Friday, March 24, 2006
In Simon and Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson", we hear them imploring "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you". While not exactly in the same context, this phrase jumped into my mind while I was watching the DVD of "Good Night and Good Luck", George Clooney's homage to the newsman Edward R. Murrow.
The movie is obviously a labor of love for Clooney, whose father is a news anchor and held Murrow up as one of his role models. The tale is classic now; powerful communist hunting machine fronted by Senator "Tailgunner Joe McCarthy" in Washington running roughshod over people's civil liberties, throwing wild accusations around, ruining careers and lives versus the well-known but not so powerful newscaster.
Edward R. Murrow was already a famous man by the time he had his historic altercation with the senator from Wisconsin. His rooftop reports during the London Blitz early in World War II established his voice on radio and made him a household name. When he moved into television with CBS, he was already a celebrity. His television show "See It Now", an offshoot from his radio show "Hear It Now", was the forerunner of investigative news shows like 60 minutes. Mr. Murrow, his producer and confidant Fred Friendly, and the stable of news reporters tackled controversial issues every week. In 1954, Mr Murrow turned his sights on Joe McCarthy. By using the senators own pictures (news reel footage and words), he showed the senator to be what he was; a showboating bully intent on self promotion. The contradictions in the senator's own rebuttal on "See It Now" a few weeks later helped accelerate the eventual downfall and repudiation of the communist hunter from Wisconsin. Murrow and his team paid for this little adventure however. They eventually lost their primary sponsor, ALCOA, sometime later, and Murrow's friendship with the chairman of CBS, William Paley was strained to the point that Paley reduced Murrow's shows down to a set of periodic special events. Murrow retired from CBS in 1961 and died in 1965 of lung cancer, but his legacy on news reporting and editorial commentary is indelible. Murrow and his team had the courage of their convictions to stand up and take on issues that most people ran from. He had a steadfast belief in the idea of a free and unfettered press. He had a belief in due process, that an accused has the right to confront their accusers, and he expressed these ideas clearly and with a level of integrity that everyone trusted. Walter Cronkite (a Murrow associate) would later become known as "The Most Trusted Man in America", but it was Murrow that started it all. During his tenure and for sometime afterward, the News Media (both print and video), were our guardians, ready to shine a bright light on corruption and malfeasance by governments, corporations and any other powerful institution.
What happened? Where have all the Murrows gone? Instead of Murrow or Cronkite, we see Hannity and O'reilly. Instead of Eric Severeid, we get Geraldo.
Where have you gone Mr. Murrow? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you....