Murrow and McCarthy: A Television Takedown

CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow.

On this date in 1954, CBS television broadcast an episode of “See it Now” with Edward R. Murrow called “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.”

Here are some things you may not have known about Murrow, McCarthy and “See It Now.”

Edward R. Murrow was born in North Carolina in 1908. At the age of six, his family moved to Washington state, where went on to major in speech at what is now Washington State University. Five years after graduating from Washington State, Murrow was hired by CBS as director of talks and education. In 1937, he moved to London to become CBS’s director of European operations. A year later, Murrow reported live from Vienna shortly after the Nazi occupation of Austria. Murrow reported from London during the early years of World War II, when he developed his signature opening, “This … is London,” and his sign off “Good Night and Good Luck.” Following the American entry into the war, Murrow would continue reporting on the conflict, including flying on 25 combat missions.

Joseph McCarthy was also born in 1908, but in Wisconsin. He dropped out of school in junior high to help his parents on their farm. He returned to high school at the age of 20 and graduated a year later. He earned a law degree from Marquette University and was elected as a state circuit court judge at the age of 31. He joined the Marines during World War II and flew 12 combat missions and was nick-named “Tail-Gunner Joe.“ He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1946, where he earned a reputation as a moderate Republican. However, his colleagues in the Senate found him “quick-tempered,” “impatient,” and “prone to rage.”In 1950, he gave a speech in which he said he had a list of known communists working for the State Department. In the next seven years, he continued to use anti-communist sentiment to increase his standing. His tactics came to be known as McCarthyism.

On March 9, 1954, CBS’s “See it Now” broadcast its episode on McCarthy. In the show, Murrow and his producer Fred Friendly, used film clips of McCarthy interrogating witnesses and contradicting himself. The show started a backlash against McCarthy that saw his approval ratings plummet. CBS received thousands of comments on the show, running 15 to 1 against McCarthy. McCarthy appeared on a later episode to respond to the original report and to make accusations against Murrow. In McCarthy’s rebuttal, Murrow said the senator “made no reference to any statements of fact that we made.” The attack against Murrow further reduced his popularity.

Later in 1954, McCarthy was censured by the Senate for failing to cooperate with the Subcommittee on Rules and Administration and for acting contrary to senatorial ethics. Following the censure, President Dwight Eisenhower, a fellow Republican, is said to have told his cabinet, “McCarthyism is now McCarthywasm.”

McCarthy remained in the Senate. He was hospitalized frequently for alcoholism. A likely case of cirrhosis of the liver reduced his tolerance for alcohol and he was found to be drunk in the Senate. He died in 1957, likely of alcoholism, at the age of 48.

Murrow left CBS in 1961 to head the U.S. Information Agency, which oversaw Voice of America. A heavy smoker throughout his life, Murrow died of lung cancer in 1965. He was 57.

Our question: What was the name of Murrow’s celebrity interview show?

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