Cover image for Cold War, cool medium : television, McCarthyism, and American culture
Cold War, cool medium : television, McCarthyism, and American culture
Doherty, Thomas Patrick.
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Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2003]

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ix, 305 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
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PN1992.6 .D64 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Conventional wisdom holds that television was a co-conspirator in the repressions of Cold War America, that it was a facilitator to the blacklist and handmaiden to McCarthyism. But Thomas Doherty argues that, through the influence of television, America actually became a more open and tolerant place. Although many books have been written about this period, Cold War, Cool Medium is the only one to examine it through the lens of television programming.

To the unjaded viewership of Cold War America, the television set was not a harbinger of intellectual degradation and moral decay, but a thrilling new household appliance capable of bringing the wonders of the world directly into the home. The "cool medium" permeated the lives of every American, quickly becoming one of the most powerful cultural forces of the twentieth century. While television has frequently been blamed for spurring the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy, it was also the national stage upon which America witnessed--and ultimately welcomed--his downfall. In this provocative and nuanced cultural history, Doherty chronicles some of the most fascinating and ideologically charged episodes in television history: the warm-hearted Jewish sitcom The Goldbergs ; the subversive threat from I Love Lucy ; the sermons of Fulton J. Sheen on Life Is Worth Living ; the anticommunist series I Led 3 Lives ; the legendary jousts between Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy on See It Now ; and the hypnotic, 188-hour political spectacle that was the Army-McCarthy hearings.

By rerunning the programs, freezing the frames, and reading between the lines, Cold War, Cool Medium paints a picture of Cold War America that belies many black-and-white clichés. Doherty not only details how the blacklist operated within the television industry but also how the shows themselves struggled to defy it, arguing that television was preprogrammed to reinforce the very freedoms that McCarthyism attempted to curtail.

Author Notes

Timothy Doherty is a professor in the American Studies department and chair of the film studies program at Brandeis University.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Television was a provocative medium almost from its inception. It brought the horrors of McCarthyism into American homes-some claimed it abetted the effort-but it also allowed viewers an opportunity to see ethnic minorities (The Goldbergs) and watch political debate (Meet the Press). Ultimately, it aided the decline of anti-communist hysteria. "Television became an artery as vital to the pulse of American life as the refrigerator," writes Doherty, Brandeis University film studies chair. He simultaneously explores TV's wonders and skillfully exposes the power of pressure groups on the new medium, which acted out the psychosis that dominated the 1950s. Relying on thorough and enlightening research, Doherty notes the ironies, anti-Semitism and class prejudices that underlined Sen. Joe McCarthy's ascension on the heels of HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities. TV and the blacklist were the weapons of choice for McCarthy-styled politicians, whose ambitions and paranoia assaulted the decencies and legalities America held dear. In its embryonic stages, TV needed to fill airtime, hence, Doherty reports, "commitment to free expression and open access was self-interest." Americans saw the Hollywood Ten testify, but they also saw African-American performers on The Ed Sullivan Show, solid dramas on Playhouse 90 and the first presidential press conference. Television brought Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life Is Worth Living into living rooms, tethering Catholics to Americanism. Edward R. Murrow's See It Now, coupled with McCarthy's disastrous attacks on the army and rumors of homosexuality, contributed to his downfall. Doherty chronicles the medium and its players with style and scholarship, breaking his subject down by theme and focusing on particular programs throughout. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Doherty (American & film studies, Brandeis Univ.) makes his third contribution to the publisher's new but already voluminous series, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of TV's first great reality show-the Army-McCarthy hearings. To frame his vivid reconstruction of that genuine drama, he provides a compressed but seriously intelligent history of how TV grew out of, but departed from, Depression-era radio; the legacy of the Popular Front; the difficulties inherent in working from the scant kinescopic documentation of broadcastings infancy; and the rise of the Un-American Activities Committee, the Hollywood blacklist, and J. Edgar Hoover's somewhat unpredictable role in seemingly all of American life for half of the last century. Along the way, he concludes that Edward R. Murrow was a morally impressive (but manipulative) character indeed. This is not the definitive book on the Cold War, proto-TV, or Joe McCarthy, and Doherty never makes that claim; but thoseinterested in these matters will do well to either begin or end their background reading here. Recommended for academic and public libraries alike; note that while Doherty's prose is generally straightforward, he does write out of the cultural studies tradition.-Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Doherty (film studies and American studies, Brandeis Univ.) succeeds in illuminating both the history of television in the US in the 1950s and television's relationship to the era's anticommunist crusade. Beginning with a general overview of the development of television as it overlapped with the intensifying Cold War, particularly the rise and influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Doherty furnishes considerable detail on the extensive television blacklisting of actors and writers. He makes an interesting contrast between the end of actor Philip Loeb's career and the successful survival of Lucille Ball, who also had a suspect political background. Various other fascinating topics are deftly explored, including sexual censorship, the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings of 1951, the anticommunist I Led Three Lives television series, religious broadcasting, and particularly Edward R. Murrow's escalating attack on McCarthy closely followed by the Army-McCarthy hearings. Doherty ends with a fascinating discussion of how television (and Hollywood) has handled the blacklisting era since the 1950s. Including detailed notes and numerous helpful illustrations, this volume carefully examines the often-overlooked political side of 1950s television. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections; all levels. R. D. Cohen Indiana University Northwest

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. vii
1 Video Risingp. 1
A Television Genealogyp. 3
Red and Other Menacesp. 6
McCarthy: Man, Ism, and Televisionp. 13
2 The Gestalt of the Blacklistp. 19
The Blacklist Backstoryp. 20
Pressure Groups and Pressure Pointsp. 24
Institutional Practicesp. 34
3 Controversial Personalitiesp. 37
The Goldbergs: The Case of Philip Loebp. 37
I Love Lucy: The Redhead and the Blacklistp. 49
4 Hypersensitivity: The Codes of Television Censorshipp. 60
Faye Emerson's Breasts, Among Other Controversiesp. 64
Amos 'n' Andy: Blacks in Your Living Roomp. 70
5 Forums of the Airp. 81
Egghead Sundaysp. 83
Direct Addressp. 90
The Ike-onoscopep. 96
6 Roman Circuses and Spanish Inquisitionsp. 105
"Kefauver Fever": The Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings of 1951p. 107
HUAC-TVp. 116
Wringing the Neck of Reed Harris: The McCarthy Committee's Voice of America Hearings (1953)p. 126
7 Country and Godp. 134
I Led 3 Lives: "Watch Yourself, Philbrick!"p. 140
Religious Broadcastingp. 149
Life Is Worth Living: Starring Bishop Fulton J. Sheenp. 153
8 Edward R. Murrow Slays the Dragon of Joseph McCarthyp. 161
TV's Number One Glamour Boyp. 163
Murrow Versus McCarthyp. 168
The "Good Tuesday" Homilyp. 172
To Be Person-to-Personedp. 177
"A Humble, Poverty Stricken Negress": Annie Lee Moss Before the McCarthy Committeep. 180
McCarthy Gets Equal Timep. 184
9 The Army-McCarthy Hearings (April 22-June 17, 1954)p. 189
Backstory and Dramatis Personaep. 190
Gavel-to-Gavel Coveragep. 195
Climax: "Have You Left No Sense of Decency?"p. 204
Denouement: Reviews and Postmortemsp. 210
10 Pixies: Homosexuality, Anticommunism, and Televisionp. 215
Red Fades to Pinkp. 219
Airing the Cohn-Schine Affairp. 224
11 The end of the Blacklistp. 231
The Defenders: The Blacklist on Trialp. 240
Point of Order!: The Army-McCarthy Hearings, the Moviep. 244
12 Exhuming McCarthyism: The Paranoid Style in American Televisionp. 249
Notesp. 261