Al Gore, Edward R. Murrow and Senator McCarthy
But how courageous was Murrow? Did he save the Republic from a man whose vicious tactics silenced any criticism?
There was already massive media opposition to the Wisconsin senator. Edwin Bayley’s 1981 book, “Joe McCarthy and the Press,” catalogs newspaper coverage after Joe launched his anti-Communism crusade in February, 1950.
Within days, the Washington Post’s editorial, “Sewer Politics,” charged: “Rarely has a man in public life crawled and squirmed so abjectly.” The New York Times condemned “the campaign of indiscriminate character-assassination.”
Other newspapers hopped on the bandwagon and ran editorials with headings like “Irresponsible Senator McCarthy,” “Utterly Irresponsible,” and “Jumping Joe McCarthy.” Editorial cartoons incessantly ridiculed Joe and his efforts.
The 1973 book “When Even Angels Wept” by Lately Thomas points out that the same press that constantly warned of McCarthyite intimidation called the senator a “spiteful and delinquent mental patient,” “a primitive form of political obscenity,” a “nauseating character assassin,” and “our No. 1 Fascist.” And this is merely a portion of what the author describes as “a sampling of choice billingsgate.”
By the time Murrow produced his “See It Now” attack on McCarthy in 1954, the senator had been extensively pilloried for four long years. Yes, selectively editing thousands of feet of film to place McCarthy in the most unflattering light possible did have an impact.
It’s unfair, though, to single out Murrow's "courageous journalism" and suggest it vanquished Joe McCarthy.
Renowned broadcaster Eric Sevareid said in 1978 that the Murrow assault “came very late in the day. The youngsters read back and they think only one person in broadcasting and the press stood up to McCarthy and this has made a lot of people feel very upset, including me, because that program came awfully late.”
Even Murrow admitted to less than a significant role in destroying Joe. As quoted in Bayley’s book, the newsman told New York Times columnist Jack Gould:
“My God, I didn't do anything. (Times columnist) Scotty Reston and lot of guys have been writing like this, saying the same things, for months, for years. We’re bringing up the rear.”
Yet Al Gore marvels at Murrow's courage. It appears the former vice president might get his history lessons from Hollywood.