Thursday, August 25, 2016

Face-to-Face, Person-to-Person

Radio and TV journalist Edward R. Murrow, was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow on April 25, 1908 in Greensboro, North Carolina; died of lung cancer, April 27, 1965 in Pawling, New York. 

Edward R. Murrow is recognized as the dean of 20th century broadcast journalism. Before Murrow, broadcast journalism was an unwanted stepbrother of the newspapers, and most radio reporters were writers by trade. Murrow’s high standards for reporting and superb narrative skills -- his aim being to report for the ears, not for the page -- raised the bar for all broadcast reporters who would follow him. 

A student orator at Washington State College who served as president of a national college students’ organization, Murrow backed into radio as an educational radio show producer. His duties took him to Europe in 1937, and with World War II brewing, Murrow found himself on the air feeding the hungry demand for news about Hitler as one of America’s first radio foreign correspondents. 

He first captivated American audiences, though, with his dramatic eyewitness reports from London during the Nazi blitzes of 1940. With bombs and air-raid sirens sounding in the background, Murrow would intone with his deep, rich voice, "THIS is London . . . it’s a bomber’s moon out tonight."  Very quickly his influence as a journalist began to eclipse that of the print correspondents, not only because he was beating their reports by several hours, but because millions of listeners soon began to empathize with this man whose voice was coming to them in their living rooms from the heart of the action. Later, Murrow provided commentary while flying in an Allied bombing run over Germany, and accompanied U.S. troops as they liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. 

After the War, Murrow became CBS news director, and led CBS into the television age with his weekly news program See It Now (1951-58), covering such stories as the Korean War, human rights in South Africa and the polio vaccine. During these programs, Murrow exuded the same kind of cool, casual image that he had developed on radio, typically with a lit cigarette in hand and a cloud of smoke around him. After spending two episodes exposing the abusive red-baiting methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy with snippets from McCarthy’s own speeches, McCarthy demanded equal time and accused Murrow of spreading "propaganda for communist causes." As it turned out, Murrow gave McCarthy the chance to ruin himself; public opinion turned dramatically against McCarthy after his angry response, and within a year McCarthy had been censured by the Senate. 

In 1954, Murrow had also introduced a celebrity interview show, Person to Person (1954-59) which featured in-depth interviews of such people as Eleanor Roosevelt, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe and Duke Ellington. Advertisers began to pull their support from See It Now in 1955 due to the controversial nature of Murrow’s reports, leading Murrow to launch an attack against the institution of television in a speech to TV and radio news directors.  Arguing that commercial interests were using the medium to "distract, delude, amuse and insulate" viewers. In 1958, CBS cancelled See It Now, but Murrow continued to do occasional news documentaries, such as his highly-acclaimed report on the conditions of migrant workers, "Harvest of Shame" (1960). 

In 1961, Murrow left CBS to accept an appointment by John Kennedy as head of the U.S. Information Agency, which had as its mission informing the world about American culture and democratic principles; he served there until 1964. George Clooney’s film about the Joe McCarthy feud, Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), named for Murrow’s sign-off slogan and starring David Strathairn as Murrow, is highly recommended.

"It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or ten thousand miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face-to-face conversation." -- Edward R. Murrow. 

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