by Ben Szczepanikby
In the New York Times in 1952, Joseph R. Toven, from Mount Vernon New York, wrote a response to an editorial about Senator Joseph McCarthy. He did not take kindly to the words that were said about the senator. He wrote, “Senator McCarthy has accomplished a great deal in awakening the sleeping minds of many Americans whose use of the newspaper was confined to the comics and the sports pages; he has succeeded in disillusioning many false idealists who thought no evil such as communism would dare to threaten our way of life” (Toven, 1952). One can feel his disdain for the New York Times for writing about the Senator and criticizing him. He said “Mr. McCarthy has made a rather great contribution toward the security of our country; at the expense of a few hurt prides, deflated egos, and flushed Reds, he has helped stem the disease that is communism. He has cried “wolf” justifiably and should be thanked-not damned” (Toven, 1952). This man has a clear love for McCarthy. A love and passion not only for him but also for what it best for his own country.
In today’s political society we see a polarization of Americans and their political party affiliation. As of the beginning of October 2019 Republicans and Republican leaners sit at 41% and Democrats and Democrat leaners sit at 48%. Leaving true independents at 11% (Gallup, 2019). While the true independents have increased since the poll began in January 2004 there is still a big divide between the two parties. What makes a big impact on these people who affiliate to one side are where they get their news from.
Newspapers and news networks today often have a bias to one of the two political parties in America. When it comes to news networks, critics say CNN and MSNBC have a bias towards the Democratic Party while Fox News has a bias towards the Republican Party. With newspapers the New York Times and the Washington Post are more liberal and the Chicago Tribune is more conservative. Even in the 1950’s The Chicago Tribune supported the Republican Party and The New York Times favored the Democratic Party. Especially when it came to Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Newspapers were able to observe McCarthy and his career as a senator and formulate opinions on him. Some of those opinions were pro-McCarthy and others were anti-McCarthy. the Chicago Tribune was biased towards McCarthy and the New York Times was biased against McCarthy. During certain events that involved McCarthy in the 50’s both newspapers would write a report on that said event and the reports would be polar opposites. For example, the censure hearings of 1954.
In 1954 Ralph Flanders called for a debate in a censure of McCarthy and accused him that he was abusing his powers as senator (Stone, 2005. Pg. 1403). It was a very intense couple of weeks and tensions rose within the hearings. But on September 27, 1954 a six-member committee agreed to change the word from censure to condemn. Stone wrote, “McCarthy roared that he was the “victim” of a Communist conspiracy and that the Communist Party “has now extended its tentacles even to… the United States Senate” (Stone, 2005, 1403). More debates continued about the misuse of McCarthy’s power as Senator. “Following a nearly month of debate, the Senate on 2 December approved the censure resolution. By the decisive margin of 67 to 22, the Senate voted to condemn McCarthy for behavior that was contrary to senatorial traditions and ethics” (Raines, 1998, 14). After this censure hearing he was able to keep his Senate seat but his life as a politician started to decline till his death in 1957 (Raines, 1998,14).
Even after he had been condemned the Chicago Tribune still defended him from this censure. A reporter from the Tribune named Edwards defended him with gusto. “No evidence had been established to show that McCarthy “obstructed the processes of the senate,” as charged by the Watkins committee, the Dirksen amendment stated. Moreover, failure to move to bar McCarthy from his seat, in January, 1953, after his reelection in 1952, precluded senate consideration of his conduct in 1952, it continued” (Edwards, 1954). Even after he was voted out from the first censure count the Tribune defended him as if his tactics that he used as Senator were wrong.
The New York Times report seemed happy with the results of McCarthy being condemned in December of 1954. “In the ultimate action the Senate voted to condemn Senator McCarthy for contempt of a Senate Elections subcommittee that investigated his conduct and financial affairs, for abuse of its members, and for his insults to the Senate itself during the censure proceeding” (Leviero, 1954, 1). The results of this, according to McCarthy, had no effect on him. The times asked him an interesting question though after the last hearing. “He had referred to the session as a “lynch party” (Leviero, 1954, 1). Compared to a certain president it is interesting to see that another politician who called an event where people were against him and tried to get him out of his seat a Lynching. It is often said that history repeats itself. But it was Mark Twain that said “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”
This is where opportunity knocks on the door. This could be a perfect lesson about what Americans are seeing on the news today about the possible impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. Both men are accused of abusing their power as a government official. The media was all over McCarthy in the 50’s and the media today is all over Trump as well. So why not take this opportunity to make a connection to the past and also to what is going on today?
The first step is to go over what exactly was McCarthy being accused of in 1954. Explain that he was accused of abusing his power as Senator when hunting for communists in the early 50’s. Then, giving out the articles from the Tribune and from the Times about the censure hearings of McCarthy in 1954 and comparing and contrasting them together to see what these two newspapers are reporting. Then, compare those articles to two modern day articles about the impeachment of President Trump. The next step is to address what exactly President Trump is accused of. Explain that he is accused of abusing his power as President. Then, hand out two modern-day news articles about the impeachment. One from Fox news, a conservative news network, titled Varney: Impeachment efforts boost Trump’s Chances in 2020. The other article from CNN, a liberal news network, titled Trump assaults facts to survive Impeachment. Then compare and contrast as to what both articles are talking about. After showing all of these articles to the students explain the overarching theme of Mark Twain. That history doesn’t repeat itself. But it does rhyme.
Social Studies teachers have an opportunity in their hands right now to really connect an event from the past to an event that is of similarity today. Opportunities like this don’t happen very often. So it is up to us as educators to grasp this moment in American history where we can teach them to make a connection from the past to what is going on the American government right now. It’s happening right in front of their eyes and it would be a wasted opportunity if social studies teachers did not use this to their advantage within the classroom.
Collinson, S. (2019, December 11). Trump assaults facts to survive impeachment. Retrieved December 11, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/11/politics/trump-impeachment-strategy/index.html.
Connor, F. (2019, December 10). Varney: Impeachment efforts boost Trump’s chances in 2020. Retrieved December 11, 2019, from https://www.foxbusiness.com/money/varney-democrats-made-huge-mistake.
Edwards, W. (1952, December 2). “McCarthy censured, 67-20.” Chicago Daily Tribune. Retrieved from http://library.rider.edu:4048/login?url=https://athena.rider.edu:2278/docview/178834312?accountid=37385.
Gallup. (2019, October 31). Party affiliation. Gallup. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx.
Toven, J.R. (1952, September 15). Senator McCarthy praised. The New York Times, 15 Sept. 1952.
Leviero, A. (1954, December 3). Republicans Split. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1954/12/03/96511735.html?pageNumber=1.
Raines, R.R. (1998). The Cold War comes to Fort Monmouth: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the search for spies in the Signal Corps.” Army History, 44 (14). Retrieved from http://athena.rider.edu:2111/stable/26304812.
Stone, G.R. (2005). Free speech in the age of McCarthy: A cautionary tale. California Law Review, 93 (5), 1403. 93, no. 5. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30038489