The Army's Special Counsel Joseph Welch had a problem: his assistant, Frederick Fisher, whom Welch had brought to Washington from Welch's New York law firm to work on the Army-McCarthy case, was a former member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), U.S. affiliate of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which operated under the control of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The NLG had been publicly identified as the "legal bulwark of the Communist Party" in a 60-page report of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and by Herbert Brownell, Attorney General of the United States, as the "legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party." Under the Truman loyalty order, such a background could have disqualified Fisher from Federal employment; to have such a person working on the Army's legal team—on a case involving Communist infiltration of the Army, during a war in Korea in which Communists had already killed tens of thousands of Americans—could ruin Welch's case.
According to Cohn, Welch had him agree "not to bring up Fred Fisher in return for Welch's promise not to explore Cohn's military record." Hollywood liberal George Clooney, director and co-writer of the 2005 anti-McCarthy movie Good Night and Good Luck, suggests that this was actually a veiled blackmail threat to “out” Cohn as a homosexual on national television if he mentioned Fisher. As Clooney put it, Welch told Cohn, “you leave this young lawyer at my firm alone [by not calling him a Communist], and we'll leave this [homosexual] issue out.”
After Senator John McClellan, a segregationist Democrat, pressed Cohn on whether there was something “unusual” in his relationship with Schine, according to Herman, “Welch had his sport with him.”
Welch had earlier badgered McCarthy staffer Jim Juliana, an ex-FBI agent—insinuating that Cohn had cropped a photograph of Schine and Stevens—asking Juliana where the photo had come from. Juliana told him he didn't know, upon which Welch asked, "Did you think this came from a pixie?”
When McCarthy asked Welch to define “pixie,” Welch replied pointedly, “a pixie is a close relative of a fairy.”
The camera panned to Schine, Cohn and McCarthy. The whole audience burst into laughter. Obviously furious at Welch's blatant gay-baiting, according to LBJ advisor Eric F. Goldman, Cohn's lips “hardened into angry lines.”
“Shall I proceed, sir?” said Welch. “Have I enlightened you?"
Welch was now continuing in this vein, toying with Cohn: “May I add my small voice, sir, and say whenever you know about a subversive or a Communist spy, please hurry,” he taunted. “Will you remember these words?”
It was this taunt that finally provoked McCarthy to come to the defense of his 26-year old subcommittee counsel, saying, “in view of Mr. Welch's request that information be given once we know of anyone who might be performing work for the Communist Party, I think we should tell him that he has in his law firm a young man named Fisher...”
McCarthy outlined Fisher's background in the NLG,
“Mr. Welch talks about this being cruel and reckless,” said McCarthy. “He was just baiting; he has been baiting Mr. Cohn here for hours...”
Welch turned to Cohn: “I did you, I think, no personal injury, Mr. Cohn?’ Cohn replied: ‘No, sir.’
Cohn later confessed that in fact he found Welch's remark "malicious," "wicked," and "indecent." Even former Soviet agent Michael Straight admitted in the New Republic: “As law the comment was improper; as humor it was unjust...” “That was Welch's technique,” according to radical, left-wing filmmaker Emile de Antonio, whose cinematic attack on McCarthy predated Clooney's by decades.
In researching his movie, Clooney boasted, “we had to go back to the actual initial footage of the Army-McCarthy hearings and watch them all the way through. And we did, all of them, 36 days' worth.” From these 36 days of hearings, Antonio cherry-picked the 97 minutes of footage that put McCarthy in the worst light for Point of Order, a documentary that became the main source of the principal surviving image of McCarthy. (This film in turn was edited still further into a 47-minute version, Charge and Countercharge, for exhibition in public-school classrooms—thus forming an entire generation's view of McCarthy.)
Bursting into tears, Welch fled the Senate caucus room to the applause of the reporters and cameramen packing the gallery. Tears still coursing, according to liberal pundit (and Saul Alinsky protégé) Nicholas Von Hoffman, Welch winked at reporter John Newhouse, best known today as the author of Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order. Once safely beyond reach of the TV cameras, Welch turned to his assistant and asked, 'Well, how did it go?'”
So spectacular was his performance that it earned Welch a second career as a Hollywood actor.
McCarthy had “already gone after the Army and accused 'em of being traitors,” according to Clooney. “So Secretary [of the Army Robert T.] Stevens and those guys were like, [Expletive deleted] you, we're going to get you any way we can.” (Italics in original.)
- "Report on the National Lawyers Guild, legal bulwark of the Communist Party," Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, United States Congress (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), p. 11-12 (PDF pp. 17-18). Cf. János Radványi , Psychological Operations and Political Warfare in Long-term Strategic Planning (ABC-CLIO, 1990) ISBN 0275936236, p. 48; Harvey Klehr, Far Left of Center: The American Radical Left Today (New Brunswick , N.J.: Transaction Books, 1988), p. 161
- David Horowitz, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2006) ISBN 0895260034, p. 160
- United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities, "Report on the National Lawyers Guild, legal bulwark of the Communist Party" (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950)
- Associated Press, "Brownell Terms Lawyers Guild Mouthpiece for Communist Party, to List as Subversive," Lewiston Evening Journal, August 27, 1953, p. 1. Cf. Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (Crown Publishing Group, 2003) ISBN 1400051703
- Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (University of Massachusetts Press, 1987) ISBN 0870235559, p. 259, n. 46
- When CNN talk-show host Larry King asked Clooney, “do you think when people say Hollywood's out of touch with ordinary Americans they have a point?” Clooney responded, “in general we tend to be, you know, is there a liberal bend, sure. I don't make any apologies about that. I'm a liberal, you know. I believe in it.” Interview With George Clooney, “Larry King Live,” CNN, February 16, 2006. Likewise, when Clooney made his acceptance speech at the 2006 Academy Awards, he said, “you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing.” (Eric Olsen, Oscar 2006 Quotes for Posterity, Blogcritics, March 20, 2006) Clooney emphasized the point: “I'm proud to be a part of this Academy. Proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch.” Miguel Marquez, Is Clooney Right About Hollywood's Social Agenda?, ABC News, March 6, 2006. For this speech, Clooney caught flak not only from conservatives, but from Hollywood director Spike Lee (“Spike Lee criticises Clooney’s Oscar speech,” Malaysia Star, March 22, 2006) and Comedy Central's South Park (Script from “Smug Alert!” South Park, Season 10, Episode 1002)
- Anne Stockwell, “Clooney vs. the far right,” The Advocate, December 6, 2005, p. 56
- Sheldon Goldman, Picking Federal Judges: Lower Court Selection from Roosevelt Through Reagan (Yale University Press, 1999) ISBN 0300080735, p. 128. Cf. Dean L. Yarwood, When Congress Makes a Joke: Congressional Humor Then and Now (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) ISBN 0742530434, p. 71
- Eric F. Goldman, The Crucial Decade: America, 1945-1955 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 274
- Erik A. Bruun and Jay Crosby, Our Nation's Archive: The History of the United States in Documents (Black Dog Publishing, 1999) ISBN 1579120679, p. 698
- Neil Miller, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present (Advocate Books, 2005) ISBN 1555838707, p. 147
- Sam Szurek , An Interview with Emile de Antonio, Reverse Shot, Issue 19
- Robert D. Novak, “McCarthy=Bad,” The Weekly Standard, Vol. 13, No. 11 (November 26, 2007)
- As late as 2006, the teachers' guide to the popular American History textbook The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society recommends both films as enrichment materials. (Mark Simon, Teaching The American People: A Guide for Instructors (Pearson Education, Inc., 2006) ISBN 0-321-39894-7, p. 138. Cf.
- Paul F. Boller, Not so!: popular myths about America from Columbus to Clinton (Oxford University Press US, 1996) ISBN 0195109724, p. 165. Cf. Robert Griffith, The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate (University of Massachusetts Press, 1987) ISBN 0870235559, p. 259
- Andrew C. McCarthy, "Organized" Crime, The New Criterion, September 2010
- Nicholas Von Hoffman, Citizen Cohn (Doubleday, 1988) ISBN 0385236905, p. 237
- Richard M. Fried, Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (Oxford University Press US, 1991) ISBN 0195043618, p. 216. Cf. Arthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator (Simon and Schuster, 2000) ISBN 0684836254, p. 276; Tom Wicker, Shooting Star: The Brief Arc of Joe McCarthy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) ISBN 015101082X, p. 163