McCarthyism & the Media During the 1952 Elections

Joe McCarthy, the Media and the Red Scare.
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Senator Joseph McCarthy made accusations of treason and Communist activity in the United States throughout his career. One of his most famous moments came in 1950, in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he claimed to have a list of 205 individuals in the State Department that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party. Although he refused to produce any names and was never able to provide any evidence, McCarthy created general fear in America. McCarthyism, or the Red Scare as it came to be called, dominated American politics in the 1950s, damaged many people’s careers and distracted the voting population from other pressing issues.

1 McCarthy Targets the Media

McCarthy also claimed Communists ran the media. McCarthy was persistent in his complaints against Drew Pearson, who spoke out against the senator, ultimately leading to the loss of sponsorship for Pearson's radio show. Ironically, although the media had been under attack for harboring Communists for several years, the newspapers and radio programs had convinced many Americans that the threat of Communist infiltration was real. The Red Scare preoccupied Democrat and Republican debates during the 1952 election campaign which was held in the midst of these efforts to root out subversive elements in American society.

2 Sensational Front-Page Articles

On August 27, 1952, "The New York Times" ran three front-page stories about the Red Scare. First, a predominantly Republican Senate subcommittee accused the Radio Writers Guild of being managed by a small number of Communists attempting to control radio, television and print media in the United States. Second, "The Times" reported the American Legion continued its demand that President Truman dismiss Secretary of State Dean Acheson for his inability to manage the Communist threat. The third article covered Governor Adlai Stevenson's speech to the American Legion Convention. Stevenson, the Democrat candidate, urged his audience to remember that patriotism is based on tolerance and the belief in individual liberty and equality. He denounced political attacks that challenged the patriotism of public servants. McCarthy had made recent accusations against Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall naming him as part of a Communist conspiracy. Stevenson described McCarthy's behavior as irresponsible and "the last refuge of scoundrels."

3 The Election Campaign Heats Up

Republican Dwight Eisenhower campaigned against the Truman administration’s handling of the Korean War, corruption in that administration and communist subversion. General Marshall had been Eisenhower's mentor and it was believed that Eisenhower disliked McCarthy due to his attack on Marshall. However, Eisenhower was careful on the campaign trail and avoided challenging McCarthy in public. Eisenhower's aides told journalists that Eisenhower would show his support for Marshall during a campaign speech in Wisconsin. Eisenhower deleted his defense of Marshall when he gave that speech and was criticized by President Truman for failing to defend his former mentor.

4 Election Results

Eisenhower won the election by over six million votes with 55 percent of the popular vote. He won 39 states to Stevenson’s 9 states. He also won in states that had consistently voted Democrat including the states of Florida, Virginia and Texas. His campaign against the Korean War, corruption in the Truman administration and the threat of communism had been a resounding success.

Erica Gatz holds a Masters Degree in social work from Dalhousie University. She has worked in inner city locations and remote northern Aboriginal communities. Her experience includes community mental healthcare, HIV harm reduction, culturally relevant curriculum development, suicide prevention and early psychosis intervention. Her current interests are social justice and community development.