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"Not Only Ridiculous, but Dangerous": Collier’s Objects to Joseph McCarthy’s Attacks on the Press

Anticommunist crusader Senator Joseph R. McCarthy stepped into national prominence on February 9, 1950, when he mounted an attack on President Truman’s foreign policy agenda. McCarthy charged that the State Department and its Secretary, Dean Acheson, harbored “traitorous” Communists. McCarthy’s apocalyptic rhetoric—he portrayed the Cold War conflict as “a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity”—made critics hesitate before challenging him, as his purported lists of Communist conspirators multiplied to include employees in government agencies, the broadcasting and defense industries, universities, the United Nations, and the military. Most of those accused by McCarthy were helpless to defend their ruined reputations and faced loss of employment, damaged careers, and in many cases, broken lives. The following editorial from the popular magazine Collier’s sharply criticized McCarthy’s tactic of trying to scare away advertisers from a magazine that had publicly criticized him. Collier’s made sure, however, to announce to its readers—some of whom responded in letters included below—their own solemn concern about "Communist infiltration in government."

McCarthy Cries Again

A couple of years ago Senator Joe McCarthy buckled on his armor and, like a twentieth-century Don Quixote, set out to slay the dragon of American Communism singlehanded. His intentions seemed noble as those of the good knight. But also like the good knight, who attacked a procession of monks and a flock of sheep under the impression that they were brigands and ogres, he got a little confused about the targets of his sallies.

Thus it has come to pass, as his crusade continues, that anyone who takes issue with him assumes the look of the Red dragon itself. Disagreement becomes lies or crookedness. An adverse editorial comment is automatically a “left-wing smear.” And the senator charges treason against a countryman as recklessly as Don Quixote charged the windmill.

Mr. McCarthy has had a busy time of it, because there are a great many people who approve the purpose of his crusade, but object strongly to his methods. There are many publications which feel the same way. One of them is Collier’s. Another is Time. And we at Collier’s feel just a little discriminated against because, so far, the senator has ignored us while singling out Time and accusing it of “twisting and distorting the facts about my (McCarthy’s) fight to expose and remove Communists from government.”

This charge apparently grew out of a Time cover story on Senator McCarthy. The senator had earlier attacked it as a “vicious and malicious lie.” But recently he employed a new tactic which was definitely not cricket.

Backed by the prestige of his office, he sent a letter to “practically all Time advertisers,” according to his own statement, which, while it did not come right out and ask them to take their business elsewhere, suggested that they were doing their country a disservice by their continued support of the magazine.

Since some of these advertisers were “not aware of the facts,” the letter stated, they were “unknowingly helping to pollute and poison the waterholes of information.” Still swimming along in his aquatic metaphor, the senator said that “it is much more important to expose a liar, a crook or a traitor who is able to poison the streams of information flowing into a vast number of American homes than to expose an equally vicious crook, liar or traitor who has no magazine or newspaper outlet for his poison.”

The source of the senator’s “facts” was an article from the American Mercury and a reprint from the Congressional Record. On the basis of these, the gentleman who complains about distortions and smears virtually accused Time’s editors of dishonesty and treason in so many words.

Naturally Mr. McCarthy anticipated some criticism. “I realize,” he said, “that bringing these facts to the attention of Time’s advertisers will cause some of the unthinking to shout that this is endangering ‘freedom of the press.’” But, he added, “To allow a liar to hide behind the cry ‘You are endangering freedom of the press’ is not only ridiculous, it is dangerous.”

To this we can only answer that when a man hides behind the cry “You are a liar” before anyone has accused him of endangering freedom of the press, he must be feeling rather insecure. And when he tries to intimidate a critical publication by seeking to alienate its chief sources of revenue, he is something less than courageous.

Senator McCarthy has set himself up as the final authority on loyalty and Americanism. He insists that his accusations are not to be doubted, and his judgment is not to be questioned. Yet, a few weeks after he wrote his letter to Time’s advertisers, he testified in Syracuse, New York that the Washington Post and the New York (Communist) Daily Worker “parallel each other quite closely in editorials.” And when he was asked whether he would consider the Christian Science Monitor a “left-wing smear paper,” he replied, “I can’t answer yes or no.”

Those are the statements of a man who is either woefully unperceptive or wholly irresponsible. And when such a man asks that his wild-swinging attacks be accepted without question, he is, to borrow his own words, not only ridiculous but dangerous.

We are not concerned that, on the basis of this editorial, the senator may now add us to his company of “left-wing smearers,” or that he may also warn our advertisers of the danger of supporting another publication which pollutes the waterholes of information. What does concern us is the real danger of Communist infiltration in government, and the fact that this danger is too serious to be obscured and clouded by Senator McCarthy’s eccentricities, exaggerations and absurdities.

Week’s Mail: McCarthyism

Editor: My hearty congratulations to you on your fine editorial, McCarthy Cries Again (Aug. 2d). If more top-flight publications such as yours would take this stand, decent, honest people would soon be rid of the fear of being attacked with charges that seem to be based primarily on instinct, publicity or smell.

Karl H. Brevik,
Minneapolis, Minn.

. . . Have just perused your editorial entitled McCarthy Cries Again, and while we may have to admit that McCarthy has been somewhat lacking in tact in his effort to rid our government of Reds and Pinks, he obviously would have gotten nowhere had he not used some glass-breaking methods.

The fact is indisputable that he has done more to arouse the American people about the subversive influences extant in the very core of our government, and to scare the very devil out of scores of questionable risks, than all the halfhearted investigations conducted by sundry Congressional committees put together.

John A. Gellatly,
Wenatchee, Wash.

. . . I want to congratulate your magazine on the outstanding editorial in your August 2d issue. It took courage to do it, and I, as one of your readers, am proud of you.

Etta S. Leftwich,
Philadelphia, Pa.

. . . Your editorial attack on Senator Joe McCarthy is unwarrantable and a disgrace to your magazine. He is doing a necessary and courageous job.

Mrs. Garna Kukor, San Diego, Cal.

. . . Accept my gratitude for your cogent editorial concerning Senator Joe McCarthy. It is a fulfillment of one of journalism’s greatest obligations to the reading public.

J. Iden Nelson, Waco, Tex.

Source: "McCarthy Cries Again," Collier’s, August 2, 1952, 70; “Week’s Mail: McCarthyism,” Collier’s, September 20, 1952, 4.

See Also:"You Are the Un-Americans, and You Ought to be Ashamed of Yourselves": Paul Robeson Appears Before HUAC
"They Want to Muzzle Public Opinion": John Howard Lawson's Warning to the American Public
"The World Was at Stake": Three "Friendly" HUAC Hollywood Witnesses Assess Pro-Soviet Wartime Films
"A Damaging Impression of Hollywood Has Spread": Movie "Czar" Eric Johnston Testifies before HUAC
"Have You No Sense of Decency": The Army-McCarthy Hearings
"Communists are second to none in our devotion to our people and to our country": Prosecution and Defense Statements, 1949 Trial of American Communist Party Leaders
"Damage": Collier's Assesses the Army-McCarthy Hearings
"I Cannot and Will Not Cut My Conscience to Fit This Year's Fashions": Lillian Hellman Refuses to Name Names
"Enemies from Within": Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's Accusations of Disloyalty
"I Have Sung in Hobo Jungles, and I Have Sung for the Rockefellers": Pete Seeger Refuses to "Sing" for HUAC
"We Must Keep the Labor Unions Clean": "Friendly" HUAC Witnesses Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney Blame Hollywood Labor Conflicts on Communist Infiltration
"National Suicide": Margaret Chase Smith and Six Republican Senators Speak Out Against Joseph McCarthy's Attack on "Individual Freedom"