Fred is pretending to be reading, eyes skimming uncomprehending over some newspaper article, when Ed walks in the door, closing it behind him.
Fred doesn't look up. He says, instead, "what kind of money would you lay down on Liberace ever finding that woman to settle down with?" He doesn't have to see Ed to know that his response is: a slight smile, a lit cigarette, the subtle tilt of an eyebrow.
"Yeah," Fred says, "that's what I thought too."
Ed doesn't say anything for a long time, and Fred doesn't push. He shuffles through some of the stacks of paper on his desk: reports on events that they aren't going to cover, a few phone messages, a few half-articulated thoughts in a near-illegible scrawl. Sometimes, what Ed needs most is the time to collect his thoughts, to write the script for what he's going to say next.
Eventually, he says, "I just finished talking to Paley."
Fred looks up. Ed's stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray on the desk, pulling another one out of a coat pocket. Fred asks, "he call you up there to tell you how much he liked the Ridulovich piece?"
Ed smirks, the brief flame of his lighter reflected in his eyes. He doesn't say anything.
"We don't have to," Fred starts, but they both know he doesn't really mean it. Sometimes, what Fred needs is to say out loud what Ed won't.
Ed shakes his head, says, "it's the right thing to do."
"That doesn't always mean it’s the right thing for us to do," Fred says. "This is bigger than just the ads, this is the show."
Ed won't meet his eyes, stares down instead at his hands, the smoke trailing past his fingertips. He says, "I don't do the math, Fred," and he looks tired. For the first time in a long time, he looks his exactly his age, down to the second. "That's what I have you for. Can you tell me what the cost of my job is, versus the cost of the truth? Your job? Joe's? Shirley?"
Fred says, "we knew what we were doing when we signed on." Ed looks at him again, eyebrow raised, and Fred says, "everyone. Down to the secretaries. You don't think that we all took this job thinking we were working on the Lawrence Welk Show?"
Ed exhales, sits down on the edge of Fred's desk, facing towards the door and the bookshelves. He says, "we few, we happy few," and trails off.
Fred finally asks, "am I talking you into this or out of it? I just want to know so I don't say the wrong thing."
Ed looks at Fred over his shoulder for a second before staring back out at nothing. "I'm not sure myself," he says. "This job was easier when we knew who, exactly, our enemies were."
Fred smiles, says, "I worry about you when you get nostalgic about the Nazis, Ed."
Ed says, "talk me into this."
Fred stands up, puts down the papers he'd forgotten he was still holding. He walks around the desk and sits down next to Ed, staring out at the same empty space. He says, "it's the right thing to do." Ed doesn't react. Fred says, "it's the right thing to do, and it's the right time to do it, and we're the right people to do it."
Ed says, "I can't be unbiased about McCarthy. It's not going to come across as unbiased, it's going to come across like a vendetta."
Fred sort of half-laughs and leans back, bracing himself on his arms, tilting his head back until he's looking up at the ceiling. "I hate to break it to you, Ed, but I don't think you were all that unbiased about the Nazis."
Ed almost laughs, a short and startled exhalation of smoke, and says, "true." He's still tense, though, holding himself preternaturally still where he's perched against the desk. He's still unconvinced.
"Look," Fred says, "if we don't do it, if somebody else does it, could you live with yourself? Knowing that you could have said something? Or what if no one says anything. What if we don't speak up until it's too late?"
"McCarthy is going to collapse under his own weight," Ed says, "maybe we should let this one play out to its natural conclusion. He's bound to fall out of favor sooner or later."
"This is true," Fred says, "but that doesn't mean he couldn't use a push." Fred knows, more than most, that it's usually small things that tip the balance of power: a broken wagon wheel, a rainstorm, a miscalculation. The right man, making the right decision.
Fred says, "The American public is ready to make a decision about McCarthy, one way or the other. We'd just be helping them make that decision. It's not the end of the world. It's just a gesture."
Out of the corner of his eye, Fred can see Ed visibly start to relax. He says, "I'm not sure if I should be flattered or insulted by your opinion on the impact of journalism," but he says it with an note of amusement in his voice.
"I'd go with flattered," Fred says, "or whichever one would makes you hate me less. I only have so many friends."
Ed smiles, looking down at his hands for a pensive second before saying, "we should start with the quote about the one-party system," and that's that, decision made. "I think it'll make a good thesis for the whole show."
Fred gives him a beat of silence, a moment for the reality of it to settle in around them, before he says, "I'll have Shirley find the exact wording."
Ed stands to leave then, stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray. He says, "I'll get people together, you can tell them."
Fred nods, and stares at the side of Ed's face, and eventually says, "when Liberace said, 'she's looking for her dream man, too.' What are the odds that was just a slip of the tongue?" Ed laughs, moves to the door, and leaves it open when he walks through.