Joe McCarthy was in the news last week, and once again the Monitor took due note of the fact that the late senator from Wisconsin – certainly when compared with his more hysterical critics – was a mere piker in the fine art of innuendo and allegation.
The Monitor has always been fascinated with the way the McCarthy period is portrayed in the liberal media and among left-wing academics, particularly in light of what is now known about the control exerted by Moscow over the American Communist Party and the extent of Soviet espionage here in the middle decades of the 20th century.
What makes the McCarthy business a case study in liberal denial and media mendacity is that even after the fall of the Soviet Union and the declassification of cables and documents from both sides of the Cold War, far too many journalists operate in an ideological time warp, their stories seemingly filed not in 2003 but in 1975 – complete with that era’s obligatory backdrop of revisionist historians earnestly blaming the U.S. for the world’s ills and American credibility festering at an all-time low in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate.
The latest example of this phenomenon came last week when Senate historian Donald Ritchie released nearly 5,000 pages of executive hearings conducted by McCarthy some 50 years ago. Ritchie, who edited the transcripts, understandably trumpeted the material as groundbreaking, and lazy reporters and editorial writers repeated verbatim his claim that the papers reveal once and for all that “McCarthy had shopworn goods and fishing expeditions.”
Problem is, there was hardly anything new in the documents. What’s more, as Wes Vernon pointed out on Newsmax.com, “The Senate historian, whose pronouncements trashing the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy are widely quoted in the mainstream media, could not cite one instance in which the senator’s alleged ‘browbeating’ of witnesses ruined lives.
“Nor could the leading senators on the Senate Government Operations Committee who repeated the rhetoric as they unsealed closed-door McCarthy hearings after 50 years.
“Nor could several of the journalists who wrote stories this week accepting the historian’s rewrite of history as fact.”
(Vernon was referring to efforts by M. Stanton Evans, an expert on the McCarthy era, to get someone – anyone – involved in the release of the papers to substantiate the statement, jointly
released by Senators Carl Levin and Susan Collins, that McCarthy’s methods “destroyed the careers of people who were not involved in the infiltration of our government.” None could.)
The New York Post’s Eric Fettmann, whose columns are a must read for any political junkie, views last week’s brouhaha as just the latest evidence that “the left is looking to rewrite the history of this complex and misunderstood period.”
Nevertheless, Fettmann notes, “growing historical evidence underscores that, whatever his rhetorical and investigative excesses – and they were substantial – McCarthy was a lot closer to the truth about Communism than were his foes.”
By the way, one thing old Joe was not – though political enemies like the late Stalinoid hack I.F. Stone tried to portray him as such – was an anti-Semite.
In his well regarded McCarthy biography “A Conspiracy So Immense,” David Oshinsky notes that “[McCarthy] never engaged in anti-Semitic diatribes or made the loaded connection between Jews and left-wing radicalism. Despite the unrelenting hostility of organized Jewry to his crusade, McCarthy still praised the state of Israel [and] condemned the Soviet persecution of Jews.”
Political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg concurs, writing in his book “The Fatal Embrace” that -the McCarthyites had no use for anti-Semitism as a political weapon. Indeed, several of McCarthy’s most important aides…were themselves Jews.”
And Abba Eban, in his memoir “Personal Witness,” recalled that McCarthy once summoned him to his Senate office and asked to be included on the list of sponsors of a congressional resolution urging Israel’s inclusion in U.S. foreign aid legislation. “Israel and the Jews,” Eban wrote, “never became a target of McCarthy’s denunciations.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org