On the fiftieth anniversary of Joseph McCarthy?s charges of Communist subversion, Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia held a symposium that was broadcasted nationwide by C-SPAN. The event, keynoted by Arthur Herman, author of Joseph McCarthy: The Life and Legacy of America?s Most Hated Senator, asked why McCarthy has yet to be reassessed. The answer it seems is that scholars and journalists would rather forgo rethinking McCarthy in light of the newly declassified information because it bolsters his credibility.
In his day, McCarthy?s tax-returns were illegally made public by journalists. Columnist Drew Pearson placed a paid spy in the Senator?s office. A Las Vegas newspaper gleefully predicted McCarthy?s assassination. Journalists Ronald May and Jack Anderson were accused of manufacturing quotes to make McCarthy look bad. McCarthy of course didn?t take this lying down. He organized a boycott of Drew Pearson?s radio sponsors. He sued the Syracuse Post-Standard for libel and won. When he was defamed on the airwaves he demanded equal time and usually got it.
The amusing story of Paul Hughes has been somehow forgotten by journalists. Hughes was a confidence man who convinced the Washington Post that he had infiltrated McCarthy?s office and that he had evidence of major law-breaking. Democratic leaders paid Hughes more than $10,000 for the information and the Post prepared a twelve-part series on the allegations, which included a bizarre tale about McCarthy stockpiling weapons in the basement of the Senate. The Post and others believed that McCarthy was preparing a coup. Nine months after he began to feed the Washington Post absurdities about McCarthy, Paul Hughes was revealed as a fraud. The Post physically destroyed the articles that they were about to print.
Edward R. Murrow?s famous March 1954 “See It Now” program, which spliced clips of McCarthy giggling or stumbling over words, is often characterized as the beginning of the end for McCarthy. Yet it is an earlier program, in which Murrow attacked McCarthy for going after Army code clerk Annie Lee Moss, that deserves comment. We now know that McCarthy was right about Moss. The Communist Party?s own records showed her to be a member. Yet Murrow?s false report is still praised.
“Several of Joe McCarthy?s legacies were beneficial,” Edwin Bailey, emeritus dean of Berkeley?s Graduate School of Journalism, wrote, “and one of them was the redefinition of the principle of objectivity.” Bailey specifically refers to the practice of reporters inserting opinions in place of facts in news stories. A “beneficial” legacy? I dissent. It is because reporters slanted their stories then that we are only now finding out the extent of domestic subversion in that era.
Many of McCarthy?s specific charges have been proven correct. Take the example of Mary Jane Keeney, a State Department and UN employee, who was one of McCarthy?s first cases. Decoded spy cables, as well as Keeney?s own diaries, prove that Keeney was a Soviet agent. McCarthy was right about Keeney and many others. With all of this new information, journalists are likely to set the record straight, right? Don?t hold your breath.