If ever there were to be nominations for a patron
saint of modern journalism, Edward R. Murrow might well be the posthumous favourite.
That would be fine by this writer, who also once,
briefly and ingloriously, earned a living by conveying facts through words.
Murrow plied his trade over the airwaves rather than
on paper, but in any appraisal of his work the medium is unimportant. His broadcasts, whether delivered on radio from
wartime London or from a bomber over Germany, or later from a New York television studio, questioning the
methods of the red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy, were delivered in a calm,
almost matter-of-fact tone, allowing the facts speak for themselves.
Murrow’s broadcasts from London in 1940, calm and unflustered, the crump
of falling bombs and wailing sirens providing a dramatic sound-track, conveyed
to Americans Britain’s agony and peril.
It is far from fanciful to suppose that Murrow might have induced the
United States into the war even before the attack on Pearl Harbour left the
issue in no doubt.
I was reminded of Murrow, and his legacy, by a film
shown on television last night. It’s called
Thank You, and Good Luck (the phrase
with which Murrow signed off his broadcasts) and it was cleverly directed by
George Clooney, who also acted in it, playing Fred Friendly, Murrow’s boss at
Columbia Broadcast System. David
Strathairn played Murrow, catching the man both in voice and appearance with
The script was concerned only with the McCarthy incident,
in which Murrow and Friendly, in a programme called See It Now, exposed the dangerous fatuities of the junior senator
from Wisconsin. They did it by the simple expedient of
devoting most of the airtime to excerpts from McCarthy’s more strident statements,
artfully condemning the man with his own words.
McCarthy, allowed the right of response, retaliated with his familiar
scare tactics, accusing Murrow of having once been a member of an organisation
with Communist sympathies and calling him the “leader of a jackal pack”.
The game was probably up for McCarthy even at the time
of the broadcast, but Murrow and Friendly blew the final whistle.
Murrow once said of Churchill that he “mobilized the
English language and marched it into battle”.
The same could be said of Murrow.
Do try to catch the film.
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