The PBS show American Experience has a documentary on the late U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and his crusade to uncover foreign influence in America.

Calling the documentary on Senator McCarthy by PBS "new" is a stretch. It is almost a stretch to call it a "documentary," too. There is nothing new in the information presented in the story told by PBS, despite all of the new books and information available to the writers and historians that scripted this two-hour presentation.

What makes watching this film interesting for people who know the history of this era is not what is told but what is omitted, and what those omissions disclose about the motives of the creators.

Anybody, regardless of their politics, who knows anything about the life of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy know they had professional and personal relationships with Senator Joe McCarthy.

Yet this documentary on Senator McCarthy intentionally conceals this relationship.


Robert F. Kennedy worked as a staffer for Sen. McCarthy. Bobby Kennedy wanted to be chief legal counsel to McCarthy, but he lost out to Roy Cohn. Kennedy and Cohn hated each other and Kennedy left McCarthy because of Cohn, not because of anything Senator McCarthy had done in his pursuit of Communists.

Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel asked Sen. McCarthy to be the godfather of their daughter Kathleen and he accepted. This was their first child and she was born after Sen. McCarthy had started his assault on the Soviet agents working in and around the government of the United States. Of all the people in the world the Kennedys could have asked, they asked Joe McCarthy, and that is an important dimension to the story PBS is attempting to tell.

After McCarthy died, Robert Kennedy accompanied his body back to Wisconsin for burial.

John F. Kennedy was in the Senate with McCarthy and he purposely made himself unavailable to vote to censure his colleague. That was no small gesture by a Democrat who had his eye on the White House. However, PBS scripted the voiceover of the vote to intentionally avoid even having to mention that JFK didn't show up.

You don't have to be a supporter of Sen. McCarthy to see that PBS is intentionally omitting interesting and important historical facts in this film. In fact, the documentary would have been better if they had addressed this relationship between the Republican McCarthy and the Kennedy family.

I would suggest you watch this C-SPAN discussion of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy instead.

Chris McCarthy is the host of The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Chris_topher_Mc. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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