Monday, May 22, 2006

Senator McClellan

In the excellent 2005 movie Good Night and Good Luck, excerpts from the 1954 U.S. Senate Hearings on Subversion and Espionage initiated by Sen. Joseph McCarthy are shown. One scene shows an accused "subversive" working for the State Department, a poor black woman named Annie Lee Moss. During her brow beating by McCarthy, Senator McClellan defends Moss's right to a fair hearing and disclosure of evidence against her:

"Mr. Chairman, I would like to make this point: We are making statements here against a witness who has come and submitted to cross-examination. She has already lost her job. She has been suspended because of this action. I am not defending her. If she is a Communist, I want her exposed. But to make these statements that we have corroborating evidence that she is a Communist, under these circumstances, I think she is entitled to have it produced here in her presence and let the public know about it and let her know about it........I do not like to try people by hearsay evidence. I want to get the testimony under oath.....I do not think it is fair to a witness, to a citizen of this country, to bring them up here and cross-examine them and when they get through, say, 'The FBI has something on you that condemns you.' It is not sworn testimony. It is convicting people by rumor and hearsay and innuendo."

During the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings (also depicted in the movie), McClellan led the Democrats in a walkout over McCarthy's conduct, and later served on the committee that censured McCarthy. When the Senate went Democratic after the 1954 elections, McClellan replaced McCarthy as chair of the investigative committee, later going after Jimmy Hoffa, among others. McClellan suffered many personal tragedies: his wife died of spinal meningitis in 1935 as did his son Max in 1943, while serving in the military in Africa. His son John Jr. died in an automobile accident in 1949; his son James died in a plane crash in 1958. The Senator died in 1977.

McClellan should also be remembered as being one the principal architects of the 1976 Copyright Act. As chair of the Judiciary Committee, he was deeply involved in all aspects of the reform effort. Unlike the House, where subcommittee chair Bob Kastenmeier had the laboring oar rather than full committee chair Manny Cellar of New York, in the Senate it was McClellan who did the work, and with the same fairness he had exhibited with Annie Lee Moss.

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