It was a given while I was growing up that Sen. McCarthy‘s hunt for Soviet agents in the US government was a sickening example of paranoia gone wild. The common wisdom said that lives were needlessly ruined, innocent people and their reputations were destroyed, and America teetered on the brink of becoming a Fascist state where the FBI would be far worse than the Gestapo.
Heh. Talk about paranoia gone wild.
The reason why this take on McCarthy’s crusade is absurd is due to the fact that he was substantially correct. Declassified documents from the Venona Project, a top secret effort to intercept and decode Soviet messages, essentially proved that there were spies on the Russian payroll working at sensitive jobs inside the US government. Some of them even refused payment for betraying their country, so dedicated were they to the most murderous ideology the world has ever seen.
A film co-written and directed by George Clooney tells the tale of veteran newsman Edward R. Murrow, a journalist who used his television pulpit to stand up to Sen. McCarthy and start his fall from grace. I was wondering how Clooney would handle the fact that Murrow, by discrediting McCarthy and ending attempts to reveal the agents who were working for a hostile foreign power, was actually doing the Soviet’s work for them. Alas, he handles it by making sure that there isn’t a hint of it anywhere in the film. According to these two reviews, the movie portrays Murrow as a hero for speaking truth to power and bringing down the brutish Senator before he could destroy any more innocent lives.
The Venona Project translations of Soviet communiqués have been available to the public for more than ten years now. Even so, a shockingly small percentage of people are aware of them. It would seem that the majority of the people interested in this subject simply swallow the story outlined in the first paragraph and don’t ever bother to read up on it. That’s a great pity. It’s also a great pity that Clooney’s movie will probably be a fairly big hit for a drama that’s all talk and no action.
I think I’m going to miss this one when it comes to my multiplex, though. I just don’t see any reason to reward a filmmaker for perpetuating a thoroughly debunked myth.