Tuesday, January 22, 2008

'Tis But a Dainty Flower

If you think it was unusual to see Hillary Clinton cry...

I realized there is not nearly enough footage of McCarthy on YouTube, so I took the liberty of uploading a famous scene from the March 9 See It Now broadcast. At a banquet in Milwaukee, former Congressman Frank Keefe recites a love poem to Joe, who wells up with tears and is unable to speak. It's actually one of the more controversial moments in the broadcast; McCarthy's defenders rightfully point out that Murrow used a jump cut (between "this is the answer" and the poem) to make the speech fit the narrative, as if Keefe's response to attacks on McCarthy was to recite love poetry. And, of course, it's a classic example of how the Murrow broadcast traded in innuendo to imply that there was something unseemly about McCarthy. He doesn't come out and call Joe a queer, but...well, the clip doesn't have a whole lot to do with the rest of the broadcast.

Still, it's a pretty weird moment. One question for the internets: anyone know what poem Keefe is reciting? I hope I am not embarrassing myself by not knowing what might be some famous verse, but Google was no help to me.

P.S. Don't tell Ann Coulter.


Dan B. said...

I can't take credit for knowing, but I can for having friends who are good for this sort of thing. The poem/song is called "Still Unexprest" by Carrie Jacobs-Bond, published in 1901.

PMG said...

whoa, thanks! this internet thing works! You totally get a footnote in my chapter. Would you actually mind emailing me your real name so I can thank you properly? My address is my first initial+last name @ucla.edu

rootlesscosmo said...

I don't know what Murrow had in mind, or what impression his viewers would have taken away from the clip. But to my own recollection, rumors that McCarthy was gay were certainly widespread; here's a quote from Claud Cockburn's 1960 memoir Crossing the Line:

"(It is, incidentally, interesting though not, I suppose, surprising, to find homosexuality in, as it were, the front line of both sides in the great McCarthy vs. the Reds battle in the United States. The late Senator created in the public mind an impression that if people in the State Department who opposed him were not on Moscow's pay-roll, they were at least homosexuals. His opposition, rather belatedly, grew wise to the opinion--or at any rate the assertion--that homosexuality was the trouble with McCarthy...") His close association with Roy Cohn lent plausibility, if not actual confirmation, to these reports.

Still, I think the clip, or rather Murrow's choice of it, has a more obvious interpretation: here is McCarthy, whose public persona was of a sneering, swaggering bully, displaying the self-pity of one who is sees himself as more victim than villain; the viewer may also have wondered if his cup was not running over in a more literal sense, since tales of McCarthy's habitual drunkenness--soon to be borne out by his death from cirrhosis of the liver--were also common.

PMG said...

Yeah, there were actually some examples of overt discussion of McCarthy as a homosexual during the period--Drew Pearson's gossip column most famously, and some stuff in tabloids.

I do think that Murrow was trading in multiple meanings. As you point out, there is most obviously the rhetoric of victimization. But gossip and insinuation don't always work at obvious levels. Andrea Friedman wrote a useful article about this topic:
muse.jhu.edu/journals/american_ quarterly/v057/57.4friedman.html

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