May Profile: Edward R. Murrow

Much has been written since President Barak Obama released his “long form” birth certificate at the end of April.  Pick your topic on what riled you most: the blatant racism that was the undertone of this story from the beginning; the ignorance of the people who bought into the innuendo and rumor.  For me, it was the demise of the role of journalism.  Once considered “the Fourth Estate” for its vital role in providing checks and balances on all of government, today’s so-called well-educated members of the major print and electronic media have fallen far from what their role should be.  How was it that “journalists” kept this story alive and failed to do the hard-hitting reporting that is the foundation of their profession?  This non-story should never have been elevated to the status it had.

Murrow’s hard-hitting reporting is sadly lacking in many of today’s news accounts.

In remembrance of a time when journalism and journalists were once regarded as a major player in the preservation of democracy, we have chosen to profile Edward R. Murrow as our May Progressive Profile.

Murrow was born on April 25, 1908 and is considered to have had an unparalleled influence on broadcast journalism. Murrow’s pioneering television documentaries have more than once been credited with changing history, and to this day his name is synonymous with courage and perseverance in the search for truth.  Perhaps he is most remembered for his damning attacks on Senator Joseph McCarthy during the height of the “reign of terror” that was McCarthyism.  In the early 1950s, McCarthy’s anticommunist crusades, aided by a compliant media, destroyed lives and fostered a climate of fear and hostility in American society.

Murrow had built an incredible following in the United States for his World War II radio reporting from Europe. His calm and courageous reporting captured the nation’s and the world’s attention during the German Blitz of Great Britain in 1940 and 1941 He moved to the new television medium in the early 1950s and his CBS show See It Now focused on a number of controversial issues, but none more so than the broadcast that contributed to a nationwide backlash against McCarthy.

That show is seen as a turning point in the history of television.  It provoked tens of thousands of letters, telegrams and phone calls to CBS headquarters, running 15 to 1 in favor of Murrow. Murrow spoke the following words on the night of that historic broadcast.

“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 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 which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”

His trademark “good night and good luck” which concluded his broadcast were used by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann as the sign-off for his shows and was Olbermann’s tribute to Murrow.

In 1960, Murrow produced Harvest of Shame, which depicted the many hardships that plague migrant farm workers. Aired on Thanksgiving Day, Murrow’s documentary shocked the country, and brought a call for legislation to protect migrant workers.

Innumerable awards and honors were bestowed on Murrow by professional and civic organizations, and honorary titles from the governments of Belgium, England, France and Sweden. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson awarded him the Medal of Freedom, and in 1965, Queen Elizabeth named him an Honorable Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He was the recipient of more than a dozen honorary degrees.

Murrow’s legacy includes The Edward R. Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Murrow’s alma mater, Washington State University, dedicated its expanded communication facilities the Edward R. Murrow Communications Center and established the annual Edward R. Murrow Symposium.

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