1950 February 20

Senator Joe McCarthy Claims List of 81 Communists in Government


Senator Joe McCarthy gave a six-hour speech on the floor of the Senate on this day, claiming to have a list of 81 Communists employed by the federal government. The number was down from the 205 he claimed in his famous speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, which launched his career as an anti-Communist crusader on February 9, 1950. Under pressure to reveal the names on his list, he finally offered the name of Dorothy Kenyon on March 8, 1950. Kenyon was an active feminist and New York City civil libertarian lawyer, whose career gave no suggestion of Communist beliefs or affiliations.

McCarthy’s reckless attacks on people and institutions for what he saw as their Communist membership or influence gave the English language the word “McCarthyism.” The Washington Post cartoonist Herblock (for Herbert Block) is credited with coining the term “McCarthyism” in a cartoon published on March 29, 1950. McCarthy’s downfall began with Edward R. Murrow’s now-famous program on the Senator, broadcast on March 9, 1954. The program is regarded as one of the most famous in the history of television.

The U.S. Senate finally censured McCarthy for his conduct on December 2, 1954, and his influence quickly declined. “McCarthyism,” as a political phenomenon, however, outlived him by many decades.

Learn more: Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (1982)

Watch the famous documentary on McCarthy, Point of Orderhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EhOdSSI8n4

See the movie based on Murrow’s famous program on McCarthy: Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Learn more about McCarthyism: http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/joseph-mccarthy

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