One could spend all his waking hours trying to unsnarl the
multiple misconceptions and outright lies about Senator Joe McCarthy that have
been spread over the last half century. But since the latest to distort and
beat down history appeared in a conservative (on economic and PC issues)
newspaper, here we go again.
Wrong right out of
Even on some of the most basic points, a Wall Street Journal op-ed is well wide of the mark.
“Fifty-four years ago today [April 22], Sen. Joseph McCarthy
started his televised hearings on alleged Soviet spies and communists in the
Army,” according to former WSJ and Washington Post reporter Ron Kessler. Then he inserts a fact. “The spectacle
grabbed the country’s attention for the next two months.”
In the first place the Army-McCarthy hearings, which did
begin in April of 1954, were not “started” by Senator McCarthy. They were
“started” by his enemies through direct pressure from the White House—in
collaboration with the then Senate Democrat minority—for the express purpose of
putting McCarthy on defense, and ending (not starting) his probe of the Army.
Officially, those hearings—over which McCarthy himself did not preside―were
called to sort out charges and counter-charges between McCarthy and the
Eisenhower administration. Ike’s people charged that McCarthy and his committee
counsel Roy Cohn had pressured the Army to grant special treatment to Army
Private David Schine, formerly an unpaid staffer for the Senate committee.
McCarthy, for his part, charged that the scenario was the
other way around―that the administration—through Army Counsel John Adams and
Army Secretary Robert Stevens―had tried to butter up Schine, Committee Counsel
Roy Cohn and―at first—McCarthy himself.
The administration’s goal in this schmoozing ploy was to lend weight to
the ongoing pressure on the senator to drop his investigation of communist
penetration of the Army. That investigation―separate and apart from the
Army-McCarthy hearings―indeed had been “started” by McCarthy―many months
There were communists there
As noted by M. Stanton Evans in his
thoroughly documented Blacklisted by
History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy, the senator’s enemies
were well aware of the fact that Senator McCarthy’s investigation had hit
pay-dirt, especially at Ft. Monmouth.
Nonetheless, Kessler asserts that in his hearings, “McCarthy
failed to substantiate his claims that communists had penetrated the Army.”
Evans shoots that one out of the water in his chapter “The Moles of Monmouth,”
wherein he names names—lots of them.
Here are a few Monmouth names (active remnants of the spy
ring operated by executed traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg) that McCarthy in
fact did “substantiate”:
Okun—suspended on loyalty grounds, reinstated by the Pentagon Loyalty Review
Board, which on several occasions ignored damaging information on security
by Monmouth officials of Red leanings “and outside activities…that made him a
security risk.” His clearance was suspended a week before McCarthy’s hearings.
Levitsky—used Julius Rosenberg as a reference in applying for his position.
Took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he and Rosenberg had been Communist
Party members together.
at Monmouth, then with a Communist union serving Monmouth workers—took the
fifth when asked by McCarthy about his espionage activities with members of the
Ruth Levine—in a
high position with the lab at Monmouth—took the Fourth and Fifth Amendments
when asked about conspiracy to commit espionage, underground meetings of the
Communist Party, and her membership in the Communist Party at the time she was
granted security clearance.
McCarthy also found evidence of sensitive information at
Monmouth ending up in Soviet hands. The Army told him to forget about it—that a
Soviet defector who made that claim had since recanted. McCarthy sent his
investigator James Juliana—a former FBI agent—to East Germany where he tracked down
the defector who stood by his story and had not recanted.
The late Senator Barry Goldwater revealed in his 1979
memoirs that his Democrat colleague Sen. Carl Hayden had told him that when the
Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1955, they quietly moved to
transfer highly sensitive work that had been going on at Ft.
Monmouth to a facility in Arizona. The reason the
move was made without publicity, Hayden explained, was that the Democrats did
not want to admit that McCarthy was right in his charge that Monmouth was
About the “205”
The WSJ piece retreads the tired old myth that McCarthy—in
his Wheeling, West Virginia speech in February of 1950—charged
there were 205 communists and spies in the State Department.
That misquote has been discredited so many times—from the
day after the speech until this very day—that it recalls the Goebbels theory
that a lie—if repeated often enough—becomes the “truth.” (That so many wildly
inaccurate assertions would appear in just this one article is breathtaking.)
What really happened
On the day of McCarthy’s Wheeling speech, a local reporter met the
senator at the airport. He asked for and got an advance copy. But McCarthy
warned Frank Desmond of the Wheeling-Intelligencer that what the reporter was
getting was a rough draft and that extensive edits would be made before
Two witnesses have sworn McCarthy did give Desmond that warning.
Later, Senate investigators—sent twice to Wheeling
by Democrat committees—verified McCarthy’s version. The Wisconsin senator
recalled that what he had actually said at Wheeling was that there were 57 persons in
the State Department “who were either card-carrying Communists or certainly
loyal to the Communist Party.”
That is the crucial half of the story that the WSJ writer
ignores. The half that he does include is that before the Wheeling
speech, legendary Chicago Tribune reporter Willard Edwards had
given McCarthy the 205 figure—on the basis of “more or less a rumor.” Edwards
was concerned because by then the AP had picked up the misreported Desmond
story and sent it to news outlets all over the nation.
That half of the story, if accurate, in no way contradicts
the other half, clearly indicating that Edwards’ pre-speech conversation with
McCarthy explains how the 205 figure made its way into the rough draft in the
first place (before being dropped prior to his actual delivery). To mention
the Edwards half without also recounting the first half qualifies as the kind
of half-truth often equated with falsehood.
Closed-door vs. open
Kessler points out that McCarthy called many more people to
testify behind closed-doors than were ultimately ordered to testify in public.
It is no deep dark secret that among the very reasons for
holding hearings in executive session before bringing witnesses before the
public is to make certain no one is unfairly tarnished; also to ensure that
people who have little or no useful relevant information to impart or who could
testify only as to classified or highly secret security matters do not end up
becoming part of the public record. This is generally accepted procedure on
Capitol Hill. It was not unique to McCarthy.
On this matter, the WSJ writer cites as an authority Senate
Associate Historian Donald Ritchie. Kessler quotes Richie as saying McCarthy
interviewed about 500 people in closed session and called about 300 people in
This column went back to the transcripts of the closed
session hearings of 1953 and 1954 which were released in 2003. I counted only
437 witnesses in that five-volume set of hearings, and that includes many
friendly witnesses (roughly 50-75) who either cooperated with the committee or
who testified on windup sessions of committee probes that preceded McCarthy’s
chairmanship or who appeared in connection with investigative hearings chaired
by another committee member and over which McCarthy did not preside. Stan Evans
says only about 30 of the unfriendly witnesses actually ended up in public
So if McCarthy nails witnesses in public, he’s “smearing
them [never mind the evidence].” If he questions them behind closed doors, he’s
conducting a “star chamber witch hunt.”
Can’t win under that scenario, and the senator’s critics
play the old game of “Heads I win, tails you lose.” But that—as Evans puts it
in his book—is how Joseph R. McCarthy—came to be Blacklisted by History.
article was originally posted by RenewAmerica.