March 27, 2013

1950s. Bill Downs and Edward R. Murrow on McCarthyism

The Age of McCarthyism
Bill Downs and Edward R. Murrow in Tokyo while covering the Korean War, 1950
The Murrow Boys were household names by the end World War II in Europe. Edward R. Murrow in particular commanded an enormous amount of respect among American listeners, and he took that reputation very seriously. Despite this, he and his staff went on to face ever-emerging challenges as journalists in the postwar years.

Soon after the debut of Murrow's television news series See It Now in 1951, Bill Downs urged Murrow to use his new platform to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy. At that time, the Second Red Scare was still going strong, and a direct challenge to McCarthy or the anticommunist crusaders in Washington meant risking one's career and being branded a Soviet sympathizer.

The CBS news staff agreed that McCarthy was a threat to American democracy. Murrow himself believed that the Senator's populist demagoguery had taken the form of a "Nazi-like mass movement." Still, he was reluctant to launch any direct attack on McCarthyism, lest he abuse his role as a journalist. Downs, however, believed that Murrow should speak out. Others such as the show's producer Fred Friendly maintained that it would be better to wait for the right time.

The CBS news team was especially concerned about reprisal in an industry plagued by witch-hunts and blacklisting. In 1950, CBS reporters Howard K. Smith and Alexander Kendrick—both of them Murrow Boys—were among the 151 news and entertainment figures named in the infamous Red Channels list of alleged "Red Fascists and their sympathizers" in the broadcast industry. Later that year, CBS management required its employees to sign a loyalty oath affirming that they were not and never had been communists. Downs protested at first, but Murrow, at that point careful to pick his battles, told him: "If you don't want to sign the oath, there is no way I can protect you."

Downs, for his part, did not keep silent. Cartoonist Walt Kelly later wrote: "Those of us who had reason to question the loyalty oath could not help but be cheered by a reverse side of the coin. Bill Downs made a blistering radio attack over CBS on the cloak-and-dagger activities on Capitol Hill. 'Things were just going too far,' he said to me. 'I couldn't take it anymore.'"

Downs also talked about the responsibility of journalists in the age of McCarthy in a 1953 editorial entitled "The Armor of Cynicism," saying:
A news reporter, which I've been for half of my life, is required to be a cynic. The attitude is, in a sense, a scientific technique of our craft, since the job requires close observation of men in every conceivable position, disposition, and indisposition. Among other things, we are supposed to spot the toes of clay splaying out from under the pearl-gray spats, or the cloven hoof encased in the jackboot, before anyone else.

Cynicism also is the touchstone of a reporter's alchemy through which he hopes to discover that nonexistent load called "objectivity." For as a set of philosophers, the only true objective reporter is the dead one.
While Murrow was not the first to challenge McCarthy (Eric Sevareid noted Elmer Davis and Martin Agronsky as two who already had), he remains perhaps the most memorable. He covered the case of Milo Radulovich in October 1953 before finally addressing McCarthy directly.

On March 9, 1954, CBS aired the iconic episode of See It Now entitled "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy." Murrow said that:
On one thing the Senator has been consistent. Often operating as a one-man committee, he has traveled far; interviewed many; terrorized some; accused civilian and military leaders of the past administration of a great conspiracy to turn over the country to communism; investigated and substantially demoralized the present State Department; made varying charges of espionage at Fort Monmouth. The Army says it has been unable to find anything relating to espionage there. He has interrogated a varied assortment of what he calls "Fifth Amendment Communists."
In his closing remarks Murrow stated:
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. 
As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the Junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear. He merely exploited it, and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
On April 6, 1954, CBS allotted McCarthy a full half hour on See It Now to respond. The Senator lashed out at Murrow:
Now, of course, neither Joe McCarthy nor Edward R. Murrow is of any great importance as individuals. We are only important in our relation to the great struggle to preserve our American liberties. The Senate Investigating Committee has forced out of government, and out of important defense plants, communists engaged in the Soviet conspiracy. And you know, it's interesting to note that the viciousness of Murrow's attacks is in direct ratio to our success in digging out communists.

Now, ordinarily I would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer Murrow. However, in this case I feel justified in doing so because Murrow is a symbol, the leader, and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual communists and traitors.
. . .

Now, Mr. Murrow said on this program—and I quote—he said: "The actions of the Junior Senator from Wisconsin have given considerable comfort to the enemy." That is the language of our statute of treason—rather strong language.

If I am giving comfort to our enemies, I ought not to be in the Senate. If, on the other hand, Mr. Murrow is giving comfort to our enemies, he ought not to be brought into the homes of millions of Americans by the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Downs' role in the affair is recounted in several books:

From Murrow: His Life and Times by A.M. Sperber, p. 403-404:
The atmosphere of Washington, between the hearings and the expanded loyalty review dragnet, was near manic. Bill Downs, reporting for CBS-TV, finding himself screaming and drinking too many martinis, begged for Murrow's help: "Ed, just get me out of here!"
"Nobody at the State Department would talk to him anymore," Roz Downs said later, "nobody in the Defense Department would talk to him anymore, nobody in government would talk to anybody—they weren't even talking to their own friends anymore, the things that were happening were so awful. It had just reached the point where everybody in Washington seemed stark, raving mad. Everybody was crazy—and frightened.
Downs, one of the media's angry men, kept after Murrow, one of the rising chorus intoning, Do something about McCarthy. Not one of these clever let-the-audience-decide numbers. Hit him head-on. Hard. Forget radio; everybody bitched about McCarthy on radio. It had to be TV, and only he, Murrow, had the access.
It was getting to be a leitmotif. Roz Downs later remembered an evening at the Murrow apartment, following their sitting in on the 7:45 news. Janet was out. Murrow was fixing drinks, fumbling unhappily with the ice bucket.
He said, "My God, don't we have any ice?"

I didn't know if he knew how to get the ice out of the refrigerator, so I said, "I'll get the ice," and Bill said, "Oh, for cryin' out loud, I'll get the ice."

So Bill starts out to the kitchen, and Murrow turns around to me and breathes this great sigh of relief because he could see Bill was just ready. "Make you a bet that it's gonna be two minutes before he mentions McCarthy to me and he's gonna say, 'Okay, Ed, when are you gonna take on McCarthy?'"

I looked at him and said "Ed, you are completely wrong. I'm surprised he went to get the ice out first. He's going to walk back through the door with the ice, and he's gonna say, 'Okay, Ed, when are you—'" and just then Bill walked back through the door.

Ed looked, said, "You won."

And Bill said, "Okay, Ed, now I've gotten the ice. When are you gonna stand up to McCarthy?"
They broke up. "It's not funny, goddammit! Do you know what that man is doing to the country?" Murrow grew serious. He knew Bill was covering this every day, he said, that he was close to the story. But Friendly just didn't feel it was time yet.
What did he mean, Friendly didn't think so? It was his, Murrow's, decision. Though obviously there were problems, they agreed, and yes, timing was important. Eisenhower had endorsed McCarthy only a few months ago. How did you attack McCarthy over something as powerful as nationwide TV when the President of the United States, the war hero, the landslide incumbent, had made him respectable?"
From Edward R. Murrow: An American Original by Joseph E. Persico:
To Ed Murrow, a man already inclined to pessimism and dark forebodings, the era of McCarthyism was a nightmare coming true. As a student leader in Europe, and later as a broadcaster, he had watched the Germans trade unruly Weimar democracy for Nazi order. He had witnessed home-grown Fascist movements in England, France, and Poland. He knew how the Fascists made their excesses palatable: anticommunism was the respectable cloak they wore. When Murrow and his wife, Janet, were flying home from England in 1946, as the American coast came into view, she recalled Ed saying, "We saw it happen in Europe. There's no reason to suppose it can't happen here." 
He had taken stands. He had spoken out against the circus-style anticommunism of the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy's victim, Owen Lattimore, thanked Murrow for defending him on the air "even when the hysteria was at its height." Murrow helped save the careers of CBS colleagues who had been blacklisted.

Still, some of Murrow's friends had been asking aloud why he was not doing more, not using his unrivaled position, that bully pulpit of microphone and camera with its audience of millions, to challenge McCarthy head-on. Bill Downs, a gruff, much valued friend came up from CBS's Washington bureau to have dinner with the Murrows at their Park Avenue apartment. Afterward, over drinks, Downs warned, "You'd better do something about that guy."

Murrow hedged. "Fred Friendly says it isn't time yet," he said, referring to the co-producer of See It Now.

"It is time," Downs insisted. "The effect that McCarthy is having is nothing short of devastating."
From Key Readings in Journalism:
(In the immediate aftermath of Murrow's See It Now McCarthy broadcast on March 9, 1954):
. . . The highest praise came generally from those who had been in the fight the longest, from I.F. Stone's Weekly to the editorial writers of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, to cartoonist Walt Kelly, to Joe Alsop, who had immediately sent a cable (ONE OF THE GREAT ACTS OF POLITICAL COURAGE OF OUR TIME).
The reaction abroad, after word of the program hit the news wires, was "phenomenal," as a correspondent put it. "The European newspapers went crazy, they were delighted; it was like America coming into its own again."
The BBC ran a kinescope. In Rome Bill Downs, now bureau chief for CBS, ran nightly screenings at his home to packed houses and standing ovations, mostly from Americans in Rome. (His own reaction: "About time!") Said Roz Downs: "We were getting calls from the embassy, from the USIA, saying, 'We are desperate, we want to see this thing.' The State Department was overjoyed; they were terrified of what was going on. And the military attachesafter all, the Army was being attacked."

1953. An Interview with Eleanor Roosevelt: What is a Liberal?

An Interview with Eleanor Roosevelt

This segment of the "Longines Chronoscope" aired on August 26, 1953 at 11:00 PM.

Full transcript.

BILL DOWNS: You have become known as the leader of what is loosely called the "liberal movement" in this country, or what used to be called the liberal movement in this country, and some people call them "do-gooders" and the rest of it—could you define a liberal for us in your own words?

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: ...I would feel that a liberal was a person who kept an open mind, was willing to meet new questions with new solutions, and felt that you could move forward. You didn't have to always look backward and be afraid to look forward.

DOWNS: And that's what this National Issues Committee that you're...

ROOSEVELT: The National Issues Committee is going to try to look at the issues, to put them in simple terms so that the people can understand them as objectively as possible and to feel that they can as the liberals do move forward.

EDWARD P. MORGAN: ...We've been told by our experts that we may have to live in this world of uncertainty and indecision short of war, in a Cold War for X number of years to come. What is your recipe for us to face up to it?

ROOSEVELT: Well, I think the study of our history. Certainly the people who settled this country didn't have any great security, and it's hard for the young to live in uncertainty; they love to be sure of the future. But I really think that we have the stamina, particularly if we look at what we came from, to live through uncertainty.

1954. Atrocities in Korea

The Big Picture: Atrocities in Korea

The Big Picture was an ABC program sponsored by the US Army. This episode, "Atrocities in Korea," is a documentary narrated by Bill Downs on war crimes in Korea.

1948. A Cake of Soap

"A Cake of Soap"
"You know, we are performing a most important social experiment here in my country. But believe me, it is not very pleasant being a guinea pig."
The Hotel Metropol in Moscow. Photo by O. Smagin (source)
From the anthology As We See Russia published by the Overseas Press Club of America, pp. 125-128:


One night in the Metropole Hotel, Moscow's answer to the Messrs. Statler and Hilton, I had a visit from a bright-faced young girl, not the usual type of devushka, that managed somehow to show up in our lonely rooms. She couldn't have been over seventeen years old, and in honor of the occasion she was wearing a gaudy Mickey Mouse pin. At first I figured she was just another one of them. Maybe out of the stable of a foreign attaché's office, or perhaps a special friend of a minor official in the United States Embassy.

The girl spoke English, which obviated a lot of picture drawing on my part—my favorite substitute for a language. It developed that she had spent several years in America, where her father had been a commercial attach√© in New York. Part of her schooling in the United States was in Brooklyn. And as far as I ever found out, she just wanted to talk with someone about America, and once again to try out her English. The English wasn't bad.

The time was the cold February of 1943, shortly after the great Red Army victory at Stalingrad. Perhaps it was the spirit of victory, the first since the gigantic Nazi attack on Russia, that gave her the courage to obtain my name and visit me. I never found that out either. Personal questions were seldom asked. Moments, some of which lasted for an hour and some for weeks, were plucked out of life in those days, to disappear in the memory. Questions about the past or the future did not play any part of those moments.

We talked at first cautiously, as was the custom. Under the corrupting influence of a bit of chocolate and some Nestle's coffee concentrate, the girl relaxed and began to talk more freely. She asked for more coffee the first, she said, she had tasted since leaving America.

The girl asked permission to take off her shoes. The wooden soles were wet. And with the composure that so many Russians have, she also removed her stockings and took them to the bathroom to dry. When she returned, she was wearing my house-slippers, as if she had known where they were all the time.

We talked about America, about Times Square and the subways, the bridges and the tunnels. She asked whether it was true that Deanna Durbin had died, a Russian rumor that seemed to have spread throughout the country at that time. Miss Durbin is still an unofficial heroine there since her picture "One Hundred Men and a Girl" was allowed to play in the nation's cinemas. The picture is extremely popular. Some of the Komsomolskaya (Young Communist League) bobby-soxers said they had seen the film as many as twenty times.

I assured my new friend that Miss Durbin was alive and well, and told her about the brownout in Times Square America's answer to the blackout in Red Square. And then the conversation got around to life in Russia.

"Yes," she said, "life is ochen trudna (very difficult) here. There is the war, of course. But life has always been hard in the Soviet Union. We Russians know it and accept it. You Americans know nothing about it."

I asked her if she would like some vodka. She refused. The Russians, particularly the educated ones, are the most Victorian people since Britain's last reigning queen.

I asked the girl if she thought life in Russia would be easier after the war. "Life will be easier," she replied. "The war will not be here. But life will still be hard, because our nation is still growing and developing."

Since it was to be an intellectual evening, I had the vodka.

The girl reminded me of my sister. She was about the same age and had the same boyish way of propping her legs up on the closest piece of furniture.

Yes, she continued, more Americans should see her country. We should see what they had achieved. Did they not have the finest library in the world? And think of the future before their country! All of the land east of the Urals to be developed. All the boys and girls in her school studying engineering wanted to go to the East, as early-day Americans wanted to go west. Forests and mines and farms to be made to serve the Russian people. Why, she continued, in some of the collective farms in Siberia, the Stakhanovite farmers were even spreading dried grasses and wood over potential farm lands and burning the cover to thaw the ground. Then they would plow, and by keeping the land cultivated it would never freeze solid again and could be used to raise quick-maturing crops during the short, near-Arctic summer.

The girl spoke of these things matter-of-factly. She read them in Pravda and was taught them in her classes, and as far as I know they were true. I later confirmed this enthusiasm of Soviet youth for the development of Siberia, in talking with Russian students. The political expansion of Russia may be manifesting itself westward in the postwar world. But the physical expansion of the country most definitely will be eastward if the teachings in the schools and colleges in 1943 were any evidence.

In Russia during the war, you seldom spoke of communism versus capitalism. In the first place, we were then comrades-in-arms and the subject was not important. In the second place, the official line of the inevitable struggle between capitalism and communism was a bit confused. Marshal of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin had indicated to Commander-in-Chief Franklin Roosevelt that the two systems could live in Diplomat-at-Large Wendell Willkie's One World side by side.

And anyway, being a guest in Russia makes practically every Russian your host, and they generally are too polite personally to bring up such embarrassing prognostications. At that time, the white lard and the fine-grained sugar and the canned red meat called Spam were beginning to appear in the ration of the Muscovites. They knew it was American food more by rumor than by credit given officially. And they were seeing the six-by-six trucks of Studebaker and Willys jeeps in the fighting areas. It was an era of good feeling, even though the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Stalingrad armies later was to tell us the trucks didn't count in the battle "because they don't shoot."

My new friend by this time was worrying about the ten o'clock curfew. I was worrying about getting her out of the room and also wondering if I was giving her enough material to justify her trip, in event she had to make a report to the secret police. We always suspected the girls of wearing a path between the Metropole and the NKVD's headquarters on Lubyanka Square, although no one ever proved it.

But in looking back on it, here was a perfectly ridiculous scene. A seventeen-year-old girl sitting in the room of a foreign correspondent. Compromising, at the time, more to her than to me. The discussion ranged from Hollywood movies through the Lincoln Tunnel to the politics of the Communist Party in Russia. The ten o'clock curfew was past, and she started collecting her shoes and stockings.

After she put them on, I gave her a piece of chocolate to take home. I discovered later that she had already appropriated a half-bar of soap in the bath. You got so you expected that and didn't mind it at all. Russian soap then more resembled pumice stone than a saponified detergent. The process was more scraping than washing. Anyway, Russians are among the cleanest people in the world, and a visitor there with soap just naturally wants to keep them that way. Particularly if they are your friends.

By this time my friend had dressed herself for the cold night. There was the neatly patched coat. The outer garments always smelled of wood smoke. This was because so many people lived in rooms heated by the make-shift tin, out-the-window stoves that smoked so badly. The iron radiators and heavy stoves long ago were taken as scrap for armaments.

The scene still remains before me as one of the most vivid in my memory of life in Moscow. With the deliberate movements of a debutante at the Stork Club, the girl shook out the gray wool scarf—a grandmother of a scarf, at least four feet at the corners. It was deftly folded, triangular, and centered over the head, wrapped under the chin, crossed over the breasts, behind the back, and tied in front. Pre-Schiaparelli, but warm, almost a badge of Russian womanhood since Genghis Khan.

The girl paused before going out, and said, "Thank you very much for the chocolate and the coffee. It was very nice to hear again about New York and to use my English." She started for the door again and paused. "You know," she said, "we are performing a most important social experiment here in my country." She adjusted her scarf and coat and looked solemnly at me. Then she said: "But believe me, it is not very pleasant being a guinea pig."
On page 304 the book includes a brief bio up to 1948:
BILL DOWNS (William Randall Downs, Jr.) headed the Moscow bureau of the Columbia Broadcasting System from December, 1942 to January, 1944. Then, landing with British troops on D-day in Normandy, he covered the campaign in northern France and Germany until the Nazi surrender, arrived in Manila to see the end of the Pacific war and landed with the initial occupying units in Japan. Mr. Downs was one of the flying reporting unit organized by Tex McCrary to cover the U.S. Twentieth Air Force in the Pacific, and after Japan he toured China, Burma, Siam, Indo-China, the Malay States, and Java with this group.

Before going to Moscow for CBS, Mr. Downs was a foreign correspondent for the United Press in London. Born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1914, he began his news career with the UP in Denver and in 1939 was transferred to New York. Since the war, Mr. Down's [sic] assignments for CBS have included America's postwar industry and labor readjustments, Test Able at Bikini, and a trip back over the European victory route to Berlin. Currently, he is based in Detroit, covering the steel, coal, rubber, and automotive industries for CBS's "News of America."