“The Legacy of Ed Murrow”

19 Oct

Edward Murrow

Edward R. Murrow started his life majoring in speech communications. It was his professor who believed in his potential abilities to become one of the most successful and admired journalists of his time. Her vision became his reality. His professor was among one of the influences on famous mannerisms while broadcasting on air. It was because of her that Murrow was known for his dramatic pauses and his slogan “This is London”, during his reporting abroad in Britain. While Murrow was reporting in Britain, WWII was commencing. It was in one trip, reporting live, that would kick start Murrow’s career into becoming a legend.

The Battle of Britain showed Murrow’s strong capabilities as a reporter. Murrow’s role in reporting played to achieve respect and popularity. These live broadcasts proved that Murrow was a risk taker with the combined human touch to reach loyal audiences by the masses. Hitler at the time was ordering raids into Britain. Murrow and other American correspondents would view the battles from places such as the top of Shakespeare Cliff and other dangerous areas that would qualify any reporter as being extremely brave.

“Ed was regarded as fearless by other reporters, indeed foolhardy by some. One of them asked him why he took so many risks. I have a peasant’s mind, he said. I can’t write about anything I haven’t seen.” (Kendrick, Alexander. Prime Time. Pg 206) His colleagues would refer to his behavior as “The Cult of Masculinity” in which he was exhibiting risky behavior. Yet those closest to him knew the only thing Murrow was out to prove was his passion for news reporting.

During Murrow’s stay in Britain, his sensitivity would appear to diminish as each day passed. This was not the case, yet he did project a tough exterior due to his first hand witness on what war consists of. Murrow created his resilient image when showing a fearless attitude. In his letters to his brother Lacey, Murrow described his experiences with bombings and machine guns. Murrow explained that he couldn’t bring himself to visit the bomb shelters because he would be swayed into not being able to push himself into his full potential as a reporter on the battlegrounds.

“Have reached point where hands shake so much, can’t even read my own writing. He said in a note to his brother, Lacey, then an Air Force lieutenant colonel. Hasten to say that overwork and no sleep is responsible, not fright. If I had an idea you’d do anything about it, I’d ask you to pull a few wires and see if my commission could be restored. Think I could earn my pay in someone’s intelligence corps. May pull out of here some day and go to Washington and see what I can do about it.” (Kendrick, Alexander Prime Time. Pg 202)

Murrow realized he had to face these difficult situations head-on. One of his most dangerous broadcasting moments occurred when flying over Berlin during a bomb raid that resulted in many casualties. Audiences could hear the gun machines and bombs drop during his broadcasts, often the noises would over power Murrow’s voice. It was his in-person live reporting that made Ed an important voice to listen to the audiences at home. He gained America’s trust.

During that broadcast, Murrow used the description: “Angry snaps of anti-aircraft bursts against steel blue sky.” An American listener described Murrow’s first air-raid broadcast as “metallic poetry”. His voice tones would shift into serious and sometimes emotional tones during his WWII reporting. Murrow’s famous opening and closing statement, “So Long and Good Luck” appealed to the masses as it made him more human. Yet the irony behind his signature statement is that Murrow was constantly challenging luck by putting his life on the line during his WWII broadcasts. There was even one incident where his best friend got shot at a pub. Murrow and his wife were scheduled to join his best friend at the pub that night.

One of Ed Murrow’s famous interviews with Doctor Robert Oppenheimer gave him the light he deserved as a reporter when returning from the battlegrounds. Dr. Oppenheimer was a physicist who directed the Los Alamos nuclear laboratories during WWII. Oppenheimer was often looked up to and criticized due to his invention of the atomic bomb. Some doubted Oppenheimer was qualified enough to handle such a potentially lethal bomb. It was Murrow’s interview that shed positive light on Oppenheimer’s motives and thoughts.

“A Conversation with Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer” aired on January 4th, 1955. The interview took place at Princeton University. Oppenheimer expressed that he wasn’t sure if developing further bombs would be a good idea. During his entrance at Princeton to attend the interview, Oppenheimer even failed a security check. Senators such as Joseph McCarthy claimed that Oppenheimer’s inventions were putting people in danger. The forty-eight minute special aired and was successful.

During these times, communism played a huge role in how people thought about each other. In 1957 the Russians created the first satellite hovering above Earth. “Sputnik” was once thought to be a Soviet communist device that could take out the U.S. Security system and create an opportunity for communists to bomb the U.S. The foreign policy of the “domino effect” was presented by Senator Joseph McCarthy in determination for communism not to spread to the U.S. McCarthy received high approval ratings from the people because he instilled the fear of communists taking over. He was allowed to make such bold assumptions because President and Vice President Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman relied on citizen approval ratings.

McCarthy’s accusations began with Hollywood. In the 1950’s in Pennsylvania, McCarthy waved a list of 10 actors accused of being communists. Since the actors did not reject the accusations, they were considered what was then called “Black Listed”. These actors became known as the “Hollywood 10”. The Cold War was the motivator for this. It would be one man’s story that would put Ed Murrow and Joseph McCarthy at ends with each other.

Ed Murrow signed on to be the main host of an on air reporting special called “See It Now” at the time. “See It Now” became the first transcontinental transmission and aired on CBS. Don Hewitt started working on the show as a technician, and later became executive producer of 60 minutes. CBS was often accused of communist television as it was seen as too liberal. The “See It Now” report on Lieutenant Milo Radulovich, exposed America on the injustices of McCarthyism.

Murrow took the Radulovich story to heart as just returning from the battlegrounds of WWII, he realized more than ever how important it is to have such privileged freedoms in America. “It was the Radulovich case that made inevitable and set into motion the Murrow-McCarthy passage at arms, though the true roots of it went back to Murrow’s boyhood and upbringing; his experiences in Nazified Europe and wartime England; his beliefs in the inviolability of free government, free speech and free thought; and two incidents which made what is generically known as McCarthyism a personal matter for him.” (Kendrick, Alexander Prime Time. Pg 37)

Murrow’s objectives were to shed light on the guilty by association trend in America at that time. Reporters refused to challenge McCarthyism, except for Ed Murrow. Ed made the public aware of the effects on accusing someone of communism, resulting in job loss. On the evening of October 20th 1953, the “See It Now” special aired. Murrow’s on-air partner, Joseph Wershba of CBS, went in person to interview young Radulovich.

“Murrow reported that a young lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, a senior at the University of Michigan after either years of active duty in the Air Force, had been classified as a security risk under Air Force Regulation 36-52, because of his close association with Communists or Communist sympathizers. This association was, in fact, with his father and his sister who read subversive newspapers and engaged in questionable activities by Air Force standards, although there was no question about Lieutenant Radulovich’s own loyalty. When he refused to resign, an Air Force board was given the case and recommended his severance.” (Kendrick, Alexander Prime Time. Pg 37)

The public’s reaction was immense, showing an outpour of support for Milo Radulovich. Around 8,000 letters and telegrams were sent to CBS and their sponsor Alcoa. “That broadcast was the first salvo See it Now fired against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican who was the central figure in the hunt for Communists in the United States. Although the Radulovich case did not involve the senator, two later See it Now programs dealt directly with McCarthy and his tactics. Mr. Wershba helped report and produced all three segments, which have to be seen as among the first potent blows to McCarthyism.” (Hevesi, Dennis. Joseph Wershba, 90, of CBS; Helped Take on McCarthy)

McCarthy lashed back at Murrow in a television broadcast announcement calling Murrow a communist. Furthermore, McCarthy began pinning a list of accusations on Murrow such as the claim that Murrow sponsored a communist Soviet school in Russia, was a member of the IWWM organization, and supported communist propaganda. McCarthy was able to make such false accusations against Murrow because he had immunity in Washington. McCarthy presented his “domino effect” model by displaying a supposedly communist-free era picture of a map of 1917 and then compared it to a map model of 1954 in which the data showed communism spreading. These allegations would turn out to be completely false.

The citizens and the government started seeing how extreme McCarthyism was. The State Department was accused of harboring communists. Murrow even played audio of McCarthy claiming that the Democrats were pro-Communists. It was when President Dwight Eisenhower addressed to the people that he would handle communism in his own way, and that everyone will be innocent until proven guilty. McCarthy responded to the people stating that he disagreed with Eisenhower. At the end, McCarthy never proved his cases.

Ed Murrow stayed consistent in his reliability to his audience when he hosted and aired the television segment “Harvest of Shame” in November of 1960. This documentary was Murrow’s attempt to reveal to the public the inequalities the United States was experiencing in regards to child labor and labor laws. Murrow did insinuate that the government were lying when confronted with the evidence on such immoral wrong doings. The research Murrow found was that 1 out of every 500 children finish grade school yet don’t graduate college. The country was then dealing with a lot of illiteracy.

In “Harvest of Shame”, children are interviewed and examined on their hopes and dreams education wise. The children grew up poor and in horrible living conditions. The children’s parents were often farm workers who got paid as little as a penny for every hour they worked. The migrant workers were hopeful about their participation in the documentary because they wanted the rest of America to hear their voices and see the inequalities for themselves. The government had denied these situations ever occurring in the United States before this segment aired.

Towards the end of “Harvest of Shame”, the Secretary of labor James Mitchell commentated that the treatment of migrant workers was on America’s conscience. He stated that the farmers had no voice yet it was their employer’s job to make sure they were taken care of. Mitchell expressed it was morally wrong for employers to exploit their workers. Furthermore, Mitchell said it was the country’s responsibility to change the treatment of migrant workers. At the end of the segment, Murrow suggested that Mitchell and Eisenhower were engaging in socialistic behavior.

Eisenhower’s administration strategically came up with recommendations to solve the labor problem in the United States. Prior to “Harvest of Shame” airing, a week before is when Eisenhower began strides towards making the effort. The Republican’s timing was impeccable, as Eisenhower’s administration did not do much about the labor problem although Eisenhower had already been in office for 9 months. It was Ed Murrow who pushed for labor law reform with his informative segments.

Ed Murrow had many strengths as a reporter. Murrow’s coverage of WWII from the Blitz in London proved himself a worthy contender for becoming possibly the country’s most iconic broadcast journalist for years to come. Ed’s legacy still lives on to this day. His drive, determination, and bravery differentiated him from any other reporter of his time. From his program coverage on Joseph McCarthy, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Milo Radulovich to his documentaries such as “Harvest of Shame”, Murrow’s aim to make the public aware of the real issues at hand made him honest and passionate. Edward R. Murrow’s legacy as a journalistic reporter have opened the doors for present and future reporters for years to come.



Kendrick, Alexander. “Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow.” Chapter 6: London is Burning. Jan. 1, 1969. Book.

Lyall, Sarah. “Murdoch Closing Tabloid Linked to British Hacking.” New York Times. 8th, Jul. 2011. Article.

Lyall, Sarah. “British Inquiry Told Hacking is Worthy Tool.” New York Times. 30th, Nov. 2011. Article.

Crouthamel, L. James. “Bennett’s New York Herald & the Rise of the Popular Press.” Syracuse University Press. Chapter 2. Article. 1989.

Schorr, Daniel. “Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism.” Washington Square Press. Article. Pocket Books. 2001

A Robert Redford, Alan J. Pakula Film. “All the President’s Men.” Warner Bros. Film. 1976.

Photo via EdwardMurrow.com


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