Eliot Janeway’s Secret
by John I. Johnson
ELIOT JANEWAY, who will be remembered by older National Vanguard readers as an unavoidable face and name on network television, the slick magazines, and even luxury goods advertisements 35 years ago, began his career as an “economic commentator” by positioning himself as an information source and insider during Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s. Unlike almost all figures from that era, he was still a media star and popular pundit well into the 1980s. He was a master, it was said, of attaching himself to “up-and-coming” people and “keeping himself relevant.” Playing a role as an old-line American in the nation’s elite, he was also a secret Jew.
His son, half-Jewish journalist and editor Michael Janeway (1940 – 2014), once a faculty member at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, director of its National Arts Journalism Program, editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe, executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and special assistant to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, wrote a book in 2004 entitled The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power From FDR to LBJ. It was reviewed in the New York Times by historian Michael Beschloss. In the book, Janeway tells of his father.
Eliot kept three secrets: he had been previously married; he had been a Communist; and he was descended from Lithuanian Jews, having changed his name from Jacobstein. Michael writes that of these three secrets, the one his father ”never — ever — discussed” was the third: ”Close friendships with Jews like Abe Fortas, Jerome Frank and Ed Weisl allowed for their ethnicity, and for problems involving their ability to maneuver politically that occasionally arose from it, but never for any question of his.”
Prohibited from a government job because of his Communist past, Eliot got his start by making useful friendships with powerful New Dealers; trafficking in information, strategy, favors and federal appointments; exploiting his inside knowledge for Time-Life; and, later, by publishing lucrative dopester newsletters. He used his connections to escape fighting in World War II, telling his son, ”I figured this was no war to get killed in.” (Michael writes, ”If not that war, then what war?”) Eliot gets Michael a summer job with Senator Lyndon Johnson and lets him listen in on his telephone conversations with the powerful . . .
What Eliot Janeway excelled at was keeping himself in the limelight and latching onto people who were going places. He did both of these things better and longer than most of the others in this book. During the 1970s and 80s, when men like Fortas and Cohen had faded into the past, the high-flying Janeway was starring in television commercials for Mazda and Glenfiddich Scotch and slipping economic ideas to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. (”He calls me up,” Governor Clinton told Michael in 1991, ”gives me a lot of advice. Some of it’s pretty good.”) Outsiders were impressed by the ”Edwardian splendor” of Eliot’s Manhattan town house, his Cadillac and driver. Michael writes that these symbols seemed ”a living monument” to his ”professional achievement, if you didn’t check the underpinnings and back bills.”
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