Monday, June 9, 2014

JUNE 9 = McCarthy Crashes on National TV

"Senator MCCARTHY. Jim, will you get the news story to the effect that this man belonged to this Communist-front organization?...."
Mr. WELCH. You won’t need anything in the record when I have finished telling you this.
Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us.....Little did I dream you could be so reckless and cruel as to do an injury to that lad..... It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I will do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
Senator MCCARTHY. Mr. Chairman.
Senator MUNDT. Senator McCarthy?
Senator MCCARTHY. May I say that Mr. Welch talks about this being cruel and reckless. He was just baiting; he has been baiting Mr. Cohn here for hours, requesting that Mr. Cohn, before sundown, get out of any department of Government anyone who is serving the Communist cause....
Mr. WELCH. Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild, and Mr. Cohn nods his head at me. I did you, I think, no personal injury, Mr. Cohn.
Mr. COHN. No, sir.
Mr. WELCH. I meant to do you no personal injury, and if I did, beg your pardon.
Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? {Click on these highlighted words to hear an actual recording of the hearing.}
Senator MCCARTHY. I know this hurts you, Mr. Welch. But I may say, Mr. Chairman, on a point of personal privilege, and I would like to finish it—
Mr. WELCH. Senator, I think it hurts you, too, sir. "

Such was the testimony before Congress that day, today's date - June 9 in 1954 - when Senator McCarthy finally went too far, and in nationally televised hearings found himself being dressed down by an outraged Joseph N. Welch. An embarrassed McCarthy would eventually be censured by his fellow senators as a result of this exposure to a national TV audience.

Senator Joseph McCarthy and His Search for Communists

Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) had enjoyed a meteoric rise to power, influence and public notoriety in the U.S. Congress when he charged in February 1950 that "hundreds" of "known communists" were in the Department of State. This was during a period of our nations history when the threat of communist infiltration into our highest echelons of government seemed all too real. The case of Alger Hiss (above, right), a high state department official who had been convicted of perjury in denying communist affiliations was very much in the public mind. Hiss had been convicted in January of 1950, and so the charges of McCarthy fell on very fertile ground of suspicion in the public mind coming as they did during the very next month. In the years that followed, McCarthy became the primary attacker of those who were suspected of communist affiliations, real or imagined. These years of the "Red Scare" were a time when many of Americans became worried that communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life. Behind closed-door committee hearings, McCarthy used this public suspicion as a ram with which to bully, and smear witnesses who were too terrified to fight back. In this way, he destroyed many careers and lives in the process. There were in fact communists who had infiltrated our government. While Alger Hiss sought for many years after to portray himself as a victim of a "witch hunt", he was guilty. But McCarthy's tactics did great harm to our country by his reckless attacks upon anybody who dared stand up to him. By 1953, with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower as president there was less official sanction to his activities. McCarthy's increasingly erratic behavior became unacceptable to the president and the senator saw his clout slowly drying up. In a last-ditch effort to revive his flagging fortunes McCarthy opened hearings into the Army.

The Army McCarthy Hearings

The Army-McCarthy hearings dominated national television from April to June 1954. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations was seeking to learn whether Senator McCarthy (left) had used his influence to improperly gain preferential treatment for a former member his staff, Pvt. G. David Schine who had been drafted. McCarthy claimed that the army was trying head off his investigations of army security practices through blackmail and intimidation. The congressional hearings were among the first ever that were televised, and they garnered national attention because of McCarthy's notoriety.
Joseph N. Welch (right), a very plain, soft-spoken lawyer with a sharp wit and a very staid sense of what was right, represented the Army. During the course of the hearings that week, Welch turned aside each and every one of McCarthy's charges. The senator, for his part, became increasingly irritated, bellowing "point of order, point of order," yelling at witnesses, and declaring that a greatly decorated general was a "disgrace" to his uniform.

McCarthy Steps Too Far...

On June 9, 1954, however, McCarthy went too far. He once again became agitated at Welch's steady dissection of each of his arguments and witnesses. and charged that Frederick G. Fisher, a young associate in Welch's law firm, had been a long-time member of an organization that was a "legal arm of the Communist Party." Welch was obviously dumb-founded at this gratuitous slur against a bright young associate, and decided that it was time to unload upon McCarthy. As he strained to maintain his composure, he looked McCarthy dead in the eye and declared, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." With McCarthy looking on and for once, temporarily stunned into silence, Welch asked, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" The audience of citizens and newspaper and television reporters broke out in wild and sustained applause. Just a week later, the hearings into the Army came to a close. McCarthy, having been exposed as a reckless bully before the simple honesty of Mr. Welch, was officially condemned by the U.S. Senate for contempt against his colleagues in December 1954. During the next two-and-a-half years McCarthy spun into an alcoholic wreck of his former self. Still in office, he died in 1957.

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