RADIO PRIEST by Donald Warren


Charles Coughlin, the Father of Hate Radio
Email this review


 All the facts about one of the Depression era's most controversial and influential figures--but little understanding of his motives. Warren (Sociology and Anthropology/Oakland Univ.) could not have picked a better time to write a biography of Catholic priest and 1930s radio personality Charles Coughlin, perhaps the most notorious and influential American anti-Semite of the 20th century. Coughlin's message of left-wing economics and right-wing nativism is often cited as a model for Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, and his brilliant use of radio to mobilize millions of listeners earns him frequent comparisons to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. Warren provides a mass of detail about Coughlin gleaned from more than 20 years of interviews and research. He provides fresh information about the priest's troubled relationship with the Church hierarchy reaching all the way to Rome. He also attempts new explanations of why the US government decided not to indict Coughlin for sedition and offers a wealth of circumstantial evidence appearing to confirm the long-simmering charge that Coughlin took money from the Nazis. Sadly, what Warren fails to provide is the kind of human insight into an intriguing character that would have made this book much more compelling and valuable. Why, for example, did Coughlin continue on the self-destructive course of blaming Jewish conspirators for drawing America into WW II, even as an embarrassed Church and enraged government laid ever-tighter siege to his crumbling Detroit-based empire? Warren gives us all the details of Coughlin's 1942 downfall but none of the insight. How sad that this book that might have taught us so much about today's paranoid populism turned out to be of so little value. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 5th, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-82403-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996