Good Luck finding the truth here: George Clooney's new movie Good Night and Good Luck continues the smear campaign against Senator Joseph McCarthy and lionizes leftist reporter Edward R. Murrow.
I viewed the movie in Boston--more specifically, Harvard Square in Cambridge. This was indeed the right place for a movie catering to liberalism and perpetuating its mythology.
The movie is based heavily upon the self-serving memoirs by Murrow's CBS coworkers Fred Friendly and Joe Wershba. It is written and directed by Clooney, who also costars as CBS Producer Fred Friendly. Senator Joseph McCarthy is played by the actual Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose appearances in the black-and-white movie are culled exclusively from historical newsreels. There is also some stellar acting by David Strathairn (Murrow) and Frank Langella (CBS Executive William Paley).
This movie does a good job of spouting the liberal line that McCarthy unconscionably targeted innocent victims and castigated them mercilessly, ruining their lives. The mood throughout the theater I attended was one of disgust that a U.S. senator would intrude into the personal associations of American citizens and prohibit Communists from serving in the government. You could tell by the tsk, tsking of people in the crowd every time McCarthy's statements were played.
The movie, of course, overlooks the fact that the Communist Party USA was widely recognized at the time as being a foreign arm of the Soviet government, an assessment that has since been confirmed by declassified secret cables such as the Venona documents, communications between the Soviet Union and their agents in America, which show that Stalin had been subsidizing the organization.
As Herbert Rommerstein and the late Eric Breindel noted in their study The Venona Secrets: "The Communists did not represent just another political party. Their loyalty was to a foreign power, the Soviet Union, and their goal was nothing less than the subversion and destruction of American [constitutional government]. To advance that goal, the leadership of the Communist Party conscripted whichever of its members were capable of espionage to assist the Soviet intelligence service."
At the time, the U.S. government required federal employees to assent to a non-competitive employment contract similar to what most corporations make employees sign--just as a software engineer for Microsoft Corporation can't moonlight at Corel, a U.S. government employee is not supposed to be on the payroll of a foreign government.
The movie co-mingles a corporate CBS "loyalty oath" with McCarthy's investigation of Communists in government, as well as government investigations that had nothing to do with McCarthy. The movie begins with one of Murrow's reporters (played by Robert Downey Jr.) discussing the CBS loyalty oath and the case of Milo Radulovich, an Air Force Lieutenant cashiered from the service as a security risk because of his father's communist political associations. Radulovich was later reinstated by the Secretary of the Air Force. Neither the corporate loyalty oath nor the Radulovich case have anything to do with McCarthy, but the viewer is led to believe there was a connection through McCarthy's supposed reign of fear.
"He's wrong 100 percent of the time," Strathairn's Murrow rails against McCarthy during the movie, adding later: "Anyone who criticizes or opposes the methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy is a Communist or fellow traveler." Thankfully, according to the movie, Edward R. Murrow and his crew of patriotic reporters at CBS news had the courage to stand up to McCarthy to bring an end to his long reign of terror. That's the theme of the movie. The problem with the theme is that it's wrong. McCarthy did not target innocent people, and he went out of his way to treat the people he investigated fairly.
Take the case of Annie Lee Moss. Senator McCarthy had accused Moss of being a member of the Communist Party, noting that captured membership lists from the Communist Party itself had listed Moss as a party member. "Did you know that there are three Annie Lee Mosses in the phonebook?" a staffer asks Murrow in the movie, implying that Moss was not a member of the Communist Party. Yet history records that McCarthy was accurate about Moss. Her Communist Party membership had identified her address. All of his other major cases--such as Army Major Irving Peress, Lauchlin Currie, Gustavo Duran, Theodore Geiger, Mary Jane Keeney, Edward Posniak, Haldore Hanson, and John Carter Vincent--were also later demonstrated to be Communists.
The movie attempts to show that Moss's career was wrongly threatened by a persecutive McCarthy as he trod on fairness and justice. "Their claim was that she had the right to meet her accusers face to face," Murrow's character said of Moss and her attorneys. But though the movie would have one believe that employment by government is a right, it is not, and since Moss was not charged with a crime or threatened with any loss of her liberty, traditional due process requirements should not really have been an issue. And though Moss had perjured herself before a committee of Congress, McCarthy's "reign of terror" did not prevent Moss from keeping her job at the Pentagon until 1958 (after McCarthy had died), despite her proven Communist Party membership.
Additionally, the movie's insinuation that Murrow was a trailblazer in taking the lead on criticizing McCarthy is laughable on its face. Joseph McCarthy had been attacked regularly by much of the major media--television, radio and newspapers--as well as his fellow senators from the very beginning of his national prominence.
Clooney even undercuts his own case (and the claim in Joseph Wershba's memoirs) that McCarthy led a virtually unchallengeable reign of terror. Clooney reenacted lines from a Murrow program called See It Now that documented how McCarthy had already been roundly criticized by newspapers from across the nation by the time Murrow's broadcast aired. "The ratio is about three-to-one against the senator," Murrow stressed, citing how newspapers both liberal and conservative had criticized McCarthy. If Clooney wanted to prove that the news media had been terrorized and intimidated by McCarthy, and that Murrow had blazed the trail by being the first to criticize McCarthy, he's done a terrible job of it.
In the movie, like in real life, the climax of the conflict between Murrow and McCarthy came when Murrow accused McCarthy of frequently stepping across "the line between investigating and persecution." When he made the accusation, Murrow offered McCarthy an opportunity to defend some of his actions--such as McCarthy's berating of a Brigadier General, Ralph W. Zwicker, who had lied under oath about ordering an honorable discharge for Communist Party member Irving Peress after the Army knew Peress was an avowed Communist.
McCarthy took up Murrow's offer for a rebuttal and gave a speech on CBS on April 6, 1954. This rebuttal was McCarthy's real undoing, not his actions in trying to rid the government of Soviet agents. McCarthy's response to Murrow hardly addressed Murrow's accusations, but attacked Murrow personally. McCarthy's rebuttal was by any account a major tactical blunder; he could have easily exposed Murrow's clever editing of McCarthy's worst moments of emotional outbursts and minor factual errors. But instead he talked about Murrow's leftist political associations such as his work on an exchange with Soviet "educators" under the Institute for International Education in 1935 and his alleged membership in the International Workers of the World. (Murrow's character in the movie denies he was ever a member of the IWW.)
Expectedly, Clooney's movie reinforces the myth that McCarthy was "wrong 100 percent of the time," and those uninformed about the historical facts regarding McCarthy's investigations are as likely to fall for the line as Clooney's liberal audience at Harvard Square.
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|Title Annotation:||CULTURE WAR; Good Night and Good Luck|
|Author:||Eddlem, Thomas R.|
|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Oct 31, 2005|
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