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The Smearing of Joe McCarthy: The Lavender Scare, Gossip, and Cold War Politics

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Abstract

Despite historians’ best efforts to disassociate the anti-communist purges of the post-World War II era from one individual’s extreme behavior, the early Cold War years continue to be known as the McCarthy era, and Senator Joseph McCarthy remains a symbol—perhaps the paramount symbol—of irrationality and illegitimacy in American politics. His fall from grace in 1954 likewise denotes the return to moral order and political sanity. McCarthy did not introduce the practices and policies of political repression and sexual oppression that constituted the domestic Cold War, and many of those practices and policies outlasted him. Nonetheless, he inhabits our memories as their most visceral representation. The man—his name, his face, as much as his behavior—stands for the era.1

Keywords

Cultural Diplomacy Imperial Brotherhood Sexual Oppression Visceral Representation European Press 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  2. The most important accounts of McCarthy’s career include David M. Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (new York: Free Press, 1983)Google Scholar
  3. Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1997)Google Scholar
  4. Richard H. Rovere, Senator Joe McCarthy (new York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959)Google Scholar
  5. Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1987)Google Scholar
  6. Arthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator (new York: Free Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    John D’Emilio, “The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold War America,” in Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, ed. Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1989), 226–240Google Scholar
  8. K. A. Cuordileone, “‘Politics in an Age of Anxiety’: Cold War Political Culture and the Crisis in American Masculinity,” Journal of American History 87.2 (2000): 515–545Google Scholar
  9. Robert D. Dean, Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of Cold War Foreign Policy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001)Google Scholar
  10. David K. Johnson, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  11. 3.
    Thomas Doherty, “Pixies: Homosexuality, Anti-Communism, and the Army-McCarthy Hearings,” in Television Histories: Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age, ed. Gary R. Edgerton and Peter C. Rollins (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), 193–206Google Scholar
  12. also Cuordileone, “Politics in an Age of Anxiety,” 541–543; Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 147–154.Google Scholar
  13. 4.
    Dean, Imperial Brotherhood, 66–67Google Scholar
  14. Michael S. Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  15. 5.
    On master-slave rhetoric in the Cold War, see Michael Rogin, Ronald Reagan, the Movie: and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  16. As David Johnson notes, lesbians were affected by the lavender scare in profound ways, but they were less visible as signifiers of the dangers facing the nation.Google Scholar
  17. 6.
    Jack Alexander, “The Senate’s Remarkable Upstart,” Saturday Evening Post, August 8, 1947, p. 15.Google Scholar
  18. 8.
    Johnson, Lavender Scare, 96 Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 43–45Google Scholar
  19. Allen J. Matusow (ed.) Joseph R. McCarthy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970), 22–23, 51.Google Scholar
  20. 9.
    Cuordileone, “Politics in an Age of Anxiety” Steven Cohan, Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties (bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  21. 10.
    Oliver Pilat, Drew Pearson: An Unauthorized Biography (New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1973)Google Scholar
  22. Herman Klurfeld, Behind the Lines: The World of Drew Pearson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968)Google Scholar
  23. Drew Pearson, Diaries, 1949–1959, ed. Tyler Abell (new York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974), viiGoogle Scholar
  24. February 25, 1950 column, box 5, Drew Pearson Papers (Syracuse University Library; hereafter DPP). On Winchell, see Neal Gabler, Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity (new York: Knopf, 1995). On distinctions between hard news and entertainment, see Sasha Torres, “Sex of a Kind: On Graphic Language and the Modesty of Television News,” in Our Monica Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest, ed. Lauren Berlant and Lisa Duggan (new York: New York University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  25. 11.
    May 1, 1950 clipping, box 2, Thomas Reeves Papers (State Historical Society of Wisconsin); see also Draft Radio Broadcast, and Memo FB to DP re: Handling McCarthy [n.d.], box G222, 3 of 3, Personal Papers of Drew Pearson (LBJ Library, Austin, TX; hereafter PPDP). On early criticisms of McCarthy, see Michael O’Brien, McCarthy and McCarthyism in Wisconsin (new York: Columbia University Press, 1980)Google Scholar
  26. Edwin R. Bayley, Joe McCarthy and the Press (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  27. 16.
    Oshinsky, Conspiracy So Immense, 252Google Scholar
  28. Roy Cohn, McCarthy (new York: New American Library, 1968), 45–46Google Scholar
  29. Reeves, Life and Times, 464–465Google Scholar
  30. Sidney Zion, The Autobiography of Roy Cohn (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1988), 45, 87; Nicholas von Hoffman, Citizen Cohn (new York: Doubleday, 1988), 140–142; Thomas L. Dumm, “Trial of J. Edgar Hoover,” in Secret Agents: The Rosenberg Case, McCarthyism, and Fifties America, ed. Marjorie Garber and Rebecca L. Walkowitz (new York: Routledge, 1995), 77–92.Google Scholar
  31. 17.
    Cohn, McCarthy, 81; Zion, Autobiography of Roy Cohn, 90–91.Google Scholar
  32. 18.
    New York Times, April 12, 1953, 8; ibid., April 16, 1953, 6; Washington Post, April 26, 1953, 3B; April 22, 1953 column, box 3, Reeves Papers; Richard H. Rovere, “The Adventures of Cohn and Schine,” The Reporter, July 21, 1953, 9–16; Theodore Kaghan, “The McCarthyization of Theodore Kaghan,” The Reporter, July 21, 1953, 17–25; typescript [n.d. n.a.], and Jock Lawrence to Drew Pearson, April 15, 1953, box G221, 3 of 3, PPDP.Google Scholar
  33. 20.
    On anxieties about homosociality, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (new York: Columbia University Press, 1985)Google Scholar
  34. Robert J. Corber, Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

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