This past Sunday we watched clips from the film “Good Night and Good Luck.” It’s about the efforts of CBS in the early 1950’s to call out Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the evil work of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and affiliated House Un-American Activities Committee that looked for communists and gays in the US. Casting aspersions was a brilliant way to get even with your enemies, whether or not they had communist leanings. McCarthy represented a movement that ruined people’s lives and exposed others to suspicion by using smear tactics.
The face of the challenge to McCarthy was Edward Murrow, a journalist who at an awards ceremony in the late `50’s warned that television distracts, amuses and insulates and promotes escapism from the real world. Those were the days, to think that this uncomplicated medium would be our only source of concern as to how we are manipulated.
McCarthy was known for alleging that numerous Communists and Soviet spies and sympathizers had infiltrated the United States federal government, universities, film industry, and elsewhere. Ultimately, the smear tactics that he used led him to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The term “McCarthyism”, coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy’s practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. It now refers to what are considered demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.
I wish it didn’t sound familiar in our world whose pendulum has swung to populism in a way that likely will make the Me Decade look almost innocent.
I call it a pendulum because of the words of Psalm 4,
People, how long will you turn my honour into shame? How long will you love what is false and look for new lies?