Joe McCarthy, the Tea Party, and The Fourth Estate
In 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was a nobody. However, within a few years he created a political firestorm that would impact every aspect of the federal government. How you may ask—by manipulating the print media.
At such a time television was just entering American homes. Therefore, of far more significance were the various dailies, and their morning and evening additions. News would come across the wire and be published. Deadlines were set in stone and not to be violated. In those days, with the focus being on objectivity, there was little analysis to accompany whatsoever the given topic was. Mr. McCarthy knew this and he abused it.
Senator McCarthy accused his fellows of being Communists; and the era being the nineteen fifties, such a thing was often a career-breaker. He would release his damning claims right before press time. Therefore, there was little time to investigate or acquire any manner of rebuttal before the headlines and following story went to press. No paper was going to dispute or qualify his claims, let alone out and out call Mr. McCarthy a liar. That would violate their codes of objectivity. Thus, the deceit—for make no mistake it was utter poppycock—ran rampant and unchecked, but not for long.
Fast-forward sixty years. What we have now is in its own rights a media and social phenomenon. The Tea Party movement—commonly associated with Mrs. Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska and 2008 Vice-Presidential hopeful—is utterly confounding. It came out of relative unknown, blindsiding politicians and civilians alike, and taking the media world by storm. Though its backers are not but barely in the few millions, and thus a small portion of society, they are constantly dominating the television. Not a day goes by that television’s pundits and anchors are not postulating and doting on “Tea Party this” and “Tea Party that.”
Now, whatever happened to Senator McCarthy—the original neo-Conservative radical? Eventually his methods and mannerisms irked enough of the press to where they began to develop processes to hinder his publicity. There was no malice herein, just a desire to return to the truth for the sake of their readers and the citizens of this nation. Some papers would delay their publications of Senator McCarthy’s incendiary remarks. Others insisted on obtaining some sort of rebuttal from those against whom the Senator had made slanderous allegations. Eventually television would be his downfall.
In 1954 Senator McCarthy accused the Army of having suspect loyalties. Such comments drew the ire of President Eisenhower—commander of Allied forces during WWII and architect of D-Day—before leading to hearings. On June ninth, on a live television broadcast, Senator McCarthy accused the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch, of associating with Communists. Particularly, Senator McCarthy was referring to Frederick Fisher, a young lawyer at Mr. Welch’s firm who was originally going to be on the team working the case. He had once been a member of the Lawyer’s Guild, which had since been associated with the Communist Party, but had since become active in Republican politics in Massachusetts. Eventually Mr. Welch grew angry at Senator McCarthy’s persistent disparagement of the young lawyer—who was not even present—and interrupted him. The rebuke to follow would effectively end the Senator’s career.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?” –Mr. Joseph Welch (as quoted in Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision-Making). This was followed by unprecedented and boisterous applause and ovation.
Later that year the Senate voted 67-22 to condemn Senator McCarthy for violating due process and decorum of the Senate. The “reign of terror,” if you will, had ended. His career, and his time in the limelight were over. Mr. McCarthy died some three years later from cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy indulgence in alcohol.
Now, why the long tangent? What in the world does the politics of sixty odd years ago have to do with today? Well, everything. I am not going to sit and comment on the Tea Party herein. I’ll let its constituents do that themselves in light of logic, ethics, and even common sense. I know I just lied—but hey so does everyone else. In short, unless I am markedly mistaken, it would appear that a disturbing quantity of the Tea Part candidates and their supporters adhere to radical views that the media fails to examine. Not to disparage or dismiss them all—for there may very well be quality leadership and good intentions among the other’s who claim themselves the majority—but to say that some could do with falling prey to Ockham’s Razor. Again, as before, there is no need for malice, just truth.
I would however, like to point out that Senator McCarthy and the sentiments he expressed did in some part contributed to the cultural revolution of the Sixties. Maybe, the Tea Party will inadvertently lead to a much-needed intellectual revolution. America must change; the only question is when and how. What will come of us?
Yet, my commentary is chiefly on and for the Fourth Estate. The institution that once valued truth and honesty above all else is failing. Today’s news media—if you can even call it news—is a sham and a farce that noted and celebrated journalists of the past would be ashamed of. Instead of examining the merits of any of the preposterous, extremist, and fallacious claims made by both sides of the political fence, they are now their puppets. They are the steam that keeps the machine running. It’s reviling.
The audiences of comedians such as Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are exposed to more Journalism than audiences of Fox, MSNBC, and CNN combined. That’s disgraceful. These stations—which are now more important given that the television has far eclipsed newspapers as the prevalent new medium—condone and thrive on sensationalism and argument-culture. Profit-incentives—as they always do, forgive my logical fallacy—have suppressed ethics and decency. Your average “news show” consists of older white men yelling at each other and occasionally bringing on specialists and other commentators to avoid blatant bias and spin.
Where are your senses of decency, sirs? The corporate executives and media conglomerates who own these stations don’t give a damn about journalism. They just want to maximize their portfolio. If by some off chance they read this and deem it libel—then do something: clean up your mess. You have a duty whether you like it not, and whether you agree or not—fulfill it.
We see the same thing in the music industry—where once musicians often had influence on labels, between Clear Channel and views of records as units, there are now instant pop stars who subsequently crash and burn when the “next big thing” is introduced. Quality has been marginalized. The short term outweighs the long run.
Where are the Peter Jennings’s of this day and age? Where are the Walter Cronkite’s? Where are the Big Three? American Journalism, even on television, was once respectable. That my friends—is long since gone.
The press throughout history has been a catalyst. Indeed, the Fourth Estate has often been an agent for social change, and for the good of society; yet, occasionally it has also been an agent of social control. That is the current state. Prior significant occurrences included the early battles against Slavery, the Women’s Rights Movement, and the Civil Right’s Movement. Now mind you, as soon as it became clear these were going to become the new status quo, the media immediately jumped ship and backed them. Does that rectify their inaction or prior disparagement—no. Does it justify it—again, no. The point being, eventually Journalism tends to right itself.
Eventually. That’s a tricky little word. When exactly is it, no one ever really knows. Currently, we cannot afford eventually. Not herein, not macrocosmically. We cannot wait for pundits and politicians to turn from fallacious and damning hate speech and extremism. Why would they—it gets them money and support. To do so would be stupid in Capitalist America.
Here then, is my proposal. Turn off the televisions during the news. Read your local paper to replace local news. If you prescribe to Fox, might I recommend The Wall Street Journal, or The New York Post. If you are inclined to the opposite persuasion, there’s a plethora of choices, but I would recommend The New York Times. The point being, find a paper, a quality paper. Even merely peruse the online website. Not only is it cheaper than cable, assuming some revenue loss, the profit driven conglomerates will change.
Journalism’s first loyalty is to the citizen. It’s first objective it the proliferation of the truth. Now we see plenty of analysis and individuals of dubious motive willing to tell you what to do and how to vote etcetera, but very little truth. Sure there are plenty of claims of value, but where are the claims of fact? It is an insult to the American public. It is an indignity I would hope they would not long bear.
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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States