Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History

By Rodger Streitmatter | Go to book overview

10
Exposing Joe McCarthy: Television's Finest Hour

SENATOR JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY'S political career was like a Roman candle. In early 1950, he was an obscure first-term senator. But by 1952, his star had risen to national prominence as his anticommunist witch hunt helped propel the Republican Party into the White House for the first time in twenty years. Then in late 1953, McCarthy's downward spiral began, careening out of control toward the ultimate nadir that today makes the very mention of his name send a chill down the spine of any fair-minded American.

McCarthyism was a reckless political gamble to convince voters that the Democratic Party had presided over the country through two decades not merely of bad timing or unfortunate accidents or errors or blunders--but treason. Through an endless barrage of charges and countercharges, McCarthy insisted that the government was riddled with subversives working to destroy American values. Exploiting the country's Cold War fears, he decimated the lives of thousands of innocent men and women.

The hand behind his bluff was printer's ink. Newspapers turned McCarthy's unsubstantiated charges into sensational stories that shrieked from page one. When accusations came from a United States senator who was leading a righteous campaign to save his country from evil forces, the Fourth Estate automatically accepted those allegations as newsworthy fact.

Ironically, the Fourth Estate also played a key role in bringing McCarthy down. For the force that, more than any other, brought the

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