Had he lived, iconic broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow would have been 100 today.
It was Murrow who brought home the incivilities from the front lines of Europe during World War II, and who boldly challenged the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s.
Murrow was not only a pioneer of television news -- frankly, there was none before him -- his nose for the story, ability to tap into the very soul of America, and keen sense of what was news and what was opinion, paved the way for such giants in the industry who were to follow, among them, Walter Conkrite and Eric Severied. [Surely, you weren't thinking Bill O'Reilly, were you?]
Though no man's life can -- or should -- be summed up in a series of quotes or sound bytes, it is noteworthy here that we attribute to Murrow what has surely become his legacy -- a lesson not only to journalists (or those who would have us believe they are journalists, but are no more than imposters serving, as Murrow would have said, as accomplices of those who would terrorize a whole nation), but to all of those who cherish freedom and its liberties.
"If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality, then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the. . . confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought." – Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show, CBS and NBC, June 1953, "Conclusion." Murrow: His Life and Times, A.M. Sperber, Freundlich Books, 1986
"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."
"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 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 which were, for the moment, unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility." - From the March 9, 1954, "See It Now" television broadcast on Senator Joe McCarthy.
"A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves."
"To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful."
They may not be paying tribute on this day to Edward R. Murrow at the Bush White House, where that "government of wolves" has abdicated its responsibility to defend freedom here at home, among other insults to democracy, instead resorting to a contortion of the public will through fear and intimidation.
Nor are they likely to be extoling the virtues of Murrow's journalistic integrity at Fox News, where "believable," "credible," and "truthful" are not part of the vernacular, the spin dominated by the likes of Karl Rove and Sean Hannity.
It remains for us then, as bloggers, psuedo-journalists, and ordinary citizens, to remember Edward R. Murrow, and to aspire to his vision, his ideal, realizing that, whether in print, online, or on television, "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."
Good night, and good luck.
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From The Community Alliance Blog, November 14, 2005
In the 1950s, if you spoke out against the outrages of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, or the Internal Security Act, you were labeled a Communist, blacklisted, and disgraced as a sympathizer of causes that ran counter to the American ideal.
In the early 1970s, if you protested the war in Vietnam, the White House's "secret plan to end the war," or J. Edgar Hoover's wiretaps in the name of national security, your were disloyal to your country, summarily admonished to either "love it or leave it."
Today, should you dare to question the motives of going to war or staying at war in Iraq, the provisions of the Patriot Act, or the actions of a President said to be taken to protect a nation and make the world safe for democracy, you are derided, and accused of rewriting history.
Closer to home, its more than friendly fire that comes our way when we protest the abuses of the Sanitary Districts and the tyrannies of one-party rule at Town Hall.
And just wait and see what we'll be called as we challenge the Fire Districts.
Ah, the more things change.
There's plenty we could say when it comes to those who would silence the debate -- whether that debate be of matters of global concern or on the costs of picking up the trash on our own block -- as there is concerning those who would remain silent where a rising concert of voices is both warranted and necessary.
With reverence to those who have said it and are saying it, we defer to someone who, perhaps, said it best -- the late Edward R. Murrow, correspondent for CBS News:
"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 has stepped over it repeatedly.
"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.' Good night, and good luck." See It Now, March 9, 1954
Powerful words then. No less meaningful and relevant words now. Words for all of us to think about. Words for each of us to live by.