: Yes. They said this was malicious and unfounded. He nearly
lost his sponsor because of this, and he tried with every means at his
disposal to have private investigators track this down, and they did find some
information. But after several lawsuits brought against Drew Pearson, they
were withdrawn finally. Pearson continued on for a while, and the matter, to
my satisfaction, has never been completely resolved, but it reflects the fact
that, at the time, even bringing up these kinds of charges against a religious
figure were simply something that one didn't do.
LAMB: Now you interviewed Tyler Abel, his son in law.
MR. WARREN: Yes, yes.
LAMB: What did he tell you about all of this? What's where's what's his
position on this?
MR. WARREN: Well, he he remembers that Drew Pearson was deeply hostile to
Coughlin, and that Charles Coughlin and these suits had caused Pearson to
experience great anguish. And it was Tyler who, though, gave me access to
some of Drew Pearson's papers.
LAMB: You said earlier you went to the University of Michigan.
MR. WARREN: Yes. Mm hmm.
LAMB: What, for grad school?
MR. WARREN: Yes, grad school. I went to Wayne State for grad school as
well, in Detroit, and then on to U of M, getting degrees in political science
first and sociology.
LAMB: And you teach at Oakland University?
MR. WARREN: Yes, north of Detroit, right.
LAMB: What's that school like?
MR. WARREN: This is a medium sized university. We have the full array of
programs. It's been growing. It is one of those sort of medium sized
universities. And I'm in the department of sociology and anthropology.
LAMB: What do you teach?
MR. WARREN: I teach a course on community, ethnic relations and the basics.
LAMB: How long you been there?
MR. WARREN: Nearly 20 years.
LAMB: And before we close, where's this picture from?
MR. WARREN: That's taken when he was engaged in one of his third party
rallies in 1936.
LAMB: The Union Party.
MR. WARREN: Yes. National Union for Social Justice had been formed a year
before, and it was his grass roots lobbying organization.
LAMB: This is what the cover of the book looks like. As you can see there,
there's Father Coughlin. The book's called "Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin,
the Father of Hate Radio." And Donald Warren has been our guest, and we
thank you very much.
MR. WARREN: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.