By David L. Bristow, Editor
“You are not fooling anyone by screaming that McCarthy is lying,” said Sen. Joseph McCarthy into a KFAB microphone on August 24, 1951. He was addressing President Harry Truman.
The president was not screaming or even present, but McCarthy had just described for listeners how he thought Truman might react to the Wisconsin senator’s latest discovery: a 1944 letter in which then-Senator Truman thanked the Soviet Union’s state-controlled Daily Worker newspaper for writing favorably about Truman’s vice-presidential nomination.
Truman’s letter was no more than a diplomatic courtesy, especially when seen in the context of America’s wartime alliance with the USSR. But McCarthy used it to imply that Truman harbored Communist sympathies.
This was part of McCarthy’s ongoing crusade to convince Americans that the Truman administration’s State Department was filled with Communist agents. During his Nebraska visit, the senator addressed a nationwide audience via KFAB before traveling to Lincoln to give a speech at the State Fairgrounds.
McCarthy had been relatively unknown outside Wisconsin until his sensational allegations propelled him into the national spotlight. It didn’t seem to matter that his evidence was flimsy and that he relied mostly on bombast and innuendo. Americans feared Soviet treachery, and McCarthy’s accusations seemed to validate those fears.
The State Department struggled to defend itself against such an attack. Hours before McCarthy’s KFAB broadcast, the morning Omaha World-Herald quoted a State Department press release accusing the senator of using “a mixture of quarter-truth, half-truth, and untruth” in attacking a US ambassador. “McCarthy is merely continuing to use the familiar tactic of repeat, repeat, repeat—without any regard for the truth or the facts involved.”
McCarthy’s use of smear tactics and unfounded allegations eventually led to his censure by the US Senate in 1954.
(Photo: McCarthy at KFAB, 206 So. 13th Street, Omaha. History Nebraska RG2183-PH1951-824-1)
Posted March 9, 2022.
“McCarthy’s Charges Old,” Omaha World-Herald, Aug. 24, 1951, p. 36.
“Truman Sent Reds Thanks,” Omaha World-Herald, Aug. 25, 1951, p. 5.
“Old Truman Letter De-Mothed by Reds,” New York Times, April 24, 1952, p. 12. https://www.nytimes.com/1952/04/24/archives/old-truman-letter-demothed-by-reds.html. (Validates that the letter was genuine.)