Thursday, January 7, 1999 - Vol. Three, No. 1 - Media Inquiries: Keith Appell (703) 683-5004
Do the Media Care About Guilt or Innocence Or Just Preventing Answers to Inconvenient Questions?
Selling the Spectre of "McCarthyism"
With President Clinton's political future in question, journalists have been raising a
favorite liberal spectre: the ghost of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who charged that hundreds of
communists had infiltrated the government almost fifty years ago. Liberals invented the
word "McCarthyism" to imply the punishment of innocents through guilt by
association. So why would the word "McCarthyism" apply to Bill Clinton, who
hasn't suffered from guilt by association, but from guilt?
Some of the allusions
came early in the Lewinsky scandal. On February 28, CBS host Charles Osgood trapped the
audience of Saturday Morning in his poetry corner, concluding his ode to media
madness: "And what we sow, we someday reap, last night as I laid down to sleep, I
dreamed an apparition swarthy, the unshaved ghost of Joe McCarthy."
A wave of allusions to "sexual McCarthyism" broke out mysteriously in
September, after Clinton admitted relations with Lewinsky. On ABC's Good
Morning America September 20, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz claimed:
"The media may be partially to blame for what some are calling this period of sexual
McCarthyism." On September 19, Tim Russert asked ex-Newsweek scribe Joe
Klein about the charges on his CNBC show: "Is that sexual McCarthyism?" Klein
replied: "I think so." (At least Klein claimed a "witch hunt" existed
on both sides.)
On MSNBC's The White House in Crisis September 17, Keith Olbermann asked Washington
Post columnist E. J. Dionne: "The phrase Chris Black just used, 'partisan
wilding.' What a wonderful description of this. Had politics as a whole ever been lower in
this country, at least since the McCarthy era ended?"
Less than an hour later, Brian Williams began his MSNBC show The News With Brian
Williams with this warning: "These are days of almost McCarthyistic charges and
countercharges in the nation's capital. With a President vowing to stay and fight, and
others nakedly embarking on a campaign to get him, the President's poll numbers are
softening, the party lines are hardening."
On December 21, Williams was at it again on MSNBC, lamenting to Democratic lawyer Abbe
Lowell that references to Republican McCarthyism were being overlooked in the media
coverage: "This has been called the era when nothing truly matters. Nothing breaks
through. It all ends up sounding the same. And when a certain Congressman from Florida
said during the debate Saturday, 'have you no sense of decency, sir,' using the same quote
as what ended, in a lot of people's minds the McCarthy era, it didn't get through because
it wasn't heard because it was at the same volume as everything else."
On the January 2 Capital Gang on CNN, The Wall Street Journal's Al
Hunt claimed: "A speedy, real trial, without any of the muck, the euphemism that they
now use, is also impossible, especially with right-wingers like Tom DeLay waving the
bloody shirt about an alleged incident that took place 20 years ago. Clinton's behavior is
disgraceful, but there's McCarthyism run amok with some of this stuff." On Inside
Washington the same night, Newsweek's Evan Thomas raised the same attack on
the same point: the allegations of "Jane Doe Number Five" of being sexually
assaulted by Clinton in Arkansas, saying "It rises to a level of McCarthyism."
Just as fifty years ago, guilt or innocence is not the issue. Preventing answers to
questions is. -- Tim Graham
L. Brent Bozell III, Publisher; Brent Baker, Tim Graham, Editors;
Jessica Anderson, Brian Boyd, Geoffrey
Dickens, Mark Drake, Paul Smith, Media Analysts; Kristina Sewell, Research
Associate. For the latest liberal media bias, read the
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