Describe the impact of McCarthyism on American political life.Also, how did the anticommunist campaigns affect the media?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the largest impacts that McCarthy had was in the very idea that the individual politician can seize on an issue and manipulate it in order to substantiate their own political power.  McCarthy might have had splendid ideas on the economy, or on ensuring that education was affordable and open to all, or could have had excellent ideas about how to increase affordable automobile production.  Yet, this is not where he made his presence felt.  Rather, the campaign against the Communists is what he chose to which his name should be linked. He decided that this would be "his" issue and through the politics of scapegoating and targeting individuals, his own political power increased and his own sensibilities gained traction.  McCarthy ended up proving that if properly timed, politicians can seize upon an issue with great political results that benefit them.  Certainly, McCarthy was able to gin up the voting public with politicizing their fears about Communists and the supposedly imminent threat they posed to the democratic order of the United States.  He was also able to utilize the media in spreading his message and his hearings to all.  Where McCarthy made his mistake was that within his bluster and talk, he never realized that the media could also portray him in a negative light.  Edward R. Murrow was able to utilize the media to expose McCarthy for the self- serving fraud he was and through his reporting, McCarthy lost effectiveness.  While he did fade, McCarthy ended up proving how politics and control can be manipulated to self serving ends when public fears are exploited and politicized.

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