December 5, 2022

1954. CBS Warns of Retaliation by Senator Joseph McCarthy

McCarthy to Appear on See It Now
CBS internal memo dated March 30, 1954 (click to enlarge)
On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow devoted a full episode of See It Now to criticizing Senator Joseph McCarthy. Murrow offered him a chance to respond on air, stating: "If the Senator feels that we have done violence to his words or pictures and desires so to speak to answer himself, an opportunity will be afforded him on this program." McCarthy appeared a month later on April 6, 1954.

One week before McCarthy's appearance, CBS news director Wells "Ted" Church sent out a memo warning correspondents in Europe about possible backlash.

March 30, 1954

Dear Bill:

I am sending this letter to everyone in Europe except Alex, and I leave him out only because I am sure the letter wouldn't get to him in time.

I had a short huddle with Ed this morning and something he said prompts me to write all of you. You all know how determined he has always been to keep each and every one of us out of trouble. Now he is very worried that McCarthy will have something to say about some of us that may hurt. I assured him vehemently that not a man on the staff would be really hurt regardless of what McCarthy said, and that, furthermore, being brought up to the firing line along side Ed would be an honor for any of us.

If McCarthy shows up (and there seems to be some doubt that he will) next Tuesday night, whatever he says will undoubtedly be carried where you are as well as here. I think it would be a good idea if each of you, after hearing what is said, sent Murrow some kind of appropriate cable to disabuse his mind of any worry about any harm he may have brought down on the heads of any of us. His action stems from this very fact—he thinks maybe his action in attacking McCarthy will be responsible for what McCarthy says about someone else.

I am sure you see what I mean.

Sincerely your[s],