Erwin Knoll was an Austrian-born radical who served as Editor of The Progressive for 21 years. Knoll had an independent, contrarian streak that occasionally shocked The Progressive's conformist leftwing readers. "One of the joys of editing The Progressive," Knoll told an interviewer, "is we feel it's part of our job to offend our readers." Knoll supported the right of Nazis to march in the predominantly-Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. He opposed the impeachment of Republican President Richard Nixon (on grounds that keeping Nixon in office would foster more public distrust of the government). He accepted tobacco ads in the magazine. And he refused to endorse presidential candidates, or even to vote for President.
But what offended The Progressive's readers most was Knoll publishing anti-abortion views in the magazine. He published a long article by anti-war liberal Mary Meehan in which she argued that liberals, of all people, should want to defend the helpless, the weak and the innocent from being killed.
"The article by Meehan produced an avalanche of letters," wrote libertarian Nat Hentoff. "I have not seen such vitriol since Richard Nixon was president…. One of the infuriated readers said pro-life is only a code word representing the kind of neo-fascist, absolutist thinking that is the antithesis to the goals of the left."
Hentoff also noted that when Knoll published three tiny ads in The Progressive by an anti-nuclear, anti-abortion group called "Feminists for Life," one leftwing entity reacted by cutting off its funding of the non-profit magazine.
"There is a group called the Funding Exchange which is made up of foundations which are put into operation and headed by the scions of the rich," wrote Hentoff. "These are children who are trying to atone for their parents' rapaciousness by doing good. The children are liberals."
But, Hentoff continued, "The Funding Exchange was so horrified to see those three tiny ads that even though The Progressive is soundly pro-abortion, the Funding Exchange not only dropped the grant they had given the Progressive, but they made a point of telling Erwin Knoll that they were going to make sure that other foundations didn't give them any money either. I'm always intrigued at how few people understand that free speech encompasses a little more than the speech you like."
In 1979 Erwin Knoll decided to publish what remains perhaps the biggest contradiction in its ideology by The Progressive. This magazine is anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons and almost pacifist - except for its support of U.S. entry into World War II where America fought to save its endangered ally, the Soviet Union.
Nonetheless, Knoll decided to publish an article titled "The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It and Why We're Telling It." This article included a highly-detailed recipe telling any reader, third world dictatorship or would-be terrorist precisely how to manufacture an H-bomb many times deadlier than the atom bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The U.S. Government went to court and was granted an injunction by a Wisconsin federal judge prohibiting The Progressive from publishing this article on grounds that it caused a "clear and present danger" to the nation. This remains one of the few instances of "prior restraint" ever being imposed on the press by an American court. The resulting landmark legal case, U.S. v Progressive, was later rendered moot by the widely-read publication of this information outside the U.S.