14 April 2008

Journalism Moments: Remembering Edward R. Murrow

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts is this week celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. It seems a fitting opportunity to launch what we hope will become a regular feature at the VOA News Blog: a look at notable people and reporting moments in the history of journalism.

Murrow is a worthy first choice. He was born April 25th, 1908 and rose to fame as a radio broadcaster during World War Two, reporting for the CBS network. He turned to television after the war and was involved in many memorable, award-winning news shows. He was appointed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to head the US Information Agency, which no longer exists but was at the time the parent agency for the Voice of America. He remained in that post until 1964. He died April 27th, 1965.

For many of us at VOA, Murrow is remembered for his rock solid support of the principles of objective journalism. Take this quote, for example:

“American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”

Here in the US, Murrow is perhaps best-known for his March and April 1954 televised reports exposing the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy (1947–1957) is remembered for hearings in which he accused government officials and other public figures of being Communists. His tactics resulted in the creation of the word “McCarthyism,” which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is: “The practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence” as well as “the use of unfair investigatory or accusatory methods in order to suppress opposition.”

Here are some key quotes from Murrow’s broadcasts about McCarthy:

“No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin (McCarthy) has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. 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."

“Senator McCarthy ... proved again that anyone who exposes him, anyone who does not share his hysterical disregard for decency and human dignity and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, must be either a Communist or a fellow traveler. I fully expected this treatment. The Senator added this reporter's name to a long list of individuals and institutions he has accused of serving the Communist cause. His proposition is very simple: Anyone who criticizes or opposes McCarthy's methods must be a Communist. And if that be true, there are an awful lot of Communists in this country. Having searched my conscience and my files, I cannot contend that I have always been right or wise. But I have attempted to pursue the truth with some diligence and to report it, even though, as in this case, I had been warned in advance that I would be subjected to the attentions of Senator McCarthy.”


Erin Brummett said...

VOA's global webchat T2A (Talk To America) marks Mr. Murrow's 100th birth anniversary on Wednesday, April 23rd at 1800 utc / 2pm edt. Our guest is Lynne Olson, co-author of The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Frontlines of Broadcast Journalism. You can join the chat live by going to www.voanews.com
Many journalists consider Mr. Murrow the father of broadcast journalism and often ask themselves, "What would Murrow do?" His broadcasts from London during the Blitz influenced American public opinion at a time when Britain was desperately seeking American support in fighting Nazi Germany. And his "See It Now" broadcasts in the 1950's helped lead to the end of McCarthyism.

Anonymous said...

True words have a ring within then,
as true today as 50 Years hence,
we need more men the likes of Mr. Murrow.
now it seems more than ever.
with Messrs Bush & Cheney doing what
McCarthy wanted to do.