A while back I spoke about heros & the importance thereof. Here I would like to highlight not only a hero of mine but one to Journalism, radio & TV broadcasting, America, & possibly the world. Most that have heard of him only know the award for journalism named after him. I’m speaking, of course, of Edward R. Murrow.
Before becoming the embodiment of exceptional journalism, Edward started his career as humbly any other reporter. He joined CBS as Director Of Talks & Education in 1935, before there was a news staff other than announcer Bob Trout. It would be a few years before fate would intervene and set Murrow on his path to excellence.
Murrow went to London in 1937 to serve as the Director of CBS's European operations. Frequently traveling around Europe, it was his on-air reporting of Hitlers Anschluss in 1938 that would bestow his first prominence. As NAZI Germany annexed Austria, the radio broadcast reporting from Murrow & William Shirer would pioneer methods of war-time correspondence that became a model for all that came after. The journalism that followed into WW2 would lead Chief Executive William Paley to offer Murrow the position of Vice President of the network & head of CBS News. Murrow appeared in several TV & radio broadcasts in the years following but it was when ‘See It Now’ started in 1951 that Murrow would really begin to mark out his place in history
Murrow used ’See It Now’ to report on important topics of the day. Ending each broadcast with his trademark ‘Good Night and Good Luck’. He chose to stick mostly to reporting facts & tended to stay away from editorializing. This changed in 1954 when Murrow could no longer stay silent on the real world consequences of Joseph McCarthys ‘Red Scare’. At a time when almost everyone was to afraid to call out McCarty for turning Americans against one another. Murrow, Fred Friendly, & the ‘See It Now’ news team fearlessly took on McCarthy & stood up against his rising tide of tyranny. Today it’s easy to lose sight of just how dangerous stepping out of line was. These brave men & women were very definitely risking their reputations, livelihood, & even freedom in order to stand against what they knew to be wrong. There had already been several people who wouldn’t cooperate incarcerated.
With the transition from radio to television, the Second World War, & global political unrest, it was perhaps, the time period that found Murrow that provided the opportunity for greatness. Nevertheless, fate could only offer a path. It took the right man to traverse its twists & turns. Murrow knew more than most the power of the tools at hand & tried to express this in one of his most famous addresses in 1958 to the RTNDA. Allowing his thoughts to speak for themselves I will end with an excerpt of that speech:
This might just do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous ideas. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors will not be shaken or altered.
It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television. And if what I say is responsible, I, alone, am responsible for the saying of it.
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now -- and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week of all three networks -- they will there find, recorded in black and white and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.
Our mass media reflect this.
But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television, and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us. Just once in awhile let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night, a time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey on the state of American education. And a week or two later, a time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.
Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged?
Would the shareholders rise up in their wrath and complain?
Would anything happen, other than a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country -- and therefore the future of the corporations?
To those who say people wouldn't look, they wouldn't be interested, they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.
This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and, yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends.
Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights -- in a box.
Good Night and Good Luck