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Mind you that this happened in the frigid early years of the Cold War, when the prospect of conflict with the USSR was not a militaristic fantasy. Thus the corporations that supported radio and the new medium of TV were hypersensitive to hints that they were aiding and abetting communism, at any level. Plain Talk, by naming names, put the media — and advertisers — on notice about the talent they chose to put on the air.

Mr. Everitt devotes considerable space to Laurence A. Johnson, a chain supermarket owner based in Syracuse, N.Y., whose interest in subversion was ignited by his daughter, Eleanor, whose husband had served with in the Marines during the war. When he was recalled to duty in Korea, Eleanor became “incensed by the connection she saw between Communist fronts at home, helping to promote sponsors’ products that she herself was buying.” She saw a connection between “some entertainers … and the Communist aggression that her husband was fighting overseas.”

So grocery mogul Johnson started his own organization, Counterattack, to push his daughter’s crusade. He made some dumb alliances, notably with Harvey Matusow, a one-time communist who became an informer, and whose charges, shall we say politely, did not always jibe with the truth. Johnson eventually made a fatal misstep by going after popular New York radio figure John Henry Faulk. Attorney Louis Nizer sued Johnson for libel, and won a whopping verdict in a case detailed in Faulk’s 1964 book, “Fear on Trial.”

In sum: A highly readable chronicle of a tumultuous period during which the cause of anticommunism suffered from mistakes that clever enemies were quick to exploit. Of course, the leftists who still worship Seeger and Guthrie probably have never heard the 1941 song quoted above. Treat them to a stanza or two should the occasion arise.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is