At the height of anti-Communist fervor in the early 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, was perhaps the most outspoken enemy of global socialism. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower's election as president carried Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and seniority elevated McCarthy to chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
What followed were two years of hearings, subpoenas and political pressure as McCarthy attempted to ferret out the Communists he was convinced were entrenched in all branches of government and among America's academic and artistic elites.
After McCarthy hinted at a huge Communist conspiracy in the U.S Army, and his confrontational investigatory style wore thin on the American public, McCarthy was censured by the Senate for "conduct unbecoming of a senator." The McCarthy era of hunting down Communists was over.
Members and staff of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations joined with the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee to form a special committee to investigate labor racketeering in the late 1950s — with Robert F. Kennedy as chief counsel.
The McCarthy subcommittee conducted numerous public hearings — many of which were televised — but it did the largest share of its work behind closed doors. During McCarthy's first year as chairman, the subcommittee interrogated 395 witnesses in private, but just 214 witnesses in public. Until recently, the transcripts of those behind-closed-doors hearings were never made public.
Monday on All Things Considered, NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Donald Ritchie, Associate Senate Historian, about the release of some 9,000 pages of previously sealed transcripts of McCarthy's closed-door interrogations from 1953 to 1954. It is the largest disclosure of documents related to the McCarthy investigation, and offers a new look at what went on behind closed doors of some 160 executive sessions.
Ritchie discusses two notable men included in these transcripts: Aaron Copland and Langston Hughes.