February 9

McCarthys List


“I hold here in my hand a list of more than 500 — ”

Tobin pauses the image, looking over his shoulder where you stand behind his chair.

You’re not sure why he’s brought you into the editing booth.  Senator Platt is a notorious crank, not worthy of legitimate news coverage.  If Tobin wanted to edit for Entertainment Nightly or Reality Tyme, the footage might rate comic interest…but to call in the Senior News Editor at a major network?

Especially when you already know the rest of Senator Platt’s outrageous claim:  “…a list of more than 500 people who are already dead, yet serve in prominent government and societal positions.”

As Tobin turns his attention to sliders and dials on his control board, you recall the special segment you’re airing tonight on Senator Joseph McCarthy, who waved his own list on this same day, back in 1950.  McCarthy claimed to have 205 names of “Communists working for the State Department.”  Nobody knew what was actually on the piece of paper.  Random letters, probably.  Or a grocery list.  You mention the point to Tobin.

“Right.”  Tobin continues with his adjustments, and the monitor image expands to a clear close-up of Platt’s frozen hand.  “But in McCarthy’s day, a still-frame zoom would distort into large, unreadable pixels.  Our current crazy Senator probably wasn’t counting on high definition cameras, and fast shutter speeds that eliminate blur.”

Platt had curled up the top page of his list, columns of typed names facing him and away from the camera’s eye.  Tobin zooms close enough to highlight the back of the page, with a faint blur of lines fading through.  The letters are initially too fuzzy, but the editor applies a series of filters that bring them into better focus.

“Like reading in a mirror,” you say.

“Easy enough to fix.”  Tobin clicks a button, and the image reverses.  Not every letter is clear, but with people this prominent, it’s easy to interpolate the full names.

The list surprises you.

“Ridiculous,” you say.  “We can’t air this.  Those people are too important.  Advisors to the President.  Key business leaders.  Lobbyists.”

Tobin clicks a screen capture, and saves the image to a file.  He unfreezes the clip and lets it run, allowing the rest of Platt’s paranoid rant to blast from the speakers:  “They’re already dead, and they’re making policy!  Policy that will only benefit dead people!”

Onscreen, Platt waves his secret list before the rest of the Senate, and Tobin freezes the image, then moves it forward frame by frame.  “Here’s another spot where I think I can grab more names.”  He zooms in, adjusts sliders and dials, clicks different filters.

As new letters come into focus, it’s Tobin’s turn to be surprised — but his reason is different from your own.

Your surprise was due to how accurate Platt’s list is.  You’d assumed the guy was a fool, with no access to real information.

And now letters from your own name come into focus on the editing screen.

“I told you we can’t air this.”  Your dead hands reach around Tobin’s neck, strangling him into a better supporter for your cause.