Joseph Sabino Mistick: Free press, elections help debunk 'official' lies
In 1950, Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy, was speaking to a Republican Women’s Club in West Virginia when he hit upon a little theatrical device that would make him a national political figure.
Waving a piece of paper in the air, McCarthy made a shocking claim about Communists whom he said had infiltrated the federal government.
“I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department,” McCarthy claimed.
It is now commonly believed that there were no names at all on that paper, but the damage was done. For four years the lie held, pitching the country into a mad hunt for Communists, while terrorizing innocent Americans with threats of ruin.
In 1954, as McCarthy was conducting a televised hearing on Army security, his bullying was finally called out by Army attorney Joseph Welch. Welch accused the senator of cruelty and recklessness, asking him, “Have you no sense of decency?”
And, that was the end of McCarthy and McCarthyism, and the big lie that was told four years earlier. McCarthy’s support dwindled overnight, the Senate censured him and he died in disgrace in 1957.
Last week, it was Fox News’ turn to debunk a big lie. While appearing with host Chris Wallace on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recycled a false claim that “nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” were stopped at the Mexican border last year.
Sanders’ claim was just a more recent version of waving a blank sheet of paper in the air, but Wallace was ready with the truth.
“Wait, wait … I know this statistic,” Wallace said. “Do you know where those 4,000 people come or where they’re captured? Airports.”
Then he quoted a State Department report that said there is “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.”
Vice President Mike Pence tried to defend Sanders, but he has his own problems with the truth. He recently told The Washington Post that “10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day” were being caught at the Mexican border, which the newspaper called an “eye-poppingly bogus claim.”
Pence’s credibility withered further as he tried to defend Donald Trump’s whopper that all four living presidents support building a border wall.
“This should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me, and they all know it,” Trump said. “Some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
That big lie was caught early, too. All four former presidents have either denied speaking to Trump or denied that they support his wall.
Tuesday night, when Trump tried peddling his wall again in an address to the nation, Democrats said he was trying “to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration.”
Official lies sometimes take a while to be found out, because the power of high office is great. But, thanks to the constitutional guarantees of a free press and free elections, the truth eventually comes out.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.