Remembering a great of investigative journalism

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A truly great journalist died this past week, although you may never have known much about him. His name was Murrey Marder. He was 93.

Marder was “one of the most significant journalists of our time,” as Charles Lewis, founder of The Center for Public Integrity, wrote recently in an eloquent tribute to Marder’s life and work.

“He was utterly tenacious about the truth,” Lewis wrote. “Not only did it outrage him when those in power lied, but it also especially gnawed away at him when the national news media would just stenographically report, and thus repeat, those lies.”

Lewis has created a superb oral history project and website about the role of journalism in American history called Investigating Power. One of the featured moments of truth recounted by Lewis concerns Marder, as a reporter for the Washington Post in the early 1950s. He may have done more than anyone else to bring down the demagogic reign of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, according to Lewis. Marder essentially chronicled and scrutinized McCarthy’s every major utterance and official action for four full years.

In 1953, when Sen. McCarthy was at the height of his power, Marder wrote a series of stories in the Post about McCarthy’s reckless charges portraying an Army Signal Corps Center at Fort Monmouth, NJ, as a “nest of spies.”  Marder made it clear this was empty rhetoric. “Nothing that can be independently ascertained from information available here or in Washington indicates that there is any known evidence to support such a conclusion .”

And as an interactive timeline makes clear, Marder’s important investigative work was followed four months later by Edward R. Murrow’s famous “See It Now” program on McCarthy. (Murrow’s CBS program was featured in the 2005 movie “Good Night, and Good Luck.”) And, a month after Murrow weighed in, in April 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings began to be televised live, leading to McCarthy’s condemnation by the Senate later that year — and his eventual demise.

Although Marder went on to help cover the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and conduct other investigations, it is the downfall of Sen. McCarthy for which he will be best remembered. It all started with Murrey Marder’s work. He stood up to lies with courage, facts and the truth.