Edward R. Murrow was throughout his life, committed to conscience and moral truth. His communication exuded style, reservation, and technique. Mr. Murrow aimed at being factually accurate and without embellishment. Present-day communicators must carry on in his legacy, in the same manner, considering today’s political climate and methods currently used for communicating the news on television.
The 2005 film “Good Night, And Good Luck,” directed by George Clooney, provides a glimpse of the 1950’s post-WWII America frenzy to rid itself of the Communist Party and its sympathizers. The reenactment focuses on the time Edward R. Murrow, played by David Strathairn, exposed Senator Joseph McCarthy for a false public accusation of infiltration in government by Communists. McCarthy, as chair of the investigation committee, accused without evidence citizens based on hearsay. The allegations led to the expulsion of Air Force soldier, Milo Radulovich, for refusing to denounce his father as a communist for reading Slavic propaganda. Without factual evidence or proper proceedings, Mr. Radulovich was expelled from service. The initial report from Mr. Murrow and those that followed the story was considered an exemplary moment for television media reporters broadcasting journalism, which resulted in the reinstatement of Mr. Radulovich. The event also brought television news reporting to its highest ratings and the forefront of communication media.
RTNDA Awards in 1971, named an award in Edward Murrow’s honor. He presented a speech to the audience revealing the current state of television media post-industrial age, stating: “…..We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information… But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.” Many guests, mostly network executives, reported the speech as unpleasant.
Edward R. Murrow’s practices always included both sides of a story. Murrow’s philosophy: “I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.” His determination for the truth and conscientious justification of facts could not sway him in correcting Senator McCarthy. The events of his reporting on the Senator caused a stir at the CBS Network, which desired no involvement in the matter. The events eventually lead to Murrow’s demise on the CBS network despite the factual reporting.
Today, news networks often support specific political agendas. Television news reporting is biased, and one-sided reporting through opposing networks lead to polarizing views for audiences. For example, Fox News is considered right-wing and reports in favor of the Republican party. In contrast, CNN is leftist and thereby comes across as if the network supports the Democratic party.
It is not easy to define whether reporters are reporting the news or commenting on it through their own political and social views. Television is plagued with biased commentary and slander by reporters today. While U.S. Americans still search multiple sources to compare a story and truth is, this is made more difficult with the onset of social media and “Fake News” reporting. This new method of reporting has yet to prove how effective or dangerous it can be.
The distrust in journalism exposes how far capitalism will go to make a buck. Networks and social media content providers are going through extreme measures to sensationalize or promote propaganda at the ultimate cost of discrediting the First Amendment. We cannot predict or envision where journalism will go after the Trump era. The best we can do as journalists are, to report the facts from both sides and let audiences decide. “Our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.”- Edward R. Murrow