We’ve been here before – gripped in a national nightmare of suspicion and blame.
The parallels are striking. Senator Joe McCarthy invoked lies and half-truths to promote fear, repression and retribution against innocent Americans.
Politicians, journalists, soldiers, housewives, even actors were targeted as being ‘commie sympathizers’. No one was immune. The intimidation was so intense – that none dared speak up against the rabid McCarthy tirades.
CBS newsman Edward R Murrow had seen the fear, the damage – as careers were destroyed and lives ruined by lies and innuendo. And he decided to challenge the seeming unstoppable flow of hate and falsehoods.
That historic decision – and series of broadcasts, are superbly chronicled in the George Clooney film ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’.
Murrow and his courageous team, with timid yet unflagging support from William Paley and Frank Stanton of CBS, faced down Goliath with the mightiest of weapons on earth – his own words.
The broadcasts sparked Senate hearings that eventually exposed McCarthy as a deeply-troubled and angry man who held America hostage on what almost became a long dark journey into a hateful night.
Those Murrow broadcasts offer an important lesson.
When a powerful, unyielding zealot – especially one without proper temperament, reasoning or facts – browbeats and demeans those who factually disagree, or those who question his authority – a Joseph McCarthy, or Donald J Trump – or worse ensues.
The Declaration of Independence says, ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ We the people establish government – their powers are on loan from us.
Government is accountable to the people – not the other way around.
That also means it is our right – no, our duty – to demand answers and accountability from every government official, elected, appointed, or employed in our behalf. If they refuse full access to facts, and full answers to our questions – we the people must revoke consent for them to govern us.
Our tricameral form of government has always enjoyed an adversarial Fourth Estate – the press. Their unfettered access, informed observation, and critical reportage allow them to function as our own Guardians of Democracy – the public eyes and ears in the hallowed and often-secretive halls of governance and power.
They get to ask the questions we can’t.
In recent days, the privileged and powerful have decreed they can can bar access to our own public witnesses and certain ‘troublesome’ members of the Press. The desire is to manipulate perception and spoon feed us propaganda from those who pander and profit from infotainment and partisan discourse.
We the People deserve answers – we must demand them. We must insist that the Fourth Estate operate freely as our surrogates to examine all records and facts. No secrets should be kept from the electorate – after all, government exists to serve us.
We must not be silent – or yield.
Murrow, in typical fashion, put it more bluntly: