Accuracy in Media

The release of 50-year-old hearings conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy gave the media another opportunity to charge that the Wisconsin Senator made reckless charges about communists that destroyed the lives of innocent people. M. Stanton Evans, a scholar on the subject, contacted reporters for Roll Call newspaper, the Washington Post and Reuters in a fruitless attempt to get the name of one innocent victim of McCarthy. They told him to contact Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian who edited the hearings and appeared on several shows to talk about them. Ritchie told Evans to send him a letter.

One of those appearances came on a Fox News show hosted by John Gibson, who said McCarthy was a drunk who “went around the bend” and who had a list of 1000 alleged communists that was “bogus, completely bogus, right?” Ritchie responded that McCarthy did find communists and security risks “from time to time” but no espionage agents or subversion.

McCarthy had actually cited 59 suspected communists in the State Department, and he produced that list, plus 22 others. McCarthy helped uncover a communist spy ring involving foreign service officer John Stewart Service and Phil Jaffe, the editor of a pro-communist magazine. He targeted Owen Lattimore, a key State Department adviser and communist. McCarthy’s charge against Mary Jane Keeney, a State Department, U.N. employee and Soviet agent, was proven correct. McCarthy was right about Annie Lee Moss, an Army Code Clerk who was a member of the Communist Party.

Ken Ringle, in a Washington Post story about the new release of the hearings, still insisted that Annie Lee Moss was “a frail file clerk in the State Department who had no idea who Karl Marx was?” He and John W. Dean, in a column posted by, made the claim that the derogatory term “McCarthyism” was coined by Washington Post cartoonist Herblock. But Herbert Romerstein, an expert on the Communist Party and Soviet espionage, points out that the term was introduced by the Communist Party to discredit the movement to root communists out of government.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times insisted that, “Historians who have reviewed the documents [the hearings] say they do not support McCarthy’s theories that, in the 1950s, Communist spies were operating at the highest levels of government.” But the John Stewart Service spy ring also involved Laughlin Currie, an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, and they succeeded in manipulating U.S. foreign policy to enable the communists to seize China. Other top communists in government included Harry Dexter White at the Department of the Treasury and, of course, Alger Hiss of the State Department, a founder of the U.N.

Joel Brinkley in the New York Times said McCarthy did not hesitate “to destroy reputations and lives.” In fact, some in the media wanted to destroy McCarthy. The Washington Post was preparing to publish major allegations of illegal conduct against McCarthy until it realized at the last minute that its major source was a con man. The coverage hasn’t changed that much over the years.

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