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640px-Joseph McCarthy

Sen. Joe McCarthy during his appearance on See It Now

Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy was the villain of the movie Good Night and Good Luck, which portrayed the public feud between McCarthy and CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow. He was a United States Senator from Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.

McCarthy appeared as himself in archive footage featured in the film.

McCarthy hearings

During the early 1950s, Senator McCarthy was involved in investigative hearings attempting to ascertain whether certain American citizens were aiding and abetting communists. Two particular targets were Air Force Lieutenant Milo Radulovich and government office clerk Annie Lee Moss.  During these and other hearings, McCarthy used circumstantial evidence to frame accusations of communist affiliations, which led to his declining popularity among the American public.

Reporting by Edward Murrow

Both the Radulovich and the Moss cases came to the attention of CBS news anchor Edward R. Murrow, who defended both of them on his program See It Now. Murrow's defense of Radulovich and Moss earned him McCarthy's public criticism, leading to Murrow dedicating an episode of See It Now to publicizing McCarthy's tactics. Murrow closed his March 9, 1954 broadcast with the following monologue:

"No one familiar with the history of this country, can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating. But the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the Junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly.  His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism.
"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always, that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend the causes that were for the moment unpopular.
"This is no time for men who oppose Sen. McCarthy's methods to keep silent or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation, we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age.  We proclaim ourselves as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world. But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
"The actions of the Junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his, he didn't create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it, and rather successfully.
"Cassius was right, the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Good night, and good luck."

McCarthy countered Murrow's reporting by appearing himself on the April 6, 1954 broadcast of See It Now. McCarthy dedicated his entire appearance to leveling accusations of communist associations and sympathies against Murrow. When the following broadcast of See It Now took place, Murrow began by pointing out that McCarthy made no effort to respond to the report that Murrow himself had made of McCarthy, and that therefore, McCarthy could find no flaw in the reporting, and then Murrow proceeded to debunk the claims made by McCarthy about him.

Army-McCarthy Hearings

During the Army-McCarthy Hearings in June 1954, McCarthy continued his tactics of attempting to identify communist infiltrators in the government, although this time the hearings were specifically combined with accusations against McCarthy of trying to secure preferential treatment for one of his aides.

At the climax of the hearing, Army counsel Joseph Welch exclaimed the famous line:

"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"


McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate on December 2, 1954, the harshest penalty the Senate can issue against one of its own members. This, however, did not remove him from the Senate, and he continued as a Senator until his death in 1957. He did not face another re-election campaign, as he died prior to the 1958 election. But his public image was irreparably ruined.

On the other hand, Murrow also did not escape fallout from the feud. See It Now was reduced from a weekly news magazine to an irregular series of specials, and finally ended production on July 7, 1958.