Aug. 3, 2012 By Jack Jodell
We have seen a great many things decline in this country over the past few decades, from civility in politics to working persons’ real disposable income. Regrettably, this decline has even affected American journalism, where the thought of biased punditry being cast as actual news reporting was unheard of in past times. Today, then, I will transport you back to a prior era, which was devoid of bigoted blabbermouths like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. It was an era when journalists were able to report what they actually saw, without having to pander to special interests or bfirst ow to corporate overlords. It was a time of relative honesty and high integrity in journalism, and one of its loftiest practicioners is featured below.
EDWARD R. MURROW was a GIANT in the early days of radio and television. He was deservedly revered by his listeners, viewers, and even his contemporaries in the field for his high journalistic standards. When he died at the relatively young age of 57, he left behind a solid body of work and shone asa a prime example of what a serious student of journalism can and should achieve. He set a very high standard which has been approached by a few of his peers, but which has yet to be surpassed, especially among today’s crop of pundits masquerading as journalists.
Born Egbert Roscoe Murrow in 1908, to Quaker parents Roscoe and Ethel Murrow of rural Polecat Creek, North Carolina, he described himself as being “a mixture of English, Scots, Irish, and German” heritage. He and his two older brothers were raised in a log cabin without running water or electricity. At age 6, the family moved to the extreme northwestern tip of Washington state, just below the Canafian border. Here Murrow ended up becoming his high school’s student body president and did very well on its debate team. In his teens, he increasingly became known as “Ed” and actually changed his name to Edward early in college.
For college, the young Ed Murrow majored in Speech, earning his B.A. degree in that from Washington State College in Pullman. During college, ho attended the 1929 National Student Federation of America annual conference and delivered a speech urging college students to become more interested in and play a role in national and world affairs. This led to his becoming elected president of that federation shortly thereafter. He moved to New York in 1930 after graduation and was hired by the fledgling CBS in 1035 to be its director of talks and education. Oddly enough, in those days, CBS did not yet even have its own news department! All it had was announcer Bob Trout, for whom Murrow was hired to line up newsmakers to talk about current issues on the air. Murrow was interested by Trout’s on-air delivery, and picked up many valuable tips from him on how best to communicate on the air.
In 1937, Murrow shipped off to London, where for the next several years he would serve as the diector of European operations for CBS. His task was to line up European figures to broadcast over the CBS network. He met and hired journalist William L. Shirer to do the same thing on the European continent, and, together, the two men became the forefathers of modern broadcast journalism. Under Murrow’s wing, Shirer began broadcasting eyewitness accounts of Nazi Germany’s 1938 Anschluss of Austria. He flew Shirer directly from Vienna to London so the complete and uncensored report could be made. Murrow and Shirer then put together a special “European News Roundup” special which featured a number of European correspomdents’ and government ministers’ reactions to the Anschluss, with several live broadcasts from London and even Vienna. It was a huge revolutionary coup for the young CBS News, as it contained the first multipoint, miltinational live interviews in broadcast history. As a result of this, the “World News Roundup” is still heard on CBS Radio to this very day! Murrow remained in London, and Shirer broadcast from Berlin until late in 1940.
During the notorious London Blitz of 1940, it was Murrow’s voice which broadcast the lurid eyewitness accounts. Listeners throughout the U.S. and Canada tuned in regularly for his updates, which always began with his familiar “THIS… is London.” During each night’s bombing raid, Londoners. aware that they may never see one another alive again, began closing their conversations with the phrase “good night, and good luck.” Murrow picked up on this, and began closing his reports the very same way. Murrow also flew on Allied bombing raids in Europe once the U.S. had entered the war, providing stirring accounts of all that was happening around him. As the war expanded, so too did Murrow expand the CBS News staff. It eventually grew to include such notable future stars as Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Charles Collingwood, and many others. He eventually even brought Daniel Schorr into the CBS fold after the war.
By 1947, Murrow had ascended to the vice presidency of CBS News. He was still fond of actual broadcasting, however, so he eventually resigned that position to return to live radio. From 1951-1055, he hosted the program This I Believe, which gave ordinary people the chance to voice their opinions on the radio for five minutes. He continued broadcasting of daily news on the radio network all the way up until 1959.
Television came roaring into prominence during the 1950s, and Edward R. Murrow jumped on board, albeit rather reluctantly at first. He was very concerned that the new medium relied too heavily on images rather than ideas to make its points. He was also disturbed by the fact that it was a medium increasingly devoted to entertainment rather than offering thorough, objective news stories. (I shudder to think what he would say about the nature of television today – clearly, he is spinning in his grave over today’s mainstream media, with its infantile obsession with Hollywood figures, its sensationalism, and its very slanted political pundits, especially those like Hannity, O’Reilly, and Sarah Palin found on Fox “News”)! Indeed, he even publicly advised a group of television employees to “burn your televisions!” – More on this in a future post. –
It was Edward R. Murrow’s thorough and damning expose of the excesses committed by the late red-baiting demogogic Senator Joseph McCarthy which helped discredit that despicable grandstanding buffoon in the public’s mind. We owe Murrow a great deal for having the courage to have done it. For, on March 9, 1954, with NcCarthy still the most-feared member of his Red Scare anti-communist crusade, Murrow and his TV crew produced and ran a half-hour TV segment on his popular See It Now program entitled, “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” In it, Murrow calmly presented a number of film clips of speeches and statements McCarthy had made which were contradictory, false, and ridiculous. Murrow and his producer even paid for newspaper ads promoting the show, as CBS had deemed it too controversial and risky to promote themselves at the time. It wasn’t long before McCarthy was deservedly censured by the Senate for his extremist and very self-serving behavior – behavior which recklessly damaged the credibility and economic well-being of a good number of innocent citizens , and it finished McCarthy politically. He died a broken, drunken man a short time later, and his name and tactics are reviled even to this day. Murrow, to his credit, had correctly seen McCarthy as a dangerous, un-American extremist and courageously used the senator’s own words to convict him in the court of public opinion.
Edward R. Murrow died of lung cancer in 1965, having smoked nearly three packages of Camel cigarettes a day for nearly all of his adult life. He left behind a legacy of uncompromised integrity and honesty tempered by clear-thinking instinct. He is truly deserving of the title of one of the greatest Heroes of American Journalism, and this blogger remains hopeful that we shall someday soon see a return to his style of honest, common-sense journalism.