Best and Worst of Irish America
By Sean O’Driscoll
George Clooney has said that President John F. Kennedy and Joe McCarthy represent the best and worst of what Irish America has to offer.
Speaking recently to promote his new movie, Good Night and Good Luck, about news commentator Edward Murrow’s stand against Senator McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunt, Clooney said he was struck by the contrast between the two.
He also said he was inspired to make the film by his own father, Nick, a news anchorman who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the last election.
Clooney, who wrote and directed the movie and also has a co-starring part as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly, said he was struck by the different styles of Kennedy and McCarthy.
“They were both Irish senators who took very different paths in life. One was a disaster in the television age and one shined in it. Television, in some sense, exposed America and leveled it in some ways,” he said.
“They should have been on an even level in the 1950s, but TV had a way of showing up McCarthy to America for everything that he lacked and Kennedy had.”
Clooney said that Kennedy was the historical figure he would most love to interview and said he was fascinated by Kennedy’s handling of the disastrous invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro.
“That interview would have been a fun one because he was so amazing, if you watched his press conference right after the Bay of Pigs,” Clooney feels.
“It’s his first act as president and he comes out like this, ‘What happened yesterday was my fault and I take full responsibility.’ The first question from the press is, ‘Isn’t it your fault?’ And he says, ‘I just said that.’ And then they all just kind of sat there for a minute and then you hear, ‘What’s Jackie going to wear tomorrow?’ He was funny. That would have been a fun one,” he said.
The film, set in black and white, is an intense look at life inside the CBS newsroom while McCarthyism is flaring in 1950s America. We never see McCarthy, except for real life footage of his anti-Communist hearings in the Senate, and his almost insane televised response to Murrow’s criticism of him, in which he accuses Murrow of being a member of hardline Communist groups and of being sympathetic to a socialist writer in London.
There are obvious parallels in the movie to the modern day search for Islamic subversives in America, but the point is not overplayed. Instead, the film moves slowly, bringing the reader into the plot with little explanation and allowing McCarthy’s paranoia to invade the screen.
In one long scene of archival footage, we see him berating a cleaner turned code dispatcher he accuses of being a Communist. It’s clear that the woman has no idea what he is talking about but calmly tries to explain that she has never read a Communist newspaper.
It’s a film thankfully lacking in false sentiment, and it doesn’t plunge for violins when it looks like McCarthy’s politics just might win out.
There is much to celebrate about Irish America’s achievements. As Good Night and Good Luck points out so shockingly, Senator Joe McCarthy’s politics is definitely not one of them.