How Modern Journalistic Integrity Has Changed Since The McCarthy Era
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How Modern Journalistic Integrity Has Changed Since The McCarthy Era

The integrity and moral obligations of the media have once again become more important than ever.

How Modern Journalistic Integrity Has Changed Since The McCarthy Era

On February 9, 1950, Sen. Joesph McCarthy proclaimed to the world that he possessed a list of 205 card-carrying members of the United States Department of State who doubled as members of the Communist Party. Seven years later, the senator drank himself to death. During this time period, the fulfillment of the ideal role of the media during the 1950s never came full circle. Instead, the media used manipulative tactics to constantly sway the public’s decisions. The ideal role of a journalist in a democratic society should be to have freedom within journalistic ethics (truthful, factual, bi-partisan) to check and report the powers and actions of their peers and cohorts. A journalist then becomes responsible for reporting and bringing to light the actions of individuals whom the public holds in high regard; in an attempt to educate the public so they may understand who and what they support and why. Unfortunately, in “Investigations: The Oak and the Ivy,” a Time magazine article from March 8, 1954 narrating the final moments of what would become known as “McCarthyism,” we can see that this “ideal role” of journalism never achieved fruition.

This idealistic achievement never happened because of a tactic known as charged language. “Select certain facts and feeling from our store of knowledge, and to choose the words and emphasis that we shall use to communicate our meaning” (Birk and Birk 224). Though often said to be subconscious, the media cleverly uses loose words to instill feeling into the hearts of readers. Though taken directly out of context, “Lava of conflict” (Investigations the 21) shows as a perfect example of how authors can manipulate readers. Another tactic the media dabbles in (very similar to charged language) becomes known as “slanting.” Although this tactic may be “unavoidable,” the media once again takes it too far by giving immense amounts of “stress to subject matter” in order to manipulate “what is important and what is less important” (Birk and Birk 225). Along with the fact the manipulation of importance should be denounced in language, “language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes” (Orwell 235). In “Investigations: The Oak and the Ivy,” this ideal rule for language becomes further violated with this charged and slanted article. When Time continues to play with elements of slanted language by reporting on “last week’s tangle with the Army began in typical fashion, and was marked by both the appeasement and gross carelessness on the part of his adversary,” as well as, charged language such as “gross,” “carelessness,” and “appeasement” (21) the magazine violates Orwell’s linguistic rule for ideal language. Rather than using these manipulative tactics, the media should engage in more ideal language criteria. Language, especially in journalism, has no place being charged. Swaying the reader’s opinion borders the line of unethical. Language should be informative. Language should be bi-partisan. Unfortunately, the media does not meet any of these standards.

Evidence of language not meeting ideal standards can be seen during the years of McCarthyism. The nation’s news media and press made names for themselves. Edward R. Murrow coined the phrase “Goodnight and good luck,” reassuring every American there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. Although this phrase appeared as very reassuring to the American public, it really showed to mock McCarthyism with its quick use of slanted language. Walter Cronkite sat at his mahogany desk glorifying the dreaded portions of the news, his sobering words “And that’s the way it is” at the end of each broadcast echoed a chill through the living rooms of households across the nation. These words, however glorious and legendary they may be, use slanted language in order to scare viewers into a realization of how awful the unfolding events of the era were. The “names” reporters made for themselves unfortunately did not progress journalistic ideals. Although the role the media did play a part in during the years of the Senator’s tyranny ultimately led to his downfall. McCarthy stood no chance against the progressive uproar and backlash he had brought upon himself. However, this progressive uproar, at the same time, led to the downfall of “ideal” journalism through the use of charged and slanted language.

During this era in history, ideals and ethics of journalists were violated. This becomes important because if a journalist uses manipulative tactics rather than cool, calculated facts, the journalist in question becomes no longer reliable. The media exists as a objective form of knowledge exploration. At the very least, it is meant to. Instead, this reality only appears in works of fiction.The relevance of language tactics appears more important than ever today. In 2012, when Donald Trump accused President Barack Obama of being a Kenyan-born Muslim, the racist accusation hit the streets and the media outlets. Once again, the media failed to fulfill its obligation. Charged, angry, and hateful language was used to create a climate of hate that spread across the nation influencing an entire political party for the foreseeable future. The significance of the media not fulfilling its goal became and continues to be more prominent than ever. After Trump’s initial accusation, the hate only built, the media only added to it, and the integrity and moral obligations of the media have once again become more important than ever.


Auletta, Ken. “Battle Stations.” The New Yorker. 10 Dec. 2001. Web.

Birk, Newman P. and Birk, Genevieve B. “Selection, Slanting, and Charged language.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Ed. Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2013. 223-233. Print.

“Investigations: The Oak and the Ivy.” Time. (8 Mar 1954): 21. Print.

Lutz, William. “The World of Doublespeak.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Ed. Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2013. 248-258. Print.

Massing, Micheal. “The Press: The Enemy Within.” The New York Review of Books. 15 Dec. 2005. Print.

Orwell George. “Politics and the English Language.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers. Ed. Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2013. 234-245. Print.

Pelley, Scott. “CBS Evening News.” Evening News. CBS. 4 Nov. 2016. TV

Samuels, David. “On Message.” Harpers Magazine. Jan 2002. Web.

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