Burriss: McCarthyism alive and well?

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One of the complaints I'm hearing quite a bit about this year's presidential race is how little actual investigation is being done by reporters and news organizations, which is a pretty interesting charge considering that this Wednesday, March 9th, marks one of the most significant dates in the media.

In 1954 on this date, C-B-S news reporter Edward R. Murrow aired his famous Joseph McCarthy broadcast. The "See It Now" program is often credited with bringing about the downfall of the bombastic and accusatory Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the beginning of the end of McCarthyism.

As I talk to students today they find it almost inconceivable there was a time in this country, not so very long ago, when a vast portion of the citizenry was actually afraid of someone in government. They find it almost impossible to believe in this country careers were destroyed, relationships broken, and in some cases, lives ended, because of what you believed.

Actually, Murrow did what reporters are supposed to do: he simply took the words McCarthy was using, and compared them against reality. He went to documents and previous statements the junior senator had used, and showed the public where the contradictions and outright lies were.

By showing McCarthy in action, and by using his own words, Murrow took a bold step in letting the public see just what tactics the junior senator from Wisconsin was using to destroy those who opposed his brand of patriotism.

At one time McCarthyism was seen as an aberration on the American political scene, but recent events have shown his tactics have not been forgotten, and are alive and well today.

At the end of the program Murrow didn't say McCarthy was entirely at fault for the situation. He also laid part of the blame on an apathetic and over-credulous public: Even Murrow's final words in the broadcast are just as applicable today: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

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Larry Burriss
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