FRIENDLY, FRED W.

U.S. Broadcast Journalist and Media Commentator

Fred W. Friendly, a pioneering CBS News producer and distinguished media scholar, enjoyed a sixty-year career as remarkable for its longevity as for its accomplishments. As the technically creative and dramatically inspired producer for CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow, Friendly helped enliven and popularize television news documentary in the decade after World War II, when television news was still in its infancy. After resigning from CBS as its News Division president in 1966, Friendly found a second career as an author and as creator of a series of moderated seminars on media and society.

Friendly got his start in broadcasting during the Great Depression with a staff position at a small radio station in Providence, Rhode Island. It was as a successful radio producer that Friendly was teamed with Murrow in the late 1940s to create a series of documentary albums entitled I Can Hear It Now. When Murrow made the jump to television reporting, he brought Friendly with him as his principal documentary producer. Armed with a flair for the dramatic and his experience as a technical innovator in radio, Friendly set out to do for television what he had already done for radio documentaries. The result, in 1952, was the debut of the highly-acclaimed See It Now, a weekly series hosted by Murrow that broke new ground with its intrepid probing into subjects of serious socio-political significance and its stunning visual style. The successful combination of Friendly's energy and Murrow's stature hit its professional peak in 1954, with their decision to broadcast a documentary attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy that helped change the tide of popular opinion against the anti-communist demagogue.

In his later years at CBS, Friendly was given broader responsibility to create a variety of news programs, including the landmark hourly documentary series, CBS Reports, and a political forum that would later be known as Face the Nation. As president of CBS News in the mid-1960s, Friendly struggled to keep his news division independent of profit-conscious and entertainment-oriented corporate decision-making at CBS Inc., which he considered a threat to the autonomy and integrity of his news operations. In March of 1966, Friendly argued vociferously to management that CBS had a journalistic obligation to carry extensive live coverage of the first Senate hearings to question American involvement in Vietnam. When the network opted instead to air re-runs of I Love Lucy, Friendly resigned from CBS in protest.

Friendly, in his post-CBS years, turned his interests to writing and teaching about media and law. In a span of twenty years, Friendly authored several books that traced the history of people involved in landmark Supreme Court cases, including Minnesota Rag, The Good Guys, The Bad Guys and the First Amendment, and The Constitution: That Delicate Balance. At the Ford Foundation in the mid-1970s and, later, as the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Columbia University, Friendly collaborated with some of the country's leading lawyers, journalists and politicians to create a series of roundtable debates on media and society. Now known as The Fred Friendly Seminars, broadcasts of these programs became a fixture of the Public Broadcasting Service.

-Michael Epstein

 


Fred W. Friendly
Photo courtesy of Fred W. Friendly

FRED FRIENDLY. Born Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 1915. Educated at Cheshire Academy and Nichols Junior College. Married: Ruth W. Mark; two sons, one daughter (from previous marriage), and three stepsons. Served in U.S. Army, Information and Education Section, 1941-45. Broadcast producer, journalist for WEAN radio, Providence, Rhode Island, 1937-41; wrote, produced, and narrated radio series Footprints in the Sands of Time, 1938, later, at NBC, Who Said That, quiz based on quotations of famous people; collaborated with Edward R. Murrow in presenting oral history of 1932-45 (recorded by Columbia Records under title I Can Hear It Now); I Can Hear It Now: The Sixties with Walter Cronkite; editor and correspondent in India, Burma, and China for CBI Roundup, 1941-45; co-producer, CBS radio series Hear It Now, 1951, and CBS TV series See It Now, 1952-55; past executive producer, with Edward R. Murrow, CBS TV show CBS Reports, 1959-60; president, CBS News, New York, 1964-66; Edward R. Murrow professor emeritus broadcast journalist Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and director, Seminars on Media and Society, since 1966; adviser on communications, Ford Foundation, 1966-80; director, Michele Clark Program for minority journalists, Columbia University, 1968-75; member, Mayor's Task Force on CATV and Telecommunications, New York City, 1968; distinguished visiting professor, Bryn Mawr College, 1981; visiting professor, Yale University, 1984; commissioner, Charter Revision Committee for City of New York, 1986-90; Montgomery fellow, Dartmouth College, 1986. Honorary degrees: Grinnell College, University of Rhode Island; New School for Social Research; Brown University; Carnegie-Mellon University; Columbia College, Chicago; Columbia University; Duquesne University; New York Law School; University of Southern Utah; College of Wooster, Ohio; University of Utah. Member: American Association of University Professors; Association for Education in Journalism. Military awards: Decorated Legion of Merit and four battle stars; Soldier's Medal for heroism. Recipient: 35 major awards for See It Now, including Overseas Press Club, Page One Award, New York Newspaper Guild, and National Headliners Club Award, 1954; 40 major awards for CBS Reports; 10 Peabody Awards for TV production; numerous awards from journalism schools; DeWitt Carter Reddick Award, 1980.

TELEVISION SERIES

1952-55 See It Now
1958-59 Small World
1959-60 CBS Reports
1980-    Media and Society Seminars
1986     Managing Our Miracles: Healthcare in America             (moderator)
1989     Ethics in America

RADIO

Producer, reporter, correspondent: WEAN, Providence, Rhode Island, 1937-41; NBC Radio, 1932-45, CBS Radio, 1951.

PUBLICATIONS

See It Now, edited with Edward R. Murrow. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955.

Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control. New York: Random House, 1967.

The Good Guys, The Bad Guys, The First Amendment. New York: Random House, 1975.

Minnesota Rag, with Martha J.H. Elliott. New York: Random House, 1981.

The Constitution: That Delicate Balance. New York: Random House, 1984.

FURTHER READING

"Bar Association Honors Fred Friendly (American Bar Association Lifetime Achievement Gavel Award)." The New York Times, 12 August 1992.

Boyer, Peter J. Who Killed CBS?: The Undoing of America's Number One News Network. New York: Random House, 1988.

Gates, Gary Paul. Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS News. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.

Kendrick, Alexander. Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969

Klages, Karen. "Ethics on TV." ABA Journal (Chicago), January 1989.

Schoenbrun, David. On and Off the Air: An Informal History of CBS News. New York: Dutton, 1989.

Sperber, A. M. Murrow, His Life and Times. New York: Freundlich, 1986.

 

See also Army-McCarthy Hearings; Columbia Broadcasting System; Murrow, Edward R.; Person to Person; See it Now