Gossip Men: J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and the Politics of Insinuation

Christoper M. Elias. Univ. of Chicago, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-0-226-62482-2
Historian Elias’s well-researched and stimulating debut analyzes how FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Wisconsin Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, and lawyer Roy M. Cohn harnessed anticommunist paranoia and anxieties over “changing gender roles” and “shifting social mores” in their rise to power. Noting that all three men were accused of being closeted homosexuals, Elias shows how Hoover overcompensated for his stutter, short stature, and perceived effeminacy by mythologizing the FBI agent as a figure of “virility and strength,” while McCarthy leveraged his blue-collar background and media savvy to forge a “populist” masculine persona, and Cohn worked to escape his Bronx roots and overbearing mother with a politically ambitious law career. Central players in the campaign to identify Communists and other “subversives” in the U.S. government, all three men used “tactics that were hallmarks of the flourishing gossip industry—insinuation, innuendo, guilt by association, sensationalism, coded language, and even photographic manipulation”—to persecute enemies and boost their own careers. Elias vividly describes the era’s political battles, tabloid magazines, and dramatic Senate hearings, and persuasively identifies the influence of the “surveillance state masculinity” embodied by his three subjects on the political rise of Donald Trump (a client and mentee of Cohn’s). This is a juicy introduction to three of the most controversial figures in 20th-century American politics. (May)
Reviewed on : 02/23/2021
Release date: 05/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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