American Scandal

New episodes come out every Tuesday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.

Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

The Red Scare | Tail Gunner Joe | 1

The Red Scare | Tail Gunner Joe | 1

Tue, 16 Mar 2021 09:00

Joseph McCarthy dreams of a bigger life. He wants something beyond the farms of Wisconsin, something more important than cornfields and local disputes. He wants political power in Washington, D.C. And he has a plan to get it.

Listen ad-free on Wondery+ here.

Support us by supporting our sponsors!

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

Listen to Episode

Copyright © © 2018 Wondery, Inc.

Read Episode Transcript

It's the evening of February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia. A large sedan rumbles through the streets of the small city. A car rounds a corner and comes to a stop in front of a brick building, the McClure Hotel. The car door opens when a man steps out. He's wearing a baggy business suit and there are shadows under his eyes. He grimaces as he surveys the surroundings. US Senator Joseph McCarthy is here tonight in the foothills of Appalachia to attend a fundraiser. McCarthy is a member of the Republican Party. In every year in early February to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the most famous Republican of them all, many Republicans host fundraisers around the country. In just a few minutes, McCarthy is supposed to give a speech. But as he looks around this backwater town, he's seriously considering pulling out. A car door slams and one of McCarthy's aides joins him. Oh, not bad, huh? McClure Hotel, one of the more famous attractions in Wheeling. If you're curious, it used to be the capital of... I don't need the history lesson. Look at this. What the hell are we doing here? We should be in Madison on the steps of the state capital. Well, sir, I know that you would prefer to be in Wisconsin. Yeah, because I'm a US Senator from Wisconsin. Sir, you're the junior Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy feels his blood boiling. It's true, he is the newer of the two senators from Wisconsin. But when he first came to the Senate, everyone treated him like a bright young star. Now he can see that it was just an attempt to pacify him, to get him to follow orders like a good soldier. Even if that meant giving a speech to a bunch of nobody's in the Republican women's club of Wheeling. McCarthy decides he's had enough of doing as he's told. Nah, getting the car. We're going back to DC. Sir, sir, you can't do that. I'm sorry, but who between us is the US Senator? The junior US Senator. McCarthy clenches his jaw and steps towards the aid. He's had enough of these DC types. But the aid backs away with a look of fear. I'm sorry, sir. That was out of line. But it is true you are the junior Senator, and that means putting up with some front work. Uh, for now. But the party leadership will take notice. You'll get your reward. You need to be patient, sir. McCarthy looks down and scratches his jowl each in. Fine. Let's go meet with the women of Wheeling. McCarthy and his entourage walk away from the car and enter the hotel lobby. They make their way to the ballroom, where McCarthy is about to address the audience. McCarthy turns to his aid. Okay. Where's the speech? Uh, right here, sir. Okay. Good evening. What an honor. Uh, uh, hmm. This is the one about housing for veterans. Where's the other one? The speech, the new writer put together. Um, the, the communists in the State Department? Sir, I, I really suggest this one. I don't know that the other one's ready yet. We haven't vetted it. Listen to me. I'm here. I'm telling you line for the party, for the leadership. But I'm going to do it on my terms. So if you don't give me that speech, you're going to start looking for a new job on Monday. Understand? They gulps and hands McCarthy another set of papers. McCarthy smiles. If they're here in nowhere, USA, why not have a little fun? See if you can get a rise out of the audience. So a moment later, McCarthy enters a large ballroom and steps onto the stage. He looks out over the crowd of elderly women and their elderly husbands. He chuckles to himself. Soon enough, he'll be back in DC, pouring himself a tall glass of something stiff. McCarthy steps up to a crackling microphone. Truth be told, he's still deciding on which of the two speeches he wants to give. And that's when he notices a couple of newspaper reporters in the front row. They look just as bored as he is. And suddenly McCarthy knows exactly which speech he's going to give. Because if he plays this right, he could finally get the attention he deserves, making sure he never has to speak to another backwater town like this again. So McCarthy leans into the microphone and raises his papers. And he tells the audience that he's made an incredible discovery. In his hands, he's holding a list of 205 known communists who have infiltrated the United States government. They're now working in the State Department. McCarthy pauses and watches the reporters in the audience. They're furiously writing notes, and that's good. He's going to make headlines tomorrow, and soon everyone is going to be talking about Joseph McCarthy and his list of communists. Even if the truth is, McCarthy doesn't have a single name on the papers he's holding. He'll deal with any questions later. What matters now is that Senator Joseph McCarthy is in the spotlight. And whatever he has to do, he intends to stay there. Okay, the kids are already asking what's for dinner, but breaking news, empty fridge. That's okay, I'll instacart. Let's add some organic asparagus and some farm fresh chicken. Easy. Wait, is the oldest vegetarian this week or was it gluten free? Gluten free pasta. Covered either way. Card it and finally some vegetarian gluten free olives from my well earned cocktail. When your family shopping list has more footnotes than groceries, the world is your cart. Visit or download the app and get free delivery on your first order. Offer valid for a limited time, minimum order $10. Delivery subject to availability, additional term supply. If you're into true crime, the generation why podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the generation why podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondery, I'm Lindsay Graham and this is American Scan. In the 1950s, Americans were gripped by a fear of communism. The Cold War was underway and the US wanted to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. Much of this fight took place on the international stage, but the Cold War also left a large mark on American life at home. Many Americans grew afraid that communism was a domestic threat, an ideology that could destroy the country and soon institutions large and small began to take action. Congress investigated citizens who they saw as a threat. People of all professions and from all walks of life were blacklisted. Countless lives were ruined. This moment was known as the Red Scare and one senator helped bring public paranoia to a fever pitch. His name was Joseph McCarthy and he launched a highly publicized campaign to root out communists from the government even though his campaign was based on lies. McCarthy would become one of the most powerful men in Washington, yet his crusade would leave a trail of destruction. In this four part series, we'll look at how Joseph McCarthy came to wield such a men's power and how his lives would eventually lead to his downfall. This is episode one, Tale Gunner Joe. It's an early spring day in 1929 and just before dawn in Grand Shoot, Wisconsin. A cold wind is blowing this morning, rustling through a cornfield. Nearby, a door opens to a modest farmhouse. Joseph McCarthy steps out into the pale morning light. The wind blows against McCarthy's face and sends a shiver up his spine. The early spring is never easy for farmers in the upper Midwest, but it's all that McCarthy's known his whole life and he's not about to head back inside and crawl under his blankets. He's got work to do. McCarthy is only 20 years old, but already he's making it as a businessman. He's been running a poultry company for years and even though he had to drop out of school, the risk was worth it. Because in these last few years, he's expanded the operation. He's bought more and more hands and now he sells meat and eggs all across the country. He's become famous locally and magazines are even writing about his operation. For McCarthy, nothing feels better than this kind of public admiration. He's the fifth of seven children and being in the spotlight, becoming a famous businessman, it feels like a drug. But the work never stops. That's why right now McCarthy is walking toward a large wooden structure where he keeps his hands. McCarthy walks through the fields, warming his hands. He's got a long day ahead of him. He'll have to clean and clear the birds waste and keep cleaning without getting pecked at. It'll take hours so it's time to get started. McCarthy approaches the building in a gust of wind nearly knocks him off his feet. He almost can't wait to get inside with all the hens and all their waste. He opens the door but when he steps inside right away he can sense that something is off. The henhouse is quiet. There's usually a chorus of clocking and flapping wings. But as McCarthy stares down the long row of cages he can tell that the hens are completely still. McCarthy quickly scams the dark wooden building and he stops forward up to the first row of hens but none of them stir. He opens up the cage and peers inside. He can see the hen but its eyes are only half open and it's not breathing. McCarthy's hands start to tremble and he races to the next cage. This time he finds a hen that he is breathing but its breath is labored and its eyes are rolled back in its head. The sight is horrifying. McCarthy reels back from the cage as he fights down a feeling of panic. McCarthy checks on each of the rows but it's the same thing over and over. The birds are either sick or lethargic or they're already dead. McCarthy suddenly can't control himself. He screams and anger and punches a wooden beam and he walks over to a stool and rests his face in his hands. It's obvious what happened. Some sort of illness must have spread through the flock. One of those parasites he's read about. He can't believe it. He doesn't know how he could have missed the warning signs. But right then McCarthy hears the stir of movement. He glances over at the far corner of the hen house. Several of the hens there are moving around. They look normal and healthy. McCarthy races over and looks at the birds with a desperate hope. Maybe not all's lost. Maybe these birds are still in the early stages of the disease. Maybe he can save them. McCarthy grabs some feed and a bucket of water. He returns and lays them down gently. But the birds barely seem to notice. McCarthy waits his hands trembling. A minute passes and then another. But no matter how long he waits, the birds won't eat. They won't drink. McCarthy rags his brain trying to think of something he can do. But deep down he knows it's too late. He's going to lose his entire flock. All his money. All of his work. It was for nothing. He gives a strangled cry and kicks the wall. Then he sinks to the floor. As he sits in the filthy dust, McCarthy is filled with regret. For years he's taken all of his profits and he's made his business bigger and bigger. He bought more birds and expanded his sales. It was like an addiction that he couldn't give up. He wanted to be bigger and better than everyone in this vast stretch of farmland in the upper Midwest. But he should have known better. One day his mother warned him to be honest. She worried that he was leading a life of sin and that he would ultimately hurt himself. As McCarthy sits on the floor of this silent hen house, he realizes that maybe she was right. He was flying too close to the sun. McCarthy rises and exits the hen house. The cold wind stings his nose and eyes. McCarthy looks out of the young cornfield out into the distance where the sun has just begun to rise. And all it wants it hits him. This phase of his life is over. He was foolish to try to be the biggest, the most famous. It's time to lead a quieter life. And it's time to get a more stable job. One that won't destroy him in a single day. It's seven years later in Shana, Wisconsin, a small town about 40 miles north of Joseph McCarthy's family farm. Inside a small office, a son tan farmer sits in front of a desk. He's recounting a bitter dispute with a neighbor. The farmer points to a handwritten contract lying on the desk and explains that his neighbor was supposed to pay him for a pig. But so far the neighbor hasn't given him anything. On the other side of the desk, Joseph McCarthy sits listening to the farmer's story, right at least pretending to listen. Because he can't help but stare at the farmer's two front teeth. He's got something stuck there and he keeps flapping around as the farmer rages on about the dispute. McCarthy tries to hold back his side. He knows he should be taking notes. He knows he should be working to help this man recover his money. That's McCarthy's job. He's now 27 years old and this is his office, where he runs a private practice as a lawyer. But right now, all McCarthy wants is to get far away from this mind numbing dispute. He wishes everything could still feel like the old days, back when he was a businessman. Life was exciting and full of promise. It seemed like the whole world knew his name. But after his flock died and his business fell apart, McCarthy struck a deal with himself. He would build a steady and stable life. And that began with finishing his education. He raced through four years of high school in a single year. Then by washing dishes, doing janitorial work, he paid his own way through college. He went on to get a degree in law, because that seemed like a good way to make a stable living. And last year, he opened his own practice. So he should be happy. He achieved his goals. But he still wonders what he lost when he chose this life. Instead of the one he had always dreamed of. Suddenly McCarthy snaps out of his thoughts. The farmer is staring at him annoyed. He says he expected his lawyer to pay better attention to his case. But if McCarthy can't bring himself to care, then maybe he's in the wrong profession. With that, the man walks out of the office and slams the door behind him. For a moment, McCarthy stares at the door. Farmers words keep ringing in his ears, because he knows the man's right. This legal practice isn't enough for him. He can't keep lying to himself. He needs something bigger, something that will let people see how truly important he is. And McCarthy thinks he knows what he needs to do next. A few months later, Joseph McCarthy parks his car in front of a small storefront in Sean O. County, Wisconsin. Place doesn't look like much, just a run down building with some campaign signs in the window. But for McCarthy, this is the beating heart of a noble cause. This building is the Democratic Party headquarters for Sean O. County. This humble group is on a mission, one that's captured in a banner sitting out front. It reads, reelect Roosevelt. McCarthy gays is at the banner with pride. FDR is the hero of the working poor, the kind of people McCarthy comes from. He's a beloved politician, and McCarthy hopes that someday the public will love him, just like they love FDR. But he knows that he has to start somewhere. That's what makes today so exciting. McCarthy enters the building and spots his friend Grover Meisner sitting at a desk with a phone cradled on his shoulder. Like McCarthy, Meisner has gotten deeply involved in local politics. He's an important member of the county's Democratic Party. That's why he's key for the plan that McCarthy is about to lay out. Meisner hangs up the phone and turns to McCarthy. Joe, my good man, what brings you to this little sweatshop of democracy? Want to see how the sausage gets made? Oh, I've seen how the sausage gets made, and it's a pretty. Let's see, you have, let's see, you've been what? Treasurer for the county Democratic Party, Chairman of the Young Democrats. Is there anything else? Anything I'm missing? Oh, McCarthy smiles and takes a step forward. Well, what about DA? Oh, DA, yeah, DA. Oh, try and remember, what's that stand for? Oh Grover, you're a funny man. Okay, district attorney. Yeah, I know what it means. But Joe, did I, did I miss something? No, I don't, you did. But just in case I'll be clear, the people haven't elected me as district attorney yet. So I'm gonna run in the upcoming election. Meisner looks down and grabs his cup of coffee. He hesitates for a moment as he swirls it around his mug. Well, it would, much of a book. I know you're excited about politics, getting involved, you've been doing good work. And there's no question about it. But you gotta be honest with yourself, you're new in town. If you want to be DA, it takes time. You have to get to know the people. Well, I'll do that in my campaign. I'll go door to door. That's not the only way you win elections. You're an unknown. Plus Democrats, we just don't win in this part of Wisconsin. The incumbent is both conservative and very popular. But the voters are wrong. They're stupid if they vote for him. Joe, uh, yeah, I'm sure that's gonna be a winning campaign slogan, Joe. You're an idiot if you don't vote McCarthy. No, look, FDR got us out of the depression. He's got a good platform. And I'm gonna run on it. People out here will vote for that. But McCarthy approaches Meisner with a look of focus and determination. Grover, I need to know I have your support. Meisner looks down as he weighs his words. Then he grins. All right, you got it, Joe. I'm in. At that, McCarthy embraces Meisner in a hug. And he promises that together. They're going to do great things for the Democratic Party. Two shake hands one last time. And then McCarthy steps out of the building and gets into his car. He shuts the door. And with his heart racing, he thinks about what lies ahead. But first, he needs to head back to the office. Because until he wins the election, he still needs to make money as a lawyer. But if all goes well, those days will be numbered. And soon he'll once again be in the limelight. Everyone will know the name Joseph McCarthy. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there. And we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery. And lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or every listen to podcasts. Or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. It's November 4, 1936, and a cold, clear day in Sean O. Wisconsin. McCarthy gets out of his car and closes the door softly. He looks down in humiliation. Car door is painted with the words, elect Joe McCarthy. It's a phrase that gives him daggers in his stomach. And then, as McCarthy approaches the campaign headquarters front door, he spots the message again, painted it across a large banner. He can't stand to see another one of those signs. And he can't believe that everything has gone so wrong. His friend Grover Meiser warned him that the race for DA would be tough. He said that Democrats don't win in this part of Wisconsin. But McCarthy was confident he could buck the trend. And he did exactly what he said he'd do. For months, he knocked on doors. He hosted fundraisers. He got to know the locals. He built his political base. But yesterday was the election. And when the results came in, McCarthy felt like he was sinking in quicksand. His opponent didn't just beat him. It was a landslide. And so now, McCarthy wants to grab his campaign materials and toss them in the trash. And he wants to get as far as he can from the Democratic Party. As McCarthy hurries up to the steps of the headquarters, he hears a car door slam behind him. He turns and sees Grover Meiser stepping out into the parking lot. Meiser knew a wave to McCarthy. Hey Joe, Donna might find you here. You want to talk? No, not especially. I'm just running in and getting out of here. Come on, don't be a stranger. I'm not a stranger. I'm a loser. Now, if you'll excuse me, Hey Joe, no, wait, let's talk. McCarthy stops and turns. Okay, let's talk. Know what happened? I got walloped. It went for the other guy. The party lost big. Yeah, it was a tough loss. But there's no shame in losing Joe. It happens. It happens all the time. What matters is you ran a really good campaign, except that I did not. You did everything you set out to accomplish. Grover, that's exactly it. My mistake wasn't running for office as the new guy. It was that I tried to be honest. I stalked my principals. Let me tell you something that I learned. You want to get anywhere in politics? You got to give the public what they want to hear. Those people they didn't care about the new deal. Doesn't matter what I believe. Joe, what are you talking about? Tell me, what's the point of being in power if you don't have integrity? McCarthy shakes his head and gives mysner a look at pity. If you lose, it doesn't matter if you have integrity. Because you've lost. You're already out. At least if you're in power, you're a winner. Ah, a winner. So you think it's okay to lie to set aside your own principles as long as you win. There's no glory in being a loser. Okay, all right, Joe. Well, as soon as you're done thinking about glory, remember there's no shortcut if you want to be on top. You got to get back to work. And that's what I'm going to do. You can join me if you want. Mysner opens the door and holds it for McCarthy. For a moment, McCarthy just stands there, standing at mysner. But then McCarthy turns and walks back to his car. He's made a decision. He doesn't need to get rid of all those campaign signs. He doesn't need to work with mysner or the Democrats ever again. He's done with them. But mysner is right about one thing. It's time to get back to work. Because while he didn't win this election, McCarthy has a plan. He'll run for public office again. But next time, he's not going to take the high road. Joseph McCarthy will do whatever it takes to win. It's a muggy day in the spring of 1944 in the Solomon Islands, an island chain in the South Pacific. The air is full of the sounds of boots stomping through damp soil and aircraft flying overhead. A canvas 10 flaps open, and Joseph McCarthy steps out into the morning sun. He's wearing olive green fatigues and shields his eyes as a bead of sweat begins to drip down on his forehead. McCarthy looks out over the marine base where he's been stationed during World War II. Then, as he does every morning, McCarthy steps away from the tent and gazes at a sign that he put up, reading headquarters McCarthy for US Senator. The sign makes him pretty proud. Years ago, McCarthy suffered a humiliating loss in a race for district attorney in Wisconsin. And while he didn't give up on politics, he did give up on the Democratic Party. He decided to run for circuit judge, and after running a merciless campaign, he finally won an election. Afterward, McCarthy felt strong and confident, and he realized he could probably win anything if he tried hard enough. Still, he needed some way to stand out above the crowd. That's when the idea hit him. He should be fighting in World War II. The headlines would be spectacular, a sitting judge dodging bullets with that public storyline that'd be no stopping him. That's why McCarthy is here now in the South Pacific. He's a Marine, and on the front lines of the war. He thought it was the perfect place to launch a Senate campaign. All he has to do now is win a primary against the current Republican Senator. And to do that, he just needs a little attention. So McCarthy sits down and begins drafting a letter. He plans to mail it to an associate back home. It'll detail his heroics in the war and paint a flattering picture of Captain Joe McCarthy. The associate can then use this material to get some attention in the media. But just then McCarthy hears so in bark his name. He turns around to find one of the pilots in his quadrant, staring McCarthy. The pilot asks McCarthy if he's told any good lies lately. McCarthy says Stan is pen. Ask the pilot what he's talking about. The man steps forward and says he knows what McCarthy has been telling the newspapers back home, saying he's a tail gunner, claiming he's flying on airplanes and shooting down enemies. Pilot steps closer and tells McCarthy that he's a damn liar. He's an intelligence officer. He's no daredevil. The pilot then spits into the grass and says McCarthy should show a little respect for the guys taking real risks. McCarthy clenches his fists and rises. And then he says that while he may be an intelligence officer, he has volunteered to be a tail gunner. He even flew in combat missions. So he'd like some peace and privacy while he finishes writing his letter. Pilot squints. For a second he looks like he's about to pound some McCarthy. He's bigger and stronger. McCarthy doubts he could handle the man. But then the pilot spits again and says he knows the truth. McCarthy volunteered for a few easy flights, but that was just so he could pretend to be a real soldier. And he's heard that McCarthy is now calling himself tail gunner Joe. The pilot cracks his knuckles and steps even closer. McCarthy can see the stubble on the man's chin. His chest tightens as he gets ready for a fight. But then the pilot says he needs to go. He has a real combat mission to fly. Then he spends on his heels and walks away. McCarthy watches the pilot disappear around a bin. Then he collapses into the chair. His buoyant mood has now been completely deflated. But he tells himself to forget the pilot's words. They won't matter one bit when he's a senator. So McCarthy picks up his pen again and continues to write his letter. He knows he's a long shot for the Republican primary, especially since he can't even campaign on the ground in Wisconsin. But he's playing the long game. He might not win this primary, but he'll be well positioned for the next Senate race in a couple of years. And by then the voters won't think of him just as judge Joseph McCarthy. He'll be Captain McCarthy and tail gunner Joe. It's the morning of August 14th, 1946 in Wisconsin. Joseph McCarthy rises out of bed and rubs his eyes, which are burning with exhaustion. Normally, McCarthy would go back to sleep to rest up just a little more after such a late night. But today is anything but normal. The election results should be in by now. And in just a few minutes, McCarthy will learn whether he won the Republican primary for a seat in the US Senate. So there's no time to waste. With all the strength he can muster, McCarthy gets himself out of bed and hurries to get dressed. He needs to find a newspaper as soon as he can. As McCarthy pulls on a shirt and pants, his mind starts to buzz as he remembers last night. The evening grew very late, and the election results were still too close to call. It wasn't clear whether he'd win the primary or whether the election would go to his opponent, Robert LaFolette Jr. But even that uncertainty was good news. Because all along, McCarthy had known that he was a long shot. LaFolette is a four term senator. He comes from a famous political family, and he's gained widespread notoriety for his work on progressive labor issues. McCarthy knew he couldn't win the primary based on his own record. So he decided to test his theory. He believes that politics are like a theater production. Voters need to be captivated by stories of heroes and villains. They need to be swept off their feet with intrigue, even if that means resorting to a little fiction. And that's exactly what McCarthy did. He painted his opponent as out of touch with common Americans. He suggested LaFolette was a political elite who was harming the country. At the same time, McCarthy reminded voters that he himself was a military man, that he was tail gunner Joe. He sent out 750,000 booklets with photos of himself in a fighter jet sitting behind a machine gun. Of course, he didn't serve as a tail gunner in the war, but that doesn't matter if he wins the race. McCarthy finishes getting dressed and races to the front door. He throws it open and looks down to the newspaper on the ground. Suddenly, McCarthy feels himself go weak. This is the moment of truth. McCarthy flips open the paper, and then his heart skips a beat. The results are in. It was close, and he won. McCarthy will be the Republican candidate for Senate this November. And that means he's going to be a US Senator because there's no chance a Democrat can win in the general election. McCarthy reads the news story again and again. Then he folds up the paper and runs a hand through his dark hair as he considers the incredible news. He may have won this race, but when he finally gets to DC, he's going to be a small fish in a very large pond. He's in his late 30s. That practically makes him a child in the US Senate. He knows no one will pay him an ounce of attention. So he'll have to do something to get attention. McCarthy licks his lips as he remembers the valuable lesson he's just learned. Politics is theater, heroes and villains and captivating storylines. That is how you get attention. And once you have attention, you have power. And Joseph McCarthy decided long ago he isn't going to stop until he's the most powerful man in Washington, DC. It's December 1946 in Washington, DC. Joseph McCarthy is climbing a steep staircase one that seems like it'll never end. McCarthy keeps pushing, climbing higher is breath growing more and more labored. He's just about to take a break when finally he reaches the top. And it's there that something else entirely takes his breath away. It's the dome of the US Capitol building. McCarthy stares full of wonder. It's a marvel of neoclassical architecture looking like some kind of Greek or Roman temple. And it's about to be Joseph McCarthy's new place of work. McCarthy looks around the front of the Capitol in spots important looking people, walking and talking quickly, scribbling notes, flipping through documents. The Capitol is buzzing with action. And all at once it fully hits McCarthy. He made it. He's about to be a US Senator. Yet something feels wrong. And then McCarthy realizes that no one seems to notice him. It's true he's technically not yet a member of the Senate. Next month he'll be sworn in as the junior senator from Wisconsin. That'll make him one of the most famous men in the country. But right now no one's looking at him. And no one notices that a future senator is standing right there. McCarthy chuckles to himself. Ah, it's okay. People may not know him yet, but today he's got a plan. And if all goes right, Washington will soon start talking about Senator Joseph McCarthy. A minute later McCarthy passes through a set of large doors. He quickly heads to a press conference that he's about to lead. McCarthy may not yet be an actual senator, but that's not going to stop him from getting some headlines. He called this press conference to talk about a hot button issue. Right now coal miners are on a major strike. It's causing electricity shortages throughout the country and threatening the national economy. Everyone's talking about the strike. And so McCarthy decided to piggyback on that coverage and get a little attention for himself. McCarthy strides into the Senate reception room with its ornate gold ceilings. It's packed with journalists. McCarthy feels himself glowing as he heads to the podium and begins addressing the reporters. McCarthy announces that he has a plan, a way to deal with the ongoing strike among coal miners. McCarthy looks out at the reporters and then says that the leader of the coal workers union should be drafted into the army. And not just the union leader, every member of the coal union should be drafted. McCarthy pauses and notices the room beginning to stir. Then a reporter laughs out loud and says that the Senator elect can't actually be serious. Coal workers union has almost half a million members. McCarthy knew that the reporters might be dismissive. But to get attention, sometimes you have to double down. And so McCarthy responds to the reporter and says that his plan is the only way to settle the strike. Then McCarthy delivers the statement that he knows will grab headlines. He tells the reporter that that's just the start. The US should draft the leader of the union. But if the man is still obstinate, if he refuses to send his men back to work mining coal, then the union leader can be subject to court martial. And he can even face the death penalty. McCarthy fixes his face with a somber expression as he looks around the room. He can tell that he's shocked the reporters. A few even start to murmur among each other. But then something else happens. The reporters begin scribbling in their notebooks. McCarthy holds back his smile. There is no doubt he'll be in the papers tomorrow. And there's no doubt that people will start talking about Joseph McCarthy. Several months later, Senator Charles Toby sits at a desk in the US capital. Toby is inside the Senate chamber and listening to debate. Toby is a senator from New Hampshire who prides himself on being a free thinker. He's a conservative and he fights for laws that he believes will improve lives across America. But part of his job is just to sit back and learn from his colleagues. And right now, he's listening to one of his young fellow Republicans speaking at the podium. His name is Joseph McCarthy. And he's waiting into one of the hottest public policy debates in America. It's about sugar. For the last several years, Americans have had a limited access to this sweet commodity thanks to World War II. The federal government rations supplies like sugar during the war. But the war ended about a year and a half ago and yet sugar is still being rationed. It's an unpopular policy and one that's gotten a lot of attention. Yet even if Americans are angry, Toby knows it's his job to be cool headed and to make smart decisions about policies like sugar rationing. Which is why he's worried about Senator Joe McCarthy. Sitting at his desk in the Senate chamber, Toby leans forward and pushes his wire in glasses higher on his nose. He's paying close attention to McCarthy. And the more he hears, the more he knows that he's going to have to say something to stand up against this firebrand. At the podium, McCarthy snarls as he speaks. I've just received word from the Department of Agriculture. They've confirmed that we now have more sugar than we know what to do with anyone who says otherwise is lying. It's time for Congress to end these rations and restore the free market, the American people demand. Toby can't believe what he's hearing. This thing about the Department of Agriculture, a sugar surplus, it's a complete fabrication. And while he hates to interrupt a fellow senator, especially a fellow Republican, Toby can't let this stand. Excuse me, Senator McCarthy. But what you just said, it simply isn't true. Just this morning, I spoke with the Secretary of Agriculture and he authorized me to report that there is no sugar available for home consumption. Well, I don't give a damn what the Secretary says about the matter. The sugar is there. Wait, just one minute, Senator McCarthy. You've spoken of falsehood. And on the floor of the Senate, no less. I urge you correct your mistake. Toby pauses as he considers his next move. He doesn't want to cause a civil war with a fellow Republican. But he can't help but think now about the headlines he read. Rumors that McCarthy accepted a so called loan from a lobbyist at Pepsi, the manufacturer of a sweet cola that uses sugar. Senator McCarthy, there's something else you need to explain. There's a senior coincidence. You accepted a loan from the Pepsi Cola company. Now you're advocating their position that we end sugar rashes. At this McCarthy's face turns bright red. He begins shouting at Toby. His voice booming through the room. Then McCarthy snatches his papers off the podium and exits the Senate chamber. There's a brief silence as Toby and his other colleagues exchange uncomfortable glances. Still, Toby knows that he was right to challenge McCarthy and to question his loyalties. It's the duty of every Senator to stand up for what's right and true. But Toby isn't sure that McCarthy holds these same values. And he doubts that this is the last time he'll have to rebuke the young hothead from Wisconsin. It's late February 1950, about three years later. Joseph McCarthy is rushing down the long, carpeted corridor that leads to his Senate office in Washington. He feels driven and jolted with energy because he has a big announcement for his staff about something that's going to change his life and all of theirs. As McCarthy stalks through the hallway, he grins and thinks back on the last week. It's been the biggest week of his entire political career. He began by going to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he gave a speech about communists infiltrating the state department. At first, only the local paper in Wheeling picked it up. But McCarthy knew he'd struck a nerve. So he kept delivering the speech and improvising new details as he traveled the country through Denver, Salt Lake City, Reno, Nevada. By the time he was finished with his circuit, it seemed like every paper in the country was writing about his claims. Of course, McCarthy is still the junior senator from Wisconsin. But day by day, he can see he's getting more attention. And that can only mean one thing, more power. McCarthy bursts into his office and finds his staff working at their desks. They look up as he enters. He rushes to his desk and picks up copies of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and all the DC papers. He's on the front page of every single one of them. McCarthy then holds up one of the papers and yells at to his staff. He points to a headline and asks everyone if they can see it. The staff nod their heads. McCarthy then begins to speak in rapid bursts. He reminds his staff that the Soviets now have the atom bomb. Everyone is scared that the US could be wiped out by the communists that this could be the end of democracy. McCarthy again points his finger at the headline and says that it's this fear, the anxiety over communism that's exactly the kind of drama he's been looking for. This is the storyline that he'll ride to the top of Washington. McCarthy stops and lets the gravity of his ideas sink in. But then he notices his secretary frowning. She asks whether McCarthy has any actual evidence. Some people say that they've never heard anything about these communists in government. McCarthy laughs at her and tosses aside the newspaper. He then tells his secretary not to worry. He's gotten this far. Somehow he'll find the evidence. McCarthy turns away from the secretary and drops the paper he was holding on the desk. On the front page, he sees his name printed in big bold font. Makes him feel good and makes him feel strong. Because after all these years, after failing as a businessman, after losing everything, once again he's back in the spotlight and he doesn't plan to step away any time soon. From Wandery, this is episode one of five of RedScare from American's candle. On the next episode, Joseph McCarthy doubles down on his claims about communist infiltrators and gets help from powerful allies in Washington. And as McCarthy's influence grows, other senators weigh the political cost of challenging him. If you'd like to learn more about Joseph McCarthy, we recommend the book Demagogue by Larry Ty. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Michael Canyon Meyer, edited by Christina Malsberger. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven. Execute producers are Stephanie Jenns, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlopest for Wandery.