It’s fairly remarkable how blithely and routinely media myths can be invoked.
A reminder of that appeared in a column posted today in the Times-News, a newspaper in Twin Falls, Idaho. The column, which ruminated about the use of middle initials, opened this way:
“When I was a young journalist, the most revered person in my profession was Edward R. Murrow, the CBS News reporter who brought down Sen. Joseph McCarthy.”
Brought down McCarthy.
Both tales are exaggerated.
Murrow was a leading and ultimately a legendary figure in American broadcasting who in the 1950s stood up to McCarthy, the Red-baiting junior senator from Wisconsin, when, supposedly, no one else would, or dared. In so doing, the story goes, Murrow brought an abrupt end to senator’s witchhunt for communists in the U.S. government.
The vehicle for Murrow’s brave exposé was his 30-minute television program, See It Now, which aired on CBS.
As I write in Getting It Wrong:
“Long before the See It Now program, several prominent journalists—including the Washington-based syndicated columnist Drew Pearson—had become persistent and searching critics of McCarthy, his record, and his tactics.”
Pearson, who wrote the widely published “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column, was the most assertive and, ultimately, acerbic of McCarthy’s media critics. He challenged McCarthy’s claims as early as 1950, soon after the senator began charging that communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department.
McCarthy became so angered by Pearson’s searching columns that he threatened the columnist with physical harm–and followed through in December 1950 in the cloakroom of the exclusive Sulgrave Club on DuPont Circle in Washington. There, he slapped or tried to knee Pearson in the groin.
All that came long before Murrow confronted McCarthy on See It Now in 1954.
By 1954, I note in Getting It Wrong, “it wasn’t as if Americans … were hoping for someone to step up and expose McCarthy, or waiting for a white knight like Murrow to tell them about the toxic threat the senator posed.”
Pearson and others had been doing so for years.