Edward R. Murrow
is the most distinguished and renowned figure in the history of
American broadcast journalism. He was a seminal force in the creation
and development of electronic newsgathering as both a craft and
a profession. Murrow's career began at CBS in 1935 and spanned the
infancy of news and public affairs programming on radio through
the ascendancy of television in the 1950s, as it eventually became
the nation's most popular news medium. In 1961, Murrow left CBS
to become director of the United States Information Agency for the
new Kennedy administration. By that time, his peers were already
referring to a "Murrow legend and tradition" of courage, integrity,
social responsibility, and journalistic excellence, emblematic of
the highest ideals of both broadcast news and the television industry
once observed in The Powers That Be that Murrow was "one
of those rare legendary figures who was as good as his myth." Murrow
was apparently driven by the democratic precepts of modern liberalism
and the more embracing Weltanschauung of the American Protestant
tradition. In Alexander Kendrick's Prime-Time: The Life of Edward
R. Murrow, for example, Murrow's brother, Dewey, described the
intense religious and moral tutelage of his mother and father: "they
branded us with their own consciences." Murrow's imagination and
the long-term effects of his early home life impelled him to integrate
his parents' ethical guidelines into his own personality to such
an extensive degree that Edward R. Murrow became the virtual fulfillment
of his industry's public service aspirations.
rich, full, and expressive voice first came to the attention of
America's listening public in his many rooftop radio broadcasts
during the Battle of Britain in 1939. In words evocative of America's
original founding fathers, Murrow frequently used the airwaves to
revivify and popularize many democratic ideals such as free speech,
citizen participation, the pursuit of truth, and the sanctification
of individual liberties and rights, that resulted from a broader
liberal discourse in England, France, and the United States. Resurrecting
these values and virtues for a mass audience of true believers during
the London Blitz was high drama--the opposing threat of totalitarianism,
made real by Nazi bombs, was ever present in the background. Ed
Murrow's persona was thus established, embodying the political traditions
of the Western democracies, and offering the public a heroic model
on which to focus their energies.
Edward R. Murrow,
of course, was only one of many heroes to emerge from World War
II, but he became the eminent symbol for broadcasting. The creation
of the Murrow legacy and tradition speaks both to the sterling talent
of the man himself and the enormous growth and power of radio during
the war years. Murrow hired a generation of electronic journalists
at CBS, such as Eric Sevaried, Charles Collingwood, and Howard K.
Smith, among many others, for whom he set the example as their charismatic
leader. As late as 1977, in fact, more than a decade after Murrow's
death, Dan Rather wrote in his autobiography, The Camera Never
Blinks, that "it was astonishing how often his [Murrow] name
and work came up. To somebody outside CBS it is probably hard to
believe...Time and again I heard someone say, 'Ed wouldn't have
done it that way.'"
foray into television was as the on-camera host of the seminal news
and public affairs program, See It Now (1951-58). This series was
an adaptation of radio's popular Hear It Now which was also
co-produced by Murrow and Fred W. Friendly. See It Now premiered
in a half-hour format on 18 November 1951, opening with Murrow's
characteristic restraint and directness: "This is an old team trying
to learn a new trade." By 20 April 1952, See It Now had been
moved to prime-time where it stayed until July 1955, typically averaging
around 3 million viewers. After that point, See It Now was
expanded to an hour but telecast more irregularly on a special-events
course of its run, See It Now was awarded four Emmys for
Best News or Public Service Program. Many of its broadcasts were
duly considered breakthroughs for the medium. For example, "This
is Korea...Christmas 1952" was produced on-location "to try to portray
the face of the war and the faces of the men who are fighting it."
Murrow's most-celebrated piece was his 9 March 1954 telecast, in
which he engaged Senator Joseph R. McCarthy in a program "told mainly
in [McCarthy's] own words and pictures." In the aftermath of this
episode, the descriptions of Edward R. Murrow and his tradition
quickly began to transcend the more secular cast that appeared in
response to his championing of democratic action and principles
in Britain during World War II. In his review of the now legendary
McCarthy program, for instance, New York Times' TV critic
Jack Gould reflected an ongoing canonization process when he wrote
that "last week may be remembered as the week that broadcasting
recaptured its soul."
Edward R. Murrow
also produced lighter, less controversial fare for television. His
most popular success was his hosting of Person to Person
(1953-61) where he chatted informally with a wide array of celebrities
every Friday during prime-time. Murrow remained with this program
through the 1958-59 season, "visiting" in their homes such people
as Harry Truman, Marilyn Monroe, and John Steinbeck. Murrow, in
fact, won an Emmy for the Most Outstanding Personality in all of
television after Person to Person's inaugural season. He
received four other individual Emmys for Best News Commentator or
Analyst as well, with the last coming in 1958, the year he excoriated
the broadcasting industry in a speech before the Radio and Television
News Directors Association (RTNDA) for being "fat, comfortable,
and complacent" and television for "being used to detract, delude,
amuse and insulate us."
of Murrow's rapid enervation at CBS after this latest tumult was
implicit in his apparent need to ascribe higher motives to his own
profession. Murrow had long reveled in his role as broadcasting's
Jeremiah. His urgent and inspirational style of presentation fit
the life-and-death psychological milieu of a world war, as it was
later appropriate for the McCarthy crisis. By 1958, though, the
viewing public and the television industry were less inclined to
accept yet another of his ethical lambastes, especially since his
RTNDA speech was directed at them and their shortcomings. As the
business of TV grew astronomically during the 1950s, Murrow's priorities
fell progressively out-of-step.
Edward R. Murrow
is still a small plaque in the lobby of CBS headquarters in New
York City which contains the image of Murrow and the inscription:
"He set standards of excellence that remain unsurpassed." During
his 25-year career he made more than 5000 broadcasts; and more than
anyone else, he invented the traditions of television news. Murrow
and his team essentially created the prototype of the TV documentary
with See It Now, and later extended the technological reach of electronic
newsgathering in Small World (1958-59), which employed simultaneous
hookups around the globe to facilitate unrehearsed discussion among
several international opinion leaders. Most of Murrow's See It
Now associates were reassembled to produce CBS Reports
in 1961, although Murrow was only an infrequent participant in this
new series. Over the years, he had simply provoked too many trying
situations for CBS and the network's hierarchy made a conscious
decision to reduce his profile. The apparent irony between Edward
R. Murrow's life and the way that he is subsequently remembered
today is that the industry that finally had no place for him, now
holds Murrow up as their model citizen -- the "patron saint of American
broadcasting." -Gary Edgerton
R. MURROW (Egbert Roscoe Murrow). Born in Greensboro, North
Carolina, U.S., 25 April 1908. Attended Stanford University and
the University of Washington; graduated from Washington State College,
1930. Married: Janet Huntington Brewster, 1934; one son. Served
as assistant director of the Institute of International Education,
1932-35; began career with CBS as director of talks and education,
1935; became director of CBS' European Bureau in London, 1937; during
World War II, hired and trained distinguished corps of war correspondents,
including Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Charles Collingwood, and
Richard C. Hottelet; returned to U.S. as CBS vice-president and
director of public affairs, 1946; resigned to return to radio broadcasting,
1947; narrated and produced Hear It Now radio series, 1950-51;
brought series to television as See It Now, 1951-58; began
Person to Person television program in 1953; moderated and
produced Small World, television series featuring discussions
among world figures, 1958-60; appointed by President John F. Kennedy
to head U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1961, and remained in
post until 1964. Recipient: nine Emmy Awards. Died in New York,
27 April 1965.
1952-58 See It Now (host)
1953-59 Person to Person (host)
1958-60 Small World (moderator and producer)
Hear It Now (host and co-producer), 1950-51.
So This Is London. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1941.
In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow,
1938-1961. Edited with Edward Bliss, Jr. New York: Knopf, 1967.
"Call It Courage: Act on Your Knowledge" (transcript). Vital
Speeches (Washington, D.C.). 15 November 1993.
Edgerton, Gary. "The Murrow Legend as Metaphor: The Creation, Appropriation,
and Usefulness of Edward R. Murrow's Life Story." Journal of
American Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring 1992.
Edward R. Murrow Papers, 1927-1965: A Guide to the Microfilm
Edition. Sanford, North Carolina: Microfilming Corp. of America,
Halberstam, David. The Powers That Be. New York: Knopf, 1979.
Kendrick, Alexander. Prime-Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1969.
Lichello, Robert. Edward R. Murrow, Broadcaster of Courage.
Charlottesville, New York: SamHar Press, 1971.
Persico, Joseph E. Edward R. Murrow: An American Original.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
____________. "The Broadcaster and the Demagogue." Television
Quarterly (New York), Spring 1989.
Smith, Robert. Edward R. Murrow: The War Years. Kalamazoo,
Michigan: New Issues Press, 1978.
Sperber, A. M. Murrow, His Life and Times. New York: Freundlich,
Wald, Malvin. "Shootout at the Beverly Hills Corral: Edward R. Murrow
versus Hollywood." Journal of Popular Film and Television (Bowling
Green, Ohio), Fall 1991.
Broadcasting System; Cronkite,
Fred W.; News,
William S.; Person
to Person; See
it Now; Sevareid,