The Murrow Era

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Edward R. Murrow [David Inman]

Edward R. Murrow is widely credited with inventing the styles and conventions of broadcast journalism as we know it. First during his wartime radio broadcasts from Europe – from London on the eve of the invasion of Poland and during the blitz, and from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Then, as a television reporter for CBS News, when the style and substance of t.v. news was not yet codified. On shows like See It Now (1951-1958) Murrow established himself as the first and probably greatest of the (now) archetypal news anchors – poised, steely, authoritative, and well-spoken.

Murrow the man and the myth is now immortalized in the new George Clooney film Good Night. And, Good Luck. The black and white film explores themes that will resonate strongly with anyone who cares about journalism, or even follows the news. It is, as former NBC White House correspondent Roger Kennedy said to us recently:

…About how journalism changes history. This is journalism that doesn’t become a player, but because of finding truth changes consequences.

Roger Kennedy

We’re assembling a cast of characters made up of the real people from the Murrow era – the folks who were with him in the newsroom or at his side in the field – to ask them about the then and now of journalism, ethics and power. About what it was like to work with Murrow, and about what it’s like to practice journalism now. Because how can we not think of today’s journalistic and political scandals and conundrums in Murrow’s famous words? And where does the new integrity in journalism lie today? Is it in the blogosphere?

Joe and Shirley Wershba

Journalists in the Murrow newsroom

Served as consultants to the new film

Shirley Wershba blogs on her life, journalism, and the film for

Daniel Schorr

Senior News Analyst for NPR

Part of the CBS news team – recruited by Murrow himself in 1953

Last “Murrow Boy” still active in journalism

Roger Kennedy

Home Page

NBC White House Correspondent in the ’50s

Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History

Director of the National Park Service 1993-1997

Extra Credit Reading and Listening

Murrow biography from The Museum of Broadcast Communications

From George Clooney’s studio site, Info on the new movie and bios of the real people on whom the characters are based

Boing Boing points to a number of interesting sites, including the Internet Archive, which has documentary films narrated by Murrow, as well as an interview with Fred Friendly from earlier this year recorded in 1990.

Excerpts of more Murrow broadcasts. (Thanks to user samabuelsamid for that link.)

An essay on Murrow written by our guest Joe Wershba. (Tagged by user jermac3.)

Murrow’s 1958 Speech to the RTNDA Convention (which bookends the movie). Tagged by users joleg74 and jparkerny.

Interview with Daniel Schorr in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Daniel Schorr’s acceptance speech delivered upon induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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  • avecfrites

    A couple of years ago I was at a party where I met a reporter for The Boston Globe. I expressed to him my disappointment that commercial interests seemed to be influencing journalism unduly. I was surprised when he commented that he didn’t agree that journalists had a higher calling than anyone else; he said that news was just a business and shouldn’t be treated otherwise.

    That’s not the way I learned it in journalism class. So the temptation is to ask your guests whether or not journalism is a calling separate from business. But, with cable news, bloggers, and the like, I don’t know how anyone can answer that question authoritatively or universally any more. Journalists who dedicate themselves to a higher ideal are now lumped in the public mind with smashmouth bloggers and radio talk show hosts.

    Maybe we need a non-profit organization that publishes a code of conduct for its members — then journalists could decide whether to join and adhere, and could tout their membership. And the organization could expel members whose conduct violates the terms of membership. Think Consumer Reports meets Brill’s Content meets Better Business Bureau meets West Point Honor Code. Something… Anything…

  • mhuyck

    I find myself yearning for greater integrity in journalism as well and I am turning to the blogosphere to find it.

    avecfrites asks for a journalism code of conduct. is a San Francisco Bay area blog that asks contributers to sign this Citizen Journalist Pledge:

    Of course, this is not a non-profit organization certifying anyone else, but maybe it’s a step in the right direction. Does this pledge have the language you’re looking for? Now, if I can just find a similar site for the Massachusetts Bay area…

  • Abby

    Also Bob Woodward. Maybe he deserves a show of his own. I’m reminded of the glorious image of him, as portrayed by Redford in the movie, and I can’t help comparing the image with his current reality.

  • dmitried

    You guys fudged the caller’s Venona question, and went with the Lattimore minimization. I think this is clear.


  • This is an interesting conversation, about authenicity; the more slick mainstream media gets, the less authenticity there is, it seems. I’m reflecting now on Brendan’s thoughts on podcasting and authenticity and how difficult that’s become from a professional angle. Not only podcasting and audio, in fact; consider wikipedia, which has an authencity (increasingly) that Britannica is losing. Are our values about authenticity changing? Do we not trust people who are “experts” anymore?

  • Franz Hartl

    Regarding the comment made towards the end about the worry of accuracy of blogging:

    We should look at things like wiki news,

    and Oh my news as the model, , places of collabrative effort. not a lone wolf.

    With that in mind.

    Good Night and Good Luck, shows Murrow as a great Newsroom leader. So can we hear a little bit about Murrow as a leader

  • Jill

    While this topic has many aspects worth discussing, I’d like to introduce one thing in particular. For those who’ve seen the movie – think back to the moment just after Murrow’s program on McCarthy. What happened? They waited for the phones to ring. Murrow took a courageous stand, but without positive public feedback, the result might have been very different. I made an attempt at a grassroots website for public feedback to the press, but shut down due to a variety of problems (see My research for the site revealed a LOT of groups working toward media reform. My favorite remains – . If the American public wants better journalism, we’d better get to asking for it. (‘No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices’ – ERM) RapidResponseNetwork does a good, steady job of letting the press know how they’re doing.

  • UtahOwl

    As someone old enough to remember McCarthy and in high school in the late ’50s, I’d like to point out something that went unremarked in the film and the OpenSource prog. Namely, there was an unholy KKKabal of Dixiecrats from the South who completely backed McCarthy, and in fact contributed strategies & support. These included Senator James Eastland, plus the infamous “HUAC” – House Un-American Activities Commission. HUAC led witchhunts long after McCarthy was discredited. These Southerners were using deeply-embedded racist and anti-Semitic feelings in the American public. Interesting how no one remembers – or comments – on the influence of anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, anti-black, etc., emotions on this era. I’d be interested in Danial Schorr’s comments on this aspect.

    FOr the rest – It’s happening again, folks – we just re-define the “Other=Enemy” and do it again. Will someone please dope-slap Ann Coulter & Mean Jean Schmidt for me? I didn’t spend all that effort fighting for women’s rights to boost these dingbats into their 15 min of brainless cheap shots…

  • Great program on Murrow. I really enjoyed listening to it in the Podcast. Good for you in putting listener “Ken” on to talk about the fact that McCarthy was correct that there were Communists active in our government at the time. That is accurate, but it does not justify the lies, fabrication, and methods used by McCarthy to ruin hundreds of lives. Your reference to Dan Rather, when you mispoke Dan Schorr’s name after the call, was more telling than you might think. Rather’s use of fake memos to try to bring down George Bush, was similar to McCarthy’s use of fake “lists” of Communists in the State Department. They were both wrong. Fake but accurate doesn’t cut it in journalism.

    I played the clip of Ken’s call on my podcast today at . Give it a listen at 13:00 minutes in to hear the section I’m talking about.

  • nother

    I would love to know what Murrow would have thought about embedded reporters during the war. Would he have taken part or would he have decried it as implicit propaganda?

    Is it not better that we are finally letting go of the objectivity myth in Journalism? Every piece of journalism originates from a simple person; a person who has their own values, morals, ethics, and fragilities. All journalism is at its essence subjective and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we acknowledge it. The most we can strive for is subjectivity grounded in sincerity and integrity. It reminds me of the critics of Michael Moore when they say that he is giving opinions under the cover of “documentaries.” Well, the first thing a documentarian learns is that all documentaries are subjective and Moore has said this many times.