Already infamous for his aggressive interrogations of suspected Communists, Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908-1957) earned more notoriety via these televised 1954 Congressional hearings. McCarthy had turned his investigations to army security, but the army in turn charged him with using improper influence to win preferential treatment for a former staff member, Pvt. G. David Schine. When the senator tried to emphasize army lawyer Joseph Welch’s Communist ties, Welch delivered his famous “Have you no sense of decency?” rebuke. Although McCarthy was acquitted, his popular support waned and his political career was soon over.
The Army-McCarthy hearings dominated national television from April to June 1954. A subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations was seeking to learn whether Senator Joseph R. McCarthy had used improper influence to win preferential treatment for Pvt. G. David Schine, a former member of the senator’s staff who had been drafted. McCarthy countercharged that the army was trying to derail his embarrassing investigations of army security practices through blackmail and intimidation.
The congressional hearings were among the first to be televised, and they captured national attention because of McCarthy’s notoriety. The camera made clear his methods and manner, greatly weakening his popular support and leading to his censure by the Senate on December 2, 1954.
The word McCarthyism has become synonymous with the practice of publicizing accusations of treason and disloyalty with insufficient evidence.
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The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.