Have You No Sense of Decency?
On This Day in History
On this day in history, June 9, 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy was deep into the Army-McCarthy trials, where the senator had accused the U.S. Army of employing Communists. The trial, which had become somewhat of a televised circus at that point, had been going on for months. It was on this day 61 years ago when attorney Joseph N. Welch, after McCarthy accused one of Welch’s colleagues of having Communist ties, famously bellowed back, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
Joseph McCarthy was a United States senator from Wisconsin who was, of course, most famous for his attempts at uncovering Communists and Communist activity in the early-to-mid-1950s. He became so powerful during this time known as “The Red Scare” that entertainers, journalists and politicians alike feared speaking out against him, lest they be named as well.
Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow is probably best remembered as one who decided to challenge McCarthyism on this program See It Now. On March 9, 1954 he and his news team aired A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy which helped rally the backlash around McCarthy and, subsequently, his popularity began to wane.
In 2005, George Clooney directed the Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck (Murrow’s famous tag line), which focuses on the journalist's clash with McCarthy and the overall climate of fear in 1950s Cold War America. With a desire to report the facts and enlighten the public, Murrow (David Strathairn), and his dedicated staff—headed by his producer Fred Friendly (played by Clooney) and Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) in the CBS newsroom—defy corporate and sponsorship pressures to examine the lies and scaremongering tactics perpetrated by McCarthy. The movie was shot in color but set to greyscale, to match historical footage of McCarthy, who actually plays himself in the film through actual news reels of the time. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and The New York Times said of Clooney’s direction:
Most of the discussion of this movie will turn on its content—on the history it investigates and on its present-day resonance. This is a testament to Mr. Clooney's modesty (as is the fact that, on screen, he makes himself look doughy and pale), but also to his skill. Over the years he has worked with some of the smartest directors around, notably Joel Coen and Steven Soderbergh (who is an executive producer of this film). And while he has clearly learned from them, the cinematic intelligence on display in this film is entirely his own. He has found a cogent subject, an urgent set of ideas and a formally inventive, absolutely convincing way to make them live on screen.
When Murrow passed away at the age of 57, President Johnson called him a "gallant fighter" and said of the loss, "[he] dedicated his life as a newsman and as a public official to the unrelenting search for truth."
Good night, and good luck.