The Media and Joseph McCarthy


Joseph Raymond McCarthy, was born in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, Nov.14, 1908, and died an alcoholic on May 2, 1957. McCarthy was best known for his attacks on alleged Communism especially in the Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower administrations. The extreme accusations by McCarthy and his followers lead to the phrase McCarthyism. This phrase is used in reference to the \'sensational and highly publicized personal attacks, usually based on unsubstantiated charges, as a means of discrediting people thought to be subversive.\'(Grolier, 1996)


Before February of 1950 Joseph McCarthy was not a good legislator. He gained the attention of the United States by stating that the State Department was \'riddled with card-carrying members of the Communist Party.\'(Rovere, 1959, p.128) McCarthy was very clever in the way he worked the media and was skilled in the art of public speaking. He used these abilities to latch on to the publics fears with communism in the eastern world. McCarthy bombarded the opposition with accusations and avoided giving proof; with these tactics McCarthy was able to gain many followers, especially Republicans. With the support of many Republicans, McCarthy accused the administrations of Roosevelt and Truman with \'twenty years of treason.\'(Grolier, 1996)


McCarthy was reelected in 1952 and immediately began directing accusations toward the Eisenhower administration from a new post as head of the Senate\'s Government Operations Committee and its permanent investigations subcommittee. McCarthy was eventually discredited by lack of evidence in his claims of Communist in the U.S. army, through the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. On December 2, 1954 the Senate voted to condemn him for \'conduct contrary to Senatorial traditions.\' The final vote was 67-22. After this any influence of Joseph McCarthy was insignificant. McCarthy was politically dead. (Ewald, 1984, p.381)


It is my intention to show that it was the media who was responsible for McCarthyism and the turmoil it caused as well as the eventual destruction of Joseph McCarthy’s political career in 1954.


McCarthy began his manipulation of the press by way of a speech given at the Lincoln Day dinner of the Ohio County Women\'s Republican Club at the McClure Hotel in Wheeling, West


Virginia on February 9, 1950. McCarthy later denied having said what he was quoted to have said in the speech. Apparently there was only one reporter present for the speech in Wheeling, so it\'s his word against McCarthy\'s. The statement quoted in the speech published in the Wheeling Intelligence in the story by Frank Desmond, read as follows,


‘While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of the State as being members of the Communist party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.’ (Bayley, 1981, p.17)


This story is what is responsible for starting McCarthyism. Later McCarthy said the number he gave in his speech was not 205 but 57. The fact is that Desmond had a written copy of the speech before McCarthy gave it, but he could have changed the number to 57 when he actually presented the speech. Regardless, the number 57 would have been just as shocking as 205. There are many ways that the media could have handled this speech, one being asking to see the list. If he had, things may have been different, for as McCarthy said himself \'what he held in his hand was the Byrnes letter, not a list.\'(Bayley, 1981, p.24) If Desmond had reported that McCarthy was holding a letter, not a list, the newspapers would have handled the story much differently. A letter from one person to another, which suggests unfit employees, would have made much less news than the illusion of an actual list of names.


The lack of proof was one of many ways the press mishandled information over the next few weeks. In general the press\' poor practice would be carried out for the next five years. \'I have here in my hand...\' was a phrase that \'became more popular than a famous toothpaste slogan,\'(Belfrage, 1973, p.117) McCarthy used this