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Jewish World Review
June 6, 2013/ 28 Sivan 5773
Murrey Marder, 93
His was once a familiar name to the kind of political junkies who followed every twist and turn of the sordid period of American history called McCarthyism -- a term of invective then and now. But to its namesake, the junior senator from Wisconsin at the time, McCarthyism was "the battle for America."
If you think the country is politically polarized today, it's all peace and harmony compared to the deeply divided, mutually suspicious America that Dwight D. Eisenhower inherited when he was sworn in as president in 1953. The Hiss-Chambers Affair had just revealed how high in Washington a Communist spy ring could penetrate. Paranoids, it turned out, could have real enemies boring away in high places. No wonder Americans were seeing Reds everywhere.
The stage was set for Joseph R. McCarthy's rise and, soon enough, fall. Murrey Marder's name became familiar not because it appeared in the headlines but below them. His byline in the Washington Post came to mean something -- that there was at least one reliable guide through the acrimonious politics of the time. For his reporting was not only fair and accurate but detailed and in-depth. The news of his death at 93 brought back that whole tumultuous era.
It was the Post's and the country's good fortune that Murrey Marder was assigned to what was then called the Red Beat. Yes, there were a lot of stories in the papers that gave both sides of the story -- but nothing more. It's still the bane of journalism: the he-said, she-said account that passes for objectivity. Murrey Marder's stuff was different. It didn't just recite both sides' arguments but explored them. Especially the daily fusillade of charges from Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Fear).
It's been said that "a lie can be halfway 'round the world before the truth has got its boots on." Murrey Marder took it as his mission to get truth's boots on -- the facts. And he did so methodically, carefully, completely. Which took time, patience and utter dedication. Naturally he drove his editors crazy, always shaving deadlines, changing his copy till the very last minute and maybe beyond to get all the nuances as right as the bare facts.
As the Post's legendary executive editor Ben Bradlee once noted, Mr. Marder was "one of the world's most thorough reporters." Which wasn't entirely a compliment. Executive editors do have to get the paper out every day, and Marder was holding up production, or at least coming close to it. He couldn't help it. Accuracy meant too much to him to just dash something off by deadline.
Murrey Marder's first and biggest break on the Red Beat was his exposť of Sen. McCarthy's "investigation" of a supposed Communist spy ring at Fort Monmouth, N.J., which resulted in the suspension of 42 Army personnel, many of whom were never told just what they were accused of. It was something out of Franz Kafka's "The Trial."
Looking back years later, Mr. Marder would note that the accusations were "even flimsier than most -- reading the Daily Worker or (knowing) somebody who had gone to school with somebody else who was thought to be a Communist." It will all sound familiar to anybody who's been following today's IRS Scandal, with government agents wanting to know what tea party cells are reading.
Back in 1953, it was Murrey Marder who laid out the real scandal at Fort Monmouth and, after his series appeared in the Post, got the hapless secretary of the Army, a Mr. Robert Stevens, to admit there was no basis for believing there was an espionage ring operating out of that Army post.
Marder's tireless investigative work and its unarguable conclusions were but a preview of the Army-McCarthy hearings the next year that would lead to Joe McCarthy's downfall. The senator would be censured by the whole Senate, and eventually by the whole country -- except for a hard core of true believers. Their equivalent today, the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters, are still out to canonize Joe McCarthy, whatever the facts of the matter. History can be the most pliable of arts if you're a demagogue. Which was Joe McCarthy's calling, too.
Of all the myriad claims Tail-Gunner Joe made about extensive Communist subversion of the U.S. Army and the U.S. government in general, the only Communist he ever exposed that I know of was some poor shnook of an Army dentist whose specialty was filling teeth, not stealing state secrets.
Whittaker Chambers, who exposed a real Communist spy ring at great risk to his life, his reputation and sanity, tried to warn the conservatives of his time about the real danger that McCarthy and McCarthyism represented -- not to Communism but to American conservatism. Writing about McCarthy to his young friend Bill Buckley, he warned that the senator's "flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long time to come."
Sure enough, that's just what happened, beginning with the Army-McCarthy hearings. McCarthyism would become the bane of the anti-Communist cause for years. Just as today the Limbaughs and Coulters make a caricature of conservatism.
Joe McCarthy had his Murrey Marder, and the Nixon Gang their Woodward-and-Bernstein. But who will give the American public a clear, methodical, detailed understanding of the Obama scandals, their pattern and motivation, as they continue to erupt all over? Someone who, like Murrey Marder, understands that the best argument is a fact.
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