Coming to PBS’s American Experience tonight, Monday, January 6:
American Experience (January 2020)
A comprehensive account of the rise and fall of notorious Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy.
Director Sharon Grimberg effectively if conventionally recounts how Joseph McCarthy went from humble farm family beginnings to defeat a seemingly unbeatable incumbent, becoming the junior senator from Wisconsin, and go on to become a feared household name in Washington DC. In February 1950, capitalizing on Cold War tensions, McCarthy fabricated the possession of a list of known communists in the US State Department at an unassuming political event in West Virginia. Once the press fell for the story, the Red Scare was on, and, seeking continued attention, McCarthy needed to keep the lies going, ruining countless lives in the process. McCarthy’s reign of terror continued until the famously televised Army-McCarthy hearings of June 1954, when the Republican establishment finally had enough of the senator’s showboating and publicly censured him. While this did not end the larger anti-communist or anti-homosexual crusade, it did effectively end popular interest in the senator, who continued to serve until his death in 1957. Though Grimberg didn’t intend to create parallels with a present-day unlikely politician prone to outrageous lies and addicted to media attention, the connections are there for those viewers wishing to see them, making this biography resonant with today’s political circus.