By Jeff Little
It's been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Disproving this statement in the early 50's was a U.S. Senator named
Born November 14, 1908, Joseph Raymond McCarthy hailed from
Grand Chute, Wisconsin. The son of a farming family, McCarthy earned a
law degree from Marquette University and went on to become the
youngest man in Wisconsin history to hold the elected position of 10th
District Judge in 1939.
In 1942, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War II,
McCarthy resigned his judgeship to enlist as a private in the United
States Marine Corps. Rising to the rank of lieutenant before the war's
end, McCarthy parlayed his service record into an election to the U.S.
Senate in 1946.
McCarthy's first years in Washington weren't much to write home
about. But by 1950, the Senator from Wisconsin had become the focus of
worldwide media attention.
In his Lincoln Day speech to the Republican Women's Club of
Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950, McCarthy dramatically
waved a sheet of paper which he claimed contained a list of communist
traitors who resided within the State Department. Shortly thereafter,
a special Senate committee investigated the charges and found them to
be groundless. Not to be deterred by meaningless details (like the
truth), McCarthy pushed on.
Capitalizing on the outbreak of war in Korea, tension arising
from what would become a decades-long cold war and the American
public's general paranoia concerning Communism, Joseph McCarthy
spearheaded a series of trials and investigations that could best be
described as witch hunts.
By 1953, McCarthy (due mainly to seniority in the Senate and
shameless self-promotion) became chairman of the Senate Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations and immediately turned up the heat on
anyone employed by the military or the federal government he even
suspected of having even the remotest of ties to Communism.
Using his position to wage a relentless anti-communist crusade,
McCarthy employed the use of accusation, innuendo and out-and-out
slander to damage the reputations and careers of people who more often
times than not turned out to be totally innocent.
Holding a series of highly confrontational hearings, the
Senator from Wisconsin climbed to the heights of fame by stepping on
the shattered lives of those he persecuted (usually with little or no
proof of the charges he chose to bring against them).
Compared by many to practices commonly used today by the
Department of Homeland Security, Joseph McCarthy's routine abuse of
The U.S. Constitution he had sworn to uphold came to be known as
"McCarthyism". Fortunately, the American people had a protector known
as "The Free Press".
In 1954, American television aired hearings which allowed
millions to witness McCarthy's methods for the first time. The
appropriate public outrage led to an official censure of McCarthy and
the beginning of the end to such governmental abuses in The United
Joseph McCarthy died on May 2, 1957 of complications related to
alcoholism, but left behind an embarrassing legacy that should serve
as a reminder and a warning to us all: "Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it."
to Rewind the Fifties Home
Receiving a commendation in 1945
The showman and one of his props