It was 1977—a pre-Geraldo Rivera era of decent network TV talk shows—when Roy Cohn, a one-time attorney for Donald Trump and the owners of Studio 54, appeared on Midday Live on WNEW and debated writer and “public intellectual” Gore Vidal. Bill Boggs hosted and/or moderated the proceedings.
Cohn booked the engagement to promote his book McCarthy: The Answer to “Tail Gunner Joe”, a tome written and published a mere one month after NBC aired a movie called Tail Gunner Joe about Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s false claim of being a tail gunner during World War II. Apparently both Cohn and Vidal had no idea beforehand they would share airtime for a lively debate.
Cool cucumber Vidal ran circles around Cohn while they argued the definition of McCarthyism. Vidal consistently used the word in the context of mudslinging; Cohn claimed the term was coined by The Daily Worker and, in slippery fashion, labeled Vidal a McCarthyite for criticizing Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and General MacArthur.
Then Vidal, a person always transparent about his own bisexuality (he refused to use gay), went on to make Cohn visibly nervous.
Vidal: To me, the nicest thing—let’s be affirmative. The nicest thing that I have ever heard about Joe McCarthy was told me by Senator Flanders of Vermont: that he was a full-time homosexual. Is this true?
Cohn: No, I’m sure you’d think that merited a badge of honor, but it is not true.
Vidal: Well, I’m getting to you in a minute, but what about Senator McCarthy?
Cohn: Oh, sure, that’s your favorite topic of conversation. I know that.
Vidal: I know; it’s aroused by the obvious.
Cohn tried to veer away from the topic, but host Boggs encouraged it to persist.
Cohn: I hate to eliminate or eradicate the one plus you ever did give to Senator McCarthy, but the statement and the charge is totally untrue.
Vidal: You would know.
Cohn: Well, I don’t know, you’ve been around a man for a certain period of time, you know his wife, uh, you know his family, uh, you see him, I suppose you can know as well as anybody can know, and if I knew or didn’t know, I’d wanna have a little more proof before I start throwing it around the way you’ve done.
Vidal: But Senator Flanders did.
Cohn: Well, that’s McCarthy—Senator Flanders apologized for having made a statement which was not based on fact, but based on something somebody told him, which when he checked it out, felt was so unfounded that Senator McCarthy deserved and received an apology from Senator Flanders—
Vidal: I would be happy to see that.
The New York Times reported that on December 2, 1954, 67 senators voted to condemn McCarthy, during which Senator Flanders apologized for comparing McCarthy to Hitler, though not for calling him a homosexual.
Cohn, a closeted gay man, was a ruthless lawyer known chiefly for his evil association with Joe McCarthy during the notorious Red Scare that gave rise to the term McCarthyism. The Republican senator exploited the surrounding hysteria to root out so-called communists within the U.S. government during the 1950s Cold War. Lots of lives were ruined—some driven to suicide—in this shameful time in America. Concurrently McCarthy conducted another witch hunt called the Lavender Scare, in which scores of gay and lesbian folks were fired throughout the government for being “security risks and communist sympathizers.” At the time of these smear campaigns, rumors were circulating that McCarthy was actually gay, so much so that the Las Vegas Sun reported he was “the queer that made Milwaukee famous.”
McCarthy died in 1957 of hepatitis at age 48.
Always remember, reader, that opportunistic parasite Ann Coulter loves Joe McCarthy.
Roy Cohn died of HIV-related conditions in 1986. The certain hellish torture of his afterlife has been alluded to in dozens of plays and films. In The Simpsons, Mr. Burns’ Blue-Haired Lawyer is partly based on Cohn.
Between 11:58 to 12:13, the audio drops out of the embedded clip of Midday Live, in which Roy Cohn shows an eerie resemblance to former Trump White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Below is Al Pacino in a scene from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” portraying Cohn: