10 Press Exposés That Made a Difference

Confronting McCarthyism (1952-54)
During a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, Sen. Joseph McCarthy holds up a letter purportedly written by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover in 1941 warning that a Fort Monmouth employee had a "direct connection with an espionage agent." Attorney Roy Cohn sits beside McCarthy. Bettmann/Getty Images

In the years after World War II, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, capitalized upon public fear of the Soviet Union to stage a search for communist sympathizers in the government, the military and other parts of society. McCarthy's shrill charges — such as his claim that he possessed a list of 205 State Department employees who were communists — often were based upon thin evidence, but they still ruined lives and careers [sources: Friedman, History.com].

McCarthy's witch hunt roused CBS News journalist Edward R. Murrow —who saw him as a threat to civil liberties — into action. In 1954, Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, put together a half-hour episode of Murrow's program "See it Now," devoted to exposing McCarthy's abuse of his power. In doing so, they utilized powerful evidence — excerpts from McCarthy's own statements, whose contradictions and inaccuracies they then highlighted.

In those days, a federal rule called the Fairness Doctrine required CBS to offer equal time to McCarthy. But when the broadcast ended, the phone calls, letters and telegrams that inundated CBS ran 15 to 1 in Murrow's favor. It was the beginning of the end for McCarthy, who was further exposed in televised Congressional hearings, and then censured by his Senate colleagues [source: Friedman].