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Senator Joseph McCarthy visits Washington state on October 22 and 23, 1952.
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In October 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), a conservative Republican from Wisconsin, makes his first political visit to Washington state. McCarthy comes to Washington to campaign for General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), the Republican presidential nominee, and for incumbent Republican Senator Harry P. Cain (1906-1979), who is running for a second term in 1952.
From 1950 until 1954, McCarthy served as the controversial face of the domestic anti-Communist movement, a period that lasted roughly from the end of World War II until the 1960s. McCarthy claimed that Communism was a pervasive force within the United States government and that Soviet forces held a dangerous influence over American foreign and domestic policy. By October 1952, he was nationally famous for his investigations of the 1949 “loss of China” to Communism and of alleged Communists in President Harry S. Truman’s (1884-1972) State Department. McCarthy was best known, however, for his sensational accusations against so-called “known Communists” on the Senate floor and in the press.
McCarthy planned to spend two days in Washington state to speak on behalf his fellow Republicans Cain and Eisenhower. However, McCarthy’s trip was full of “tough luck” (The Seattle Times).
Fog and Other Trouble
His troubles began on the evening of October 22, 1952, when heavy fog in Portland forced his plane to remain grounded overnight in Oregon. Since he was unable to make his scheduled speech in Everett that evening, McCarthy spoke on behalf of Cain by telephone in Vancouver, Washington. With the help of friends, McCarthy arrived in Seattle the following afternoon on October 23rd. McCarthy prepared for two scheduled speeches that day, but did not deliver either of them. Instead, he opted to draft his speech for the fourth annual Gridiron Banquet hosted by the Washington State Press Club. Unbeknownst to McCarthy, the Gridiron Banquet was a silly rather than serious affair. The evening’s skits, songs, and jokes frustrated McCarthy who had intended to speak on serious issues pertaining to his views on domestic Communism.
When McCarthy began his speech, Press Club members jovially heckled and booed him, a long-standing tradition of the Gridiron Banquet. McCarthy became irritated with the distraction and at certain points answered the hecklers in the crowd. At the end of his speech, McCarthy promptly left for the KING-TV station, as he had paid to deliver a 15-minute telecast later that evening. Upon arriving at the station, McCarthy was asked to omit two paragraphs, in which he accused a critic of having two Communist employees.
The station’s lawyers had deemed that part of the speech libelous and asked McCarthy to either provide evidence or delete the paragraphs. Rather than deliver his speech on air without the two paragraphs, McCarthy squabbled with KING-TV officials until airtime. At that point, KING-TV went on the air to announce that the talk, which would also include a reply from Democratic Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), had been canceled. An angered McCarthy announced that he would file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and arrange for them to revoke KING-TV’s license.
McCarthy ended his visit to Washington state by storming out of the station and boarding a plane bound for Chicago. By the end of his visit, McCarthy had only successfully delivered one speech, during which he was heckled and booed.
Edwin R. Bayley, Joe McCarthy and the Press (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), 102-103, 177-178; Ross Cunningham, “’Tough Luck’ Dogs McCarthy in Foray Here,” The Seattle Times, October 24, 1952, p. 16; Byron Fish, “Candidates Lampooned at Gridiron Banquet,” The Seattle Times, October 24, 1952, p. 16; “McCarthy, TV Script Row Cancels Talk,” The Washington Post, October 25, 1952, p. 2; Ellen Schrecker. Many Are Their Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998); “TV Station Defends Action on McCarthy,” The New York Times, October 25, 1952, p. 23.
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