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Washington Post reporter Murrey Marder, a meticulous journalist who analyzed and exposed the mendacity of Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of his anti-communist witchhunt, was born in Philadelphia on this date in 1919. Marder’s main journalistic coup came In the fall of 1953, when McCarthy alleged that a wartime spy ring created by the recently executed Julius Rosenberg existed within the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and the Army suspended 33 civilian employees. Marder got the secretary of the Army, Robert Stevens, to admit that the spying story was bogus — and that the Army knew so. This set the stage for the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, which brought the senator’s career to a precipitous end. Marder also wrote about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the Pentagon Papers. “I was convinced from the beginning” of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, he later said, “that if the press and Congress had fulfilled their proper watchdog function about that alleged ‘unprovoked attack’ on a U.S. destroyer by North Vietnamese torpedo boats, we would never have gotten into the scale of warfare we did in Vietnam. That weighed on me for the rest of my career.” After his retirement, Marder founded the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project, devoted to public-interest journalism. He lived to 93.
“Doggedly, he worked out a means of covering McCarthy. Hold him to the record. Not just what he said yesterday, but the day before and the week before. Explain not just this charge, but what happened to the previous charges. Give the people on the other side, the accused or the semi-accused, a chance to answer. Always explain the meaning of the charges. Try above all not to be a megaphone for McCarthy. Expose him to maximum scrutiny.” —David Halberstam, The Powers That Be