McCarthy’s Legacy

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We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

Edward R. Murrow

Lately, I have been thinking that we need reporters with courage.  If ‘truth’ becomes whatever Donald Trump tweets, then any attempt at logical criticism fails.   Edward R. Murrow has always been a kind of hero to me, something I no doubt inherited from my parents.  I remember bits and pieces of the McCarthy years.  I remember my parents getting talked into going to a John Birch Society meeting and coming out shaking their heads.  They were quiet for days afterward.  I can only imagine the kind of courage it must have taken for Murrow to air that show at the height of McCarthy’s power.

But McCarthy’s legacy also includes Murrow’s courage.

John Avlon, of The Daily Beast, has an excellent article out called “Our Murrow Moment”.  In it he says:

But rather than viewing the prospect of covering a Trump administration with exhaustion, we should feel invigorated. Because when this time is done, we will look back on it as the best and most important time to be a journalist – not because it was easy, but because it was hard and our sense of mission was clear: to respect the office of the President while holding the person in power accountable against a standard of enduring American values.

I hope that we can do this.  I hope we find the courage.  Murrow himself said it:

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

Substitute ‘President Trump’ for ‘Senator McCarthy’ and that quote is entirely apt sixty odd years later.  But also appropriate, I think, was something else in his closing paragraphs:

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully…

Trump is riding high on the desperation of people with no jobs and no hope.  On the fear and anger of those who see their privilege being eroded as the world tries to move toward something more egalitarian.  We need reporters willing to speak truth to power.  We need to expose the fact that he is handing this country over to corporations that will strip-mine the economy and leave all but a few living in its ruins.  We need to make it clear that we will not willingly tolerate the loss of our freedom.

Fear and false hope are Trump’s weapons.  Lies and half-truths are his tools.  These can only be fought if we have the courage to speak up.

Good night, and good luck, indeed.