When Hearings Go Public – Army-McCarthy – 1954 – Past Daily Weekend Reference Room
The Army-McCarthy Hearings. Before Trump-Russia, before Whitewater and The Ken Starr Report, before Iran-Contra, before Watergate we had the Army-McCarthy hearings. For the goodly part of 1954 America was glued to their TVs and radios. And because it was televised, and because TV was starting to get its legs, it was the highest rated show anywhere in the country.
A little background on these hearings, in case you missed it:
The Army–McCarthy hearings were a series of hearings held by the United States Senate’s Subcommittee on Investigations (April–June 1954) to investigate conflicting accusations between the United States Army and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Army accused Chief Committee Counsel Roy Cohn of pressuring the Army to give preferential treatment to G. David Schine, a former McCarthy aide and friend of Cohn’s. McCarthy counter-charged that this accusation was made in bad faith and in retaliation for his recent aggressive investigations of suspected Communists and security risks in the Army.
Chaired by Senator Karl Mundt, the hearings convened on March 16, 1954, and received considerable press attention, including gavel-to-gavel live television coverage on ABC and DuMont (April 22–June 17). The media coverage, particularly television, greatly contributed to McCarthy’s decline in popularity and his eventual censure by the Senate the following December.
McCarthy came to national prominence in February 1950 after giving a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he claimed to have a list of 205 State Department employees who were members of the Communist Party. McCarthy claimed the list was provided to and dismissed by then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson, saying that the “State Department harbors a nest of Communists and Communist sympathizers who are helping to shape our foreign policy”. In January 1953, McCarthy began his second term and the Republican Party regained control of the Senate; with the Republicans in the majority, McCarthy was made chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations. This committee included the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and the mandate of this subcommittee allowed McCarthy to use it to carry out his investigations of Communists in the government. McCarthy appointed 26-year-old Roy Cohn as chief counsel to the subcommittee and future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy as assistant counsel; reassigning Francis Flanagan to the ad hoc position of general counsel.
In 1953, McCarthy’s committee began inquiries into the United States Army, starting by investigating supposed Communist infiltration of the Army Signal Corps laboratory at Fort Monmouth. McCarthy’s investigations were largely fruitless, but after the Army accused McCarthy and his staff of seeking special treatment for Private G. David Schine, a chief consultant to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a close friend of Cohn’s, who had been drafted into the Army as a private the previous year, McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in bad faith.
Most everyone knows the historic confrontation that took place on June 14th between Army Counsel Joseph Welch and Senator McCarthy. The confrontation that resulted in the memorable “Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyer’s Guild … Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
This session takes place ten days before that, relatively early-on in the proceedings. But it gives you some idea of the nature of the hearings and how the outbursts, confrontations and theatrics are timeless.
And who said politics doesn’t make for good Theatre?
Here is one of the nightly wrapups prepared by CBS Radio of those hearings – this one for June 4, 1954.