March 9, 1954…Murrow’s Historic McCarthy Broadcast + An Editorial …
March 9, 1954…Murrow’s Historic McCarthy Broadcast + An Editorial
First the story of the March 9, 1954 “See It Now” broadcast, followed by a rare but timely Eyes Of A Generation Editorial.
On March 9, 1954, Edward R. Murrow made history and broke new ground in television journalism on “See It Now” as he took on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s record and anti-communist methods.
Murrow, who was then perhaps the country’s most highly revered journalist, devoted an entire episode of his CBS program “See it Now” to the words and deeds of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had already done much to earn his notorious place in history. Using McCarthy’s own statements, Murrow painted a picture of a man whose recklessness with the truth and ugly attacks on his critics had contributed to a climate of deep fear and repression in American life.
Murrow’s attack on McCarthy is an iconic example of journalistic guts, and one that contains a directness not seen until Walter Cronkite’s Vietnam commentaries. It’s also a symbol of the ability of television to shape our historical memory; whatever impact Murrow may have had when “See it Now” aired, the words and the video (below) of his crusade against McCarthy have immortalized him.
The program is often remembered for these words from Mr. Murrow at the end of his report:
“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.
There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’
Good night, and good luck.”
Do Murrow’s words ring a bell? They should!
As I write of this historic event in television journalism, the day Murrow took on Senator Joseph McCarthy, I can not help but think of the present state of affairs in America.
This rare editorial from me is not meant to be political in nature, but rather to set out some observations on the state of the news and the media, and particularly television news at the network level.
Before I go there, I would like to preface my thoughts with a few quotes from George Orwell’s “1984”, that I think speak to our present situation.
“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
I have been contemplating writing this for a while, but three things of a very timely nature have occurred recently that have encouraged me to share my point of view, that I hope you will appreciate.
Over the past month or so, I have been recording the network’s evening newscasts to compare their reporting. After the first week, I had formed an opinion. It was obvious to me that CBS was the most blunt.
Then, just yesterday this Associated Press piece appeared to support my thesis.
From the article: “Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who monitors the content of nightly network newscasts, also said he’s taken note of a change in Pelley’s tone since the advent of the Trump presidency. He said each of Pelley’s characterizations is immediately backed up by stories that prove Pelley’s point.
“To me it’s not commentary,” Tyndall said. “It’s actual reporting.”
Much has been said in the past year about how reporters need to change their way of reporting to take into consideration the avalanche of falsehoods and outright lies that consuming us.
To his credit, Scott Pelley and CBS are stepping up to the challenge. In my opinion, second in line behind Pelley is ABC’s David Muir, followed by Lester Holt at NBC.
The third event that caused me to want to comment of this state of affairs came a couple of weeks ago when Bill Maher, took on television news. I’ve started this clip at the point where he urges the network news shows to dump the fluff and use ALL of the 22 minutes they have for real news…and…to “take one for the team” and quit demanding their news shows be profit centers!
I could not agree more with Bill on these points! You too? Let us know what you think.
I’ll conclude with a final thought from George Orwell, that I think put’s Mr. Maher’s comments on the profit center problem in context.
“Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me:
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.”
Enjoy, share and THINK! -Bobby Ellerbee
“See It Now” on CBS – March 9, 1954. 23:18 : Earlier the Senator asked, “Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?” Had he looked three lines earlier in Sh…