While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the
State Department who have been named as members of the
Communist party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of the
State as being members of the Communist party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department. (Bayley, 1981,p.17)
This story is held responsible for sparking the McCarthyism era.
The incidents following it, represent a journalistic period paralleled to the Christian views of the Spanish Inquisition; a time period of branded embarrassment and horror never to be forgotten.
Later McCarthy said the number he gave in his speech was not 205 but 57.
The fact is that Desmond had a written copy of the speech before McCarthy gave it, but he could have changed the number to 57 when he actually presented the speech. Regardless, the number 57 would have been just as shocking as 205. The reporter's ethics and/or practices were questionable in handling this story.
Why he did not ask to see the list of 205 Communists? If he did, history may have been different, for as McCarthy said himself "what he held in his hand was the Byrnes letter, not a list."(Bayley, 1981, p.24) If Desmond had reported that
McCarthy was holding a letter, not a list, the newspapers would have handled the story much differently. A letter from one person to another, which suggests unfit employees, would have made much less news than the illusion of an actual list of names.
This lack of verification, was one of many press blunders that followed over the next few weeks. In general the press' poor practice would be carried out for the next five years. "I have here in my hand,..." was a phrase that
"became more popular than a famous toothpaste slogan,"(Belfrage, 1973, p.117) which he used on an infinite number of occasions to refer to documents he would pull from his briefcase to support wild accusations. The legitimacy of the documents much like that of the accusations seemed never to have been verified by the reporters on sight. The Byrnes's letter that McCarthy pulled out on
February 9, 1950 was one of these unchecked documents. The content of the letter gives us insight into McCarthy's ability to manipulate the facts, and cover his tracks just enough so that an unambitious, negligent reporter would help him spread his word.
The letter from which the number 205 is extracted is dated 26 July 1946, from Secretary of State James F.
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