Murrow was the conscience of audiovisual journalism



One of the legacies of WWII was the rise of a group of radio correspondents and producers who shaped the early days of television news including Ed Bliss, Charles Collingwood, Walter Cronkite, William Downs, Douglas Edwards , Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, and especially Edward R. Murrow.


Murrow went on to become the iconic broadcast journalist and ultimately became the media’s “conscience”, a role that ultimately cost him his relationship with the network he helped build, CBS.

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was born on April 25, 1908 in a log cabin in Polecat Creek near Greensboro, North Carolina. His parents were Quakers, and the family moved to a property in Washington state when Murrow was six. After graduating from Washington State University, where he changed his name to Edward in his sophomore year, in 1930 he moved to New York and worked for the Institute of International Education. . He joined CBS in 1935 as director of talk and education – there was no press staff on the network – tasked with lining up reporters for on-air interviews. He moved to London in 1937 to do the same; he recruited William L. Shirer to do this work in continental Europe.

When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Murrow and Shirer changed the nature of CBS with a multi-city show on March 13, 1938, hosted by Bob Trout in New York City and with correspondents in Paris, London (Shirer) , Berlin, Rome and Vienna, where Murrow made his first report on the spot: “It’s Edward Murrow talking about Vienna … It is now close to 2:30 am, and Herr Hitler has not yet arrived.”

He returned to London, where his reporting made him a celebrity with his signature opening and closing phrases known to millions of Americans: “This (pause) is London…” and “Good night and good luck” .

Murrow’s boys

He assembled a team that later became known as the Murrow Boys who shaped the coverage of the war, and returned to the United States to become vice president of information operations for the network, a role which he quickly got bored.

In 1951, he and Fred Friendly created “See It Now”, a current affairs documentary show for CBS Television. It was a show that featured Murrow’s relentless point of view, like this clip from 1951:

“Around us all, now high as a distant thunderstorm, now close to us with the suffocating and humid intimacy of a London fog, is an enveloping cloud of fear. …

“There is a mental fear, which causes other of us to see pictures of witches in a neighbor’s yard and causes us to burn this house down. And there is a creeping fear of doubt, doubt of what we have been taught, of the validity of so many things that we have long taken for granted to be enduring and immutable. It has become harder than ever to tell black from white, right from wrong, right from wrong. »1951 broadcast of” This I Believe “.

The punctuated McCarthyism

The show is best known for its March 9, 1954 show that ended Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against Communists in the US government. “No one can terrorize an entire nation unless we are all their accomplices,” he said. He was the first radio reporter to confront McCarthy head-on, pointing out his contradictions. In December, the Senate, in a rare move, “condemned” McCarthy.

Although Murrow did many lighter articles and interviews, his straightforward approach to See It Now ultimately scared off regular sponsors, and his barely disguised disgust for the quality of TV programming began to alienate William Paley, the boss of CBS.

An example taken from a speech given in 1958 to radio and television executives: “We are now rich, fat, comfortable and complacent. We currently have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we recover from our big surpluses and recognize that television is mainly used to distract us, cheat us, amuse us and isolate us, then television and those who fund it, those who watch it and those who watch it and those who watch it. who work there, may see a totally different picture too late.

Murrow resigned from CBS in 1961 to become head of the United States News Agency under President John Kennedy.

An uncontrolled smoker all his life, he had his lungs removed in 1963 and died on April 27, 1965.

Contact Frank Daniels III: [email protected], 615-881-7039, and on Twitter: @fdanielsiii.


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