Campus Watch Research
The New McCarthyism?
by Jonathan Calt Harris
Critics of Campus Watch often apply the label "McCarthyism" to our project.
Which raises the question: Is there any similarity between Campus Watch and McCarthyism? To answer this question requires a look at what McCarthyism was, and at what Campus Watch is. One must then compare the two to see if there are any points in common.
The term McCarthyism originated with the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-57) of Wisconsin, four years after his first election in 1946. McCarthy was both famous and feared on account of his relentless campaign against Americans he perceived as communists.
His effort began in 1950, at a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he announced he had a list of 205 covert communists working in the State Department. The claims were dubious, as McCarthy could not provide evidence of criminal activity or espionage among those named. Indeed, the number 205 would become 108 and even later 57, but the senator never acknowledged the change. Nonetheless, his charges fueled the fears of communism in America. McCarthy parlayed these sentiments into a winning reelection theme in 1952 and subsequently ascended to the chairmanship of the Government Operations Committee, the Senate's permanent investigative arm at the time. As chairman of this powerful committee, he held sensational hearings that propelled him to the forefront of the "Red Scare" debate.
In 1952-54, McCarthy's committee investigated government departments and employees whom he accused of being members of the Communist party. Soon, a pattern became clear: Witnesses could either undergo further career-damaging public harassment, or lend credence to McCarthy's efforts by naming other members of the party. McCarthy's attacks ruined hundreds of careers in government and academia on the flimsiest evidence; both the press and his colleagues decried his inability to provide real evidence, but to little avail.
McCarthy was vicious to opponents and most politicians shrunk from criticizing him. One exception was Connecticut senator William Benton. Benton's counterattack prompted McCarthy and his supporters to allege that he had protected communists while serving as assistant secretary of state, an allegation that played no small part in Benton's defeat in the 1952 elections.
In 1954, McCarthy overreached, accusing the U.S. Army of concealing evidence of Communist espionage. The Army fought back, countercharging that the senator and his staff sought preferential treatment for an aide. President Eisenhower, who had tired of McCarthy's tactics, gave the green light for Vice President Richard Nixon publicly to criticize the senator, thereby marking the beginning of the end for the Wisconsin senator's campaign.
Growing opposition to the lack of evidence and the blind malice evident in McCarthy's attacks eventually prompted the Senate to condemn him by a vote of 67-22 on December 2, 1954. With this rebuke, and with the Democrats in control of Congress after the 1954 elections, McCarthy's power diminished rapidly before his early death in 1957.
"McCarthyism," therefore, contains two key attributes: undocumented, unfounded accusations that damage a person's career, and accusations charged by someone in a position of authority.
INTRODUCING CAMPUS WATCH
The nature of Campus Watch is best summed up by the mission statement:
Campus Watch came into existence when it became apparent to MEF scholars that academic specialists on the Middle East had created a closed and insular environment, admitting only certain viewpoints and doing their best to close off alternate views. Other problems include the avoidance of important topics, such as militant Islamic violence, and the common practice of presenting an activist propaganda in the classroom. These and other glaring problems were elucidated in the pages of a book by Martin Kramer entitled Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.
The Campus Watch website offers proof of these failures. The site brings together information from a wide variety of sources (professors' writings, scholarly organizations, the national press, student newspapers, and original research by Campus Watch itself). It also contains a large number of articles about Campus Watch, ranging from flattering to critical. Additionally, in an effort to stay current with campus debates, the site solicits information from students, faculty and others relating to Middle Eastern studies.
CAMPUS WATCH VS. MCCARTHYISM
From the two accounts above, the differences between Campus Watch and McCarthyism are numerous and obvious.
There is, in short, not a single element in common between McCarthyism and Campus Watch. Three experts on McCarthyism confirm this opinion.
Campus Watch finds it particularly distressing that professors of U.S. history such as Columbia's Eric Foner, Yale's Glenda Gilmore, who are supposed to know better, feel free to throw around this misplaced charge of McCarthyism.
Accordingly, we call upon professors to cease their unfounded incriminations of Campus Watch, to emerge from behind their ivory towers, and to answer our charges. Improvement in Middle Eastern studies will begin only when Campus Watch's legitimate critiques are answered in full, and positive steps are taken to correct them.
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