We shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but when the death of one person becomes the pretext for besmirching the memory of another the record needs to be corrected.
A glaring example in this genre is the recent passing of veteran Washington Post reporter Murray Marder, who covered internal security issues for the paper back in the era of the Cold War. The person being smeared in tributes to Marder is — no surprise here– the long since deceased Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, a frequent target of Marder and many other media critics in the 1950s.
As portrayed in obits of Marder (e.g. in the New York Times), he was a crack reporter who used his journalistic skills to nail McCarthy for alleged falsehoods – with particular reference to a fracas between McCarthy and the White House that led to the famous Army-McCarthy hearings in the spring of ’54. The Times treatment of this conflict is bizarre, as virtually every substantive statement about it is in error.
The centerpiece of the Army-McCarthy wrangle was a McCarthy subcommittee investigation of a hush-hush Army research complex at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, where secret work was being done on radar and other key defense technologies. The hearings involved allegations that Pentagon security was deplorably lax, that there were subversives hanging around the complex, and that there were indications of possible espionage harming US security interests in the struggle with the Kremlin.
According to the Times account, this McCarthy inquest was an uproar over nothing, supposedly shown to be such by Marder’s ace reporting. There was allegedly no real security problem at Monmouth, as assertedly proved by Marder when he forced Army Secretary Robert Stevens “to admit” that McCarthy’s charges were phony—suggesting that Stevens was reluctant to rebut McCarthy until Marder made him do it.
While misreporting McCarthy cases has long been standard practice for the press corps, this Times obit could receive a Pulitzer prize for most complete inversion of the record. Not only are its main assertions wrong, they demonstrably stand the truth about the story on its head. Misrepresentation of the facts could hardly go much further.
Fact one is that there was copious evidence of lax security at Monmouth and its associated research labs, as shown by a string of witnesses who refused to say whether they had pro-Red contacts or had been engaged in spying at the complex. (A one-time hangout for atom spy Julius Rosenberg, many of whose colleagues were still on the scene at defense labs in the Monmouth set-up.)
The grave security problems at Monmouth would be confirmed to McCarthy by (a) the lead investigator for G-2 counterintelligence of the Army, (b) the head of Army security at Monmouth, and (c) the commanding officer of the Fort, Maj. Gen. Kirke B. Lawton. All these would likewise reveal that they were under orders not to talk about the matter, and Lawton would later be drummed out of the Army for having done so.
In sum, there was a huge cover-up going on at Monmouth, and McCarthy’s investigation was threatening to blow the lid off . The point man for this cover-up was Army Secretary Stevens, who was given the task of denying and downplaying the McCarthy revelations. Thus the person supposedly “forced” by crack journalist Marder “to admit” that McCarthy’s charges were false was the person whose job it was to say they were false to start with. (The analogy would have been to “force” someone from the Nixon White House “to admit” that there was nothing to see in the Watergate scandal.) This is falsehood pushed to the outer limits.
In other words, Murray Marder was not so much reporting about Fort Monmouth as simply carrying water for the anti-McCarthy forces, repeating the official coverup line that he was given. A similar example was the matter of J.B. Matthews, a McCarthy staffer who had written a well documented magazine piece about pro-Communist activity among certain members of the Protestant clergy. A huge flap about this was created by a left-wing lobby group, alleging that Matthews was an “anti-Protestant” bigot working for the Catholic McCarthy (conveniently omitting the fact that Matthews himself was a Methodist pastor).
This controversy was seized on by anti-McCarthy staffers in the White House, who invited a concocted “protest” from a liberal church group, implicitly criticizing McCarthy and Matthews, with an equally phony “response” from President Eisenhower drafted before the protest was ever at the White House. (All this later revealed in some detail by then White House speech writer Emmet Hughes.)
The whole farrago was then handed to the Washington Post, which ran a gargantuan front page story about it, replete with full texts of the totally bogus correspondence. The lead reporter of this study in disinformation was none other than Murray Marder, once more functioning as a conduit for deception. Thus do misrepresentations of the present day compound the falsehoods of the fifties.
P.S. More complete details about these and other McCarthy cases may be found in my book, Blacklisted by History (Crown Forum,2007)