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The above video is an explanatory video about See It Now, the show that surrounds the 1954 event between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy

History Behind the Movie, Good Night, and Good Luck.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a film directed by George Clooney in 2005.  The film is set around one particular event in 1954 when Edward R. Murrow, host of the Tuesday evening program See It Now devotes the half hour show to speak out against Senator Joseph McCarthy and his tactics of investigating people on heresy evidence of if the person is loyal to the United States or a Communist.

After the end of World War II in 1945, the Cold War and Red Scare began in the United States of America.  By 1954, the American public spent weeks in front of the television screen mesmerized by the Senate hearings mostly conducted by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.  One of McCarthy’s first accusations was that the State Department was still infiltrated with Communists and that they helped to shape American foreign policy.  McCarthy also provided the names of 110 people he felt, from information he obtained, to be either loyalty or security risks and warranted full investigations of each person. Only 62 of the people were still employed at the department and all of them were cleared with the department declaring McCarthy’s charges as ‘a fraud and a hoax.’[2] Also, McCarthy never presented any actual evidence of past or present membership or dealings with the Communist Party on any of the people he accused on his list.  The Senator’s defenders pointed to the fact that McCarthy was opposed by “a partisan and antagonistic Congress and Executive.”[3] McCarthy’s defenders claimed that he single-handedly conducted his campaign against all odds for the good of the American public.  With McCarthy’s reelection in 1952, the nation witnessed McCarthy’s activities as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.[4]

McCarthy had extraordinary skills at manipulating the news media and without the media his name would not have been transformed into a common noun in the dictionary, McCarthyism.  In a nutshell, McCarthyism means public accusation of disloyalty to one’s country. [5] June 1, 1950 female Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered a speech in Congress that provided an impressive rebuke to McCarthy and the dangers of McCarthyism.  She claimed at first she felt her colleague was on to something with his charges about spies and traitors, but as time went on she suspected that McCarthy’s charges were overblown, or false.  Years later, Margaret claimed that even people in the Senate were fearful to speak their minds or be seen with people that McCarthy disapproved of because of the wave of fear of being called a Communist.  Though McCarthy’s name never made her speech in 1950, it was evident who was being addressed and the tactics being used.  She claimed in her speech that the American public was sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds because they may be smeared as Communists.[6] Margaret is an example of people who spoke up and out against McCarthy, even if they did not directly mention the Senator’s name.  Drew Pearson, a widely read syndicated columnist, had written positively about McCarthy in his early Senate days, but as time went on Pearson turned increasingly critical of McCarthy and had the widest audience to make a case against him.[7]

McCarthy not only went after politicians and the public, but he made many cases against people in the United States Army.  In one case, McCarthy claimed that the army promoted and protected a Communist, the Army dentist Irving Peress.  Peress took the Fifth and requested immediate discharge, which was granted to him.  However, McCarthy demanded to know who promoted Peress and insisted that all the named involved in Peress’s discharge be given to him.  He was denied and pursued in a vicious and insulting manner.  Eventual, General Zwicker was brought into the Army case, and after Zwicker concluded he could not give the Senator classified information, the Senator blew up.  McCarthy continued to throw insults at the General and claimed that he should be removed from command.  Zwicker, on the other hand, was fuming mad and let Army Secretary Stevens know how he felt about the situation.  In the end, Zwicker did not have to go to another public hearing and the Army would no longer permit further witnesses to appear in McCarthy’s case.[8]

A month into the start of the See It Now program in 1951, Edward R. Murrow covered a story about McCarthy’s complaints about being kicked around and bullwhipped by his critics.  Then, Murrow had a clip shown of McCarthy doing his usually kicking and bullwhipping of other people.  In early 1952, Murrow interviewed McCarthy on the show, but McCarthy ignored Murrow’s questions in favor of hammering Senator William Benton of Connecticut, who attempted to get McCarthy removed from the Senate.  Murrow interviewed Benton a week later on the show and asked Benton about the lies told by McCarthy from the previous week’s transcripts.[9]

One of the stories Murrow covered on See It Now was about a young man named Milo Radulovich.  Radulovich was going to be severed from his Lieutenant position in the air force because of his family’s political views.  The military saw Radulovich as a security risk.  Murrow produced a show, where interviewed Radulovich rhetorically asked, “If I am being judged by my relatives, are my children going to be asked to denounce me?”[10] In the end, the air force retracted the case and did in fact let Radulovich retain his military position.  Apart from Murrow’s comments which brought the case to the American public, the air force also did not say where the allegations against Radulovich as a security risk came from and never called any witnesses.  However, it was understood that the real attack by Murrow about the Radulovich case was directed towards McCarthy, even though not explicitly mentioned.  See It Now reporter Joe Wershba presented Murrow with documents from McCarthy’s investigator Donald Surine that provided a 1935 story about Murrow’s exchange program while he worked for the Institute of International Education.[11]

Then on March 9, 1954, Murrow introduced millions of Americans to his portrait of McCarthy.  The half hour program of See It Now left a very powerful impression on the nation and caused the heaviest response on phone calls and telegrams received by CBS in their history.[12] The purpose of this show by Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly was to “document publicly McCarthy’s methods.”[13] The report was told mainly in McCarthy’s own words and pictures.  In Murrow’s ending comments, he remarked that the Wisconsin Senator repeatedly stepped over the line between investigation and persecution.  Murrow reminds audiences that accusations are not proof of guilt, dissent is not proof of disloyalty, and conviction depends on evidence and due process of the law.  Murrow also injects that the nation is in a state of fear, and he admits that the blame for this fear is not with McCarthy, but that McCarthy exploited it.[14] Murrow began the program that night by offering McCarthy equal air time for a reply to his story that night.  The program itself was a clip of McCarthy giving “one of his half-truths or distortions, followed by Murrow’s recitation of the truth.”[15] Murrow called on the people to no longer be silent, those who disapproved or approved, about McCarthy’s methods.  In the end, Murrow’s statement was more of a defense or a justification for making the program than a criticism of McCarthy.  On March 11, 1954 McCarthy responsed to Murrow on the Fulton Lewis, Jr. show.  McCarthy claimed that Murrow smeared his name in an attempt to protect his Communist friends, McCarthy felt it more appropriate to hit back at Adlai Stevenson and Senator Flanders than Murrow.  McCarthy’s See It Now reply aired on April 6 in the form of a film and made no actual reply to Murrow’s attacks, but instead attacked Murrow.  McCarthy said that Murrow was involved in Communist propaganda activities and accused Murrow of being a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.  McCarthy also brought up that Harold Laski, a Communist propagandist, dedicated a book to Murrow.  Murrow replied right after that he had never been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and that Laski was a Socialist, not a Communist, and the dedication came from Laski’s appreciation of Murrow’s work.  Murrow continued with saying that McCarthy’s attack on him is just another example of his typical tactic of trying to make anyone a Communist who disagrees with him.[16] The article, published on April 7th, 1954, quotes Murrow’s reply to McCarthy’s attempt to discredit Murrow’s loyalty to the United States in another example of “his (McCarthy) typical tactic of attempting to tie up to communism anyone who disagrees with him.”[17] Murrow proclaims his dedication to the United States and that it is his devotion to the principles of the Nation that sets him apart from McCarthy.  Murrow then answered the five points of attack by McCarthy: 1) Murrow denied that he had been a member of the International Workers of the World, 2) It is true that British Socialist and Scholar Harold Laski had dedicated a book to him, however Laski was his friend and a socialist, Murrow is not a socialist, 3) He said that he was only one of many thanked by Owen Lattimore for their reporting[18], and unfortunately I was not able to get a hold of the rest of the article.

On March 9, Don Hollenbeck announced on his 11 p.m. show that he supported Murrow.  However, in the end Hollenbeck did not have thick enough skin to take the banter from critic s and McCarthy and in June he committed suicide.  The Army-McCarthy hearings were the senator’s final undoing.  McCarthy accused a young lawyer during the proceedings that had nothing to do with any of it.  In December of 1954 the Senate voted to censure McCarthy, and even though McCarthy was over with his legacy of McCarthyism lived on.[19]

[1]YouTube, “See It Now, the Beginning,” YouTube Web site, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7N1BVaRjsI (accessed November 5, 2008).

[2]Moshe Dector and James Rorty, McCarthy and the Communists (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1954), 1-11.

[3]Dector and Rorty, 14.

[4]Dector and Rorty, 14-5.

[5]Haynes Johnson, The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2005), 137.

[6]Johnson, 177-83.

[7]Johnson, 197.

[8]Johnson, 351-62.

[9]Bob Edwards, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2004), 108-9.

[10]Edwards, 110-1.

[11]Edwards, 111-2.

[12]Johnson, 378-9.

[13]Ibid, 247.

[14]Ibid, 247-8.

[15]Edwin R. Bayley, Joe McCarthy and the Press (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), 192-3.

[16]Bayley, 195-98.

[17]INS, “Ed Murrow Strikes Back at McCarthy,” The Washington Post & The Times-Herald, April 7, 1954, http://proquest.umw.com.ezproxy.umw.edu:2048 (accessed September 02, 2008).


[19]Edwards, 118-20.