What have become known as the “McCarthy hearings” refer to 36 days of televised investigative hearings led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. After first calling hearings to investigate possible espionage at the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the junior senator turned his communist-chasing committee’s attention to an altogether different matter, the question of whether the Army had promoted a dentist who had refused to answer questions for the Loyalty and Security Board. The hearings reached their climax when McCarthy suggested that the Army’s lawyer, Joseph Welch, had employed a man who at one time had belonged to a communist front group. Welch’s rebuke to the senator—“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”—has been called one of the most devastating lines in American history. McCarthy was censured for his conduct by the Senate a few months later, and in 1957, he died. Though he has become something of a pariah in the annals of history, the enduring value of studying and understanding the hearings that bore his name in undeniable.

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Copyright © 2007 SAGE Publications. This book chapter first appeared in Encyclopedia of Political Communication.

Edited by: Christina Holtz-Bacha and Lynda Lee Kaid

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