Good Night, Good Luck: Thoughts on Murrow, Journalism and Responsibility

murrow

Good Afternoon

Thursday night I watched the film Good Night and Good Luck, with David Strathairn and George Clooney. I am sure that many of you saw this film when it came out eight years ago. (Yes, that is 8 years…)

I saw it too back then, but I had not seen it in years…and I never saw the short featurette interviews with the real people portrayed in the film.  Joe and Shirley Wershba, Milo Radulovich, Ed Murrow’s son and Fred Friendly’s son discuss Murrow and give some thoughts on the use of television media during the time of the McCarthy hearings. I say television because Ed Murrow was concerned about how viewing the image or picture being broadcast on the screen would change the news story he was telling.

It is fortunate that I found this featurette on the web, it is only 15 minutes but if you can, watch it before you read the rest of my post.

Good Night, And Good Luck – Featurette | SPIKE

Fred Friendly’s widow states that Ed Murrow was, “dubious” about the change from his radio show, “Hear It Now” to the television version “See It Now.”  It was Murrow’s belief that the camera changed the story, that people processed visual information and news differently than they did when just listening to the words being said.  According to Murrow’s son, the camera invaded the news story, especially in those early days of news broadcast, with the lights and large equipment needed to air the programs, it changed the dynamics of the story in a real big way.

It was during this time the news took on an editorial flavor; there aren’t always two sides to a story. McCarthyism was destroying the country. Murrow got this message out to his viewers, knowing what was at stake.  It was personal and it was risky…

The Murrow team had been collecting film on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy where ever he went…and used it when they got the evidence they needed. Murrow got to the truth of the story by taking McCarthy’s own words and actions and putting them on the air.

Joe Wershba says that Murrow knew the tremendous power of television media…he describes the agonizing question of whether Murrow had the right to use this power against McCarthy. Think about it…Here you have McCarthy, trampling the rights and civil liberties given by the Constitution, and yet McCarthy got all this power because of the very rights he was running over.

This is where Milo Radulovich comes in. Radulovich,

…was an American citizen (born in Detroit) of Serbian descent and former reserve Air Force lieutenant who was accused of being a security risk for maintaining a “close and continuing relationship”[1] with his father and sister, in violation of Air Force regulation 35-62.[2] His case was publicized nationally by Edward Murrow on October 20, 1953, on Murrow’s program, See It Now:

That [Air Force regulation 35-62] is a regulation which states that ‘A man may be regarded as a security risk if he has close and continuing associations with communists or people believed to have communist sympathies.’ Lieutenant Radulovich was asked to resign in August. He declined. A board was called and heard his case. At the end, it was recommended that he be severed from the Air Force. Although it was also stated that there was no question whatever as to the Lieutenant’s loyalty.—Edward R. Murrow[3][4]

Murrow used Radulovich’s personal story to get the point across. And when the Air Force finally reinstated Radulovich, people realized just how powerful television journalism was, and Murrow felt the consequences would be great.

On the featurette, Fred Friendly’s son says that “overall climate of television news” today is frightening…and that his father would be horrified by it.

Well, this horrifying evolution of television news can be primarily shouldered by the corporations…specifically the advertising money these corporations brought in…the airwaves were originally thought of as the people’s airways…that the news had to be given to the public straight. But then the news programs became a money-maker, news stories became entertainment. And with this entertainment, the trust people had in broadcasters like Murrow disappeared.

Friendly’s son says in the interview up top, television was making more money doing its worst…than it did doing its best. (Ain’t that the truth!)

Shirley Wershba states how important it was to get the truth to the stories, they used McCarthy own words in their reports, pointing out the hypocrisies and the craziness of McCarthyism. They researched and were very careful with what they reported on the news. It is not like that today. We have seen too many times the mistakes, blatant ones at that, made by the press…they are careless with the facts.

Responsibility. It is something that both MSM broadcast news and the people watching it must take seriously.  Responsibility is vitally necessary to get the facts down right. George Clooney says at the end of the featurette he hopes the film Good Night and Good Luck will bring the issue of responsibility to the discussion and I agree with him; we need to talk about responsibility.

I guess my point with all this is just how important it is to question things.

Maybe that is why people like Jon Stewart, sites like Wikileaks, and those who blog and pick apart news reports are popular with folks who look for the big picture, the ones who don’t accept the cropped version as the final word. It is our responsibility to dig deeper than what we see, hear and read in news broadcast…and in journalism media today. I think too many people are not doing their homework. They take whatever bits and pieces they get from MSM and leave it at that. It is a shame, because this lack of attention is causing present day extremist the likes of McCarthy to flourish in our government and politics.

It is ironic, the very rights these extremist are out to destroy… are the ones that allow them to carry out their agenda. The difference between now and Murrow’s time comes down to this…us.

We…the public.

Were our standards were higher? Eh, I don’t know, but I do feel however that responsibility is key.

It seems that there are less Murrows and Friendlys out there who feel responsible to the people, and more importantly…it seems to me the public has become full of people who don’t feel responsible to truth. We get fed the news and opinions the corporations and sponsors want us to eat…but few question it.

I wish news outlets weren’t controlled by the money companies pay to advertise on their shows, websites or blogs. It makes me think about Murrow’s anxiety about the power of television. Think about how the internet has changed the news narrative. The internet is just another powerful technology…like television was in its day….only the web is instantaneous. It is distracting and full of things that manipulate our opinions.  But…the internet is also a tool we can use to be responsible to the truth, if we use it responsibly.

I wish people would question, research and look for truth behind every news report being told. I worry that there is no longer a responsible collective voice standing up for what is right or true….unlike the era of McCarthy, we do not have that voice…the sense of duty or obligation to stand up to the money men behind the corporations, politicians and the advertising and lobbying dollars they use to get what they want.  And, they have the ambitious McCarthys of today, to do the job for them.

The batshit crazy. It’s been going on for so many years…and my fear is it will keep on going.

Will it ever stop?

Keeping all this in mind, take a look at a few of these links:

Last week Glenn Greenwald had an article about Bob Woodward…you can read it here: Bob Woodward embodies US political culture in a single outburst

I want to bring this part of Greenwald’s post to your attention…where he mentions an essay written by Lewis Lapham back in 2008:

Bob Woodward fulfills an important function. Just as Tim Russert was long held up as the scary bulldog questioner who proved the existence of an adversarial TV press while the reality was that, as Harper’s [sic] Lewis Lapham famously put it, he maintained “the on-air persona of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter”, the decades-old Woodward lore plays a critical role in maintaining the fiction of a watchdog press corps even though he is one of the most faithful servants of the war machine and the national security and surveillance states. Every once and awhile, the mask falls, and it’s a good thing when it does.

This last paragraph stuck with me, and when I watched Good Night, and Good Luck last night…particularly the featurette, I went back to the Greenwald post and dug a little bit deeper.

Greenwald links to this Gawker post from Aug. 2008, A Careful Evisceration Of Tim Russert. Which I will highlight this statement:

…Lapham, sometimes slammed as insufferable bore, has spun a compelling essay out of his rough initial pronouncement that “1,000 people came to [Russert’s] memorial service because essentially he was a shill for the government.”

This is little nugget from New York Magazine in July of 2008, again in reference to Lapham’s essay: Lewis Lapham Unhappy With Political Journalism, Including Tim Russert

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Well, here is the actual essay Greenwald is refering to: [Notebook] | Elegy for a Rubber Stamp, by Lewis Lapham | Harper’s Magazine

Please read the entire essay, but I just want to point out a few paragraphs to look out for:

Many people loved Russert, and I don’t doubt that they had reason to do so. I’m sure that most of what was said about him on camera was true: that he was a devoted father, a devout Catholic, and a faithful friend, generous in spirit and a joyful noise unto the Lord. I mean no disrespect to his widow or to his son, but if I have no reason to doubt his virtues as a man, neither do I have any reason to credit the miracle of Russert as a journalist eager to speak truth to power. In his professional as opposed to his personal character, his on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity, his modus operandi the same one that pointed Rameau’s obliging nephew to the roast pheasant and the coupe aux marrons in eighteenth-century Paris: “Butter people up, good God, butter them up.”

With the butter Russert was a master craftsman, his specialty the mixing of it with just the right drizzle of salt. The weekend videotapes, presumably intended to display Russert at the top of his game, deconstructed the recipe. To an important personage Russert asked one or two faintly impertinent questions, usually about a subject of little or no concern to anybody outside the rope lines around official Washington; sometimes he discovered a contradiction between a recently issued press release and one that was distributed by the same politician some months or years previously. No matter with which spoon Rus sert stirred the butter, the reply was of no interest to him, not worth his notice or further comment. He had sprinkled his trademark salt, his work was done. The important personage was free to choose from a menu offering three forms of response—silence, spin, rancid lie. If silence, Russert moved on to another topic; if spin, he nodded wisely; if rancid lie, he swallowed it.

A couple more:

The attitude doesn’t lead to the digging up of much news that might be of interest to the American people, but it endeared Russert to his patrons and clients. Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton Administration, expressed her gratitude to Olbermann: “Tim was amazing because I can tell you that, as a public official, it was really, first of all, a treat to get on the show.” Two days later, over at NBC, Mary Matalin (former CBS and CNN talk-show host, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney) seconded the motion, attributing Russert’s profound knowledge of national politics to his superb qualities as a rubber stamp. “He respected politicians,” Matalin said. “He knew that they got blamed for everything, got credit for nothing. He knew how much they meant. He never treated them with the cynicism that attends some of these interviews. So they had a place to be loved.” Remembering Russert on ABC, Sam Donaldson explained why too much salt in the butter makes it harder to spread: “He [Russert] understood as well as anyone, maybe better than almost anyone, that the reason political reporters are there is not to speak truth to power . . . but to make those who say we have the truth—politicians—explain it.”

Speaking truth to power doesn’t make successful Sunday-morning television, leads to “jealousy, upsets, persecution,” doesn’t draw a salary of $5 million a year. The notion that journalists were once in the habit of doing so we borrow from the medium of print, from writers in the tradition of Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair,

H. L. Mencken, I. F. Stone, Hunter Thompson, and Walter Karp, who assumed that what was once known as “the press” received its accreditation as a fourth estate on the theory that it represented the interests of the citizenry as opposed to those of the government. Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

Indeed, it all comes down to the idea of truth in journalism according to the corporate sponsors…batshit crazy is now becoming symbolic of the myth that there is a “free press” in this country….when the obvious conclusion seems to me centered on one thing…the lack of responsibility from both the media journalist…and their viewing and reading public.

Batshit crazy…Will it ever stop?

In all honesty, the answer to my question above is simple.

No, it will never stop as long as we, the people, fail to hold our “free press” accountable to the responsibility of journalism.

It’s a very sorry sad situation…and it’s a damn shame.


Wednesday Reads: Bully Teachers? No, Bully Gov. Walker…

Good Wednesday Morning.

Let’s start this morning’s post off with a bang…Or should I say long skirts and tea bags?

Longer Skirts and No Coffeemakers: How Gov. Scott Walker Wants WI School Boards to Save Money | Crooks and Liars

Instead of union contracts, Wisconsin teachers now have to abide by local handbooks suggested by Gov. Scott Walker. What does refusing to allow workers to help a sick colleague or longer skirts have to do with saving money? And just listen to the nasty wingnuts in the audience at the New Berlin school board meeting. Via the Blue Cheddar blog:

The “tools” Walker has handed to local governments are supposedly meant to help cut costs. However the changes to the New Berlin school workplace approved August 29 don’t look like mere cost-savings to me. New Berlin Education Association President Diane Lazewski agrees in MJS: “I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours,” I should note that all details aren’t available until 9/8 and changes occur 10/1 according to a document from the blog Teachers Against Walker

Update: This 51 page Draft of School District of New Berlin Employee Handbook – Parts A and B states that it goes into effect 9/1/11

A few of the changes:

A ‘sick bank’ which allows teachers to donate sickleave to seriously ill colleagues will be eliminated.
–No set pay for overtime; only stipends
–Elementary teachers work an added 205 hours without added pay.
–Secondary teachers work an added 95 hours without added pay.
and there are odd restrictions such as
–Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc. and
–The loss of all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers.

I called a young teacher, E., from Racine just before the meeting. E. said New Berlin’s handbook is the worst of a new crop of handbooks he’s seen. Handbooks now serve in lieu of contracts for public school employees where contracts have expired.

So now that the handbooks replace the union contract, what kind of review process do you think is allowed under the new law?

Greenfield aside, teacher protests over benefits, handbooks seem rare – JSOnline

When I interviewed School District of Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner a few weeks ago for the handbook story, he said that they interpreted the new law to mean that allowing teachers to review handbook drafts or offer input on the changes being made would fall under the definition of collective bargaining. That was illegal under the new law, Farner had said.

The teachers cannot even review the handbooks…It really is unbelievable that these school boards have free rein when it comes to any new handbook regulations that affect the teacher’s salary, health care and planning.

Morning State News Briefs: | Pierce County Herald | Ellsworth, Wisconsin

As police looked on, hundreds of people on both sides cheered-and-booed last night as the New Berlin School Board unanimously approved a new employee handbook for its teachers. Like others throughout Wisconsin, it was developed without teacher input under the new state law which limits most public union bargaining. But New Berlin became a lightning rod after teachers in nearby Greenfield argued with their school board last week over a new employee handbook – and police were called to settle things down. Last night’s meeting in New Berlin was moved to the district’s auditorium. Teachers from other districts came in support of New Berlin’s union, while taxpayers held up signs saying “Collective Bullying – Stop Union Bullies Now.” Union president Diane Lazewski said she believed the work rules set by the school board are more restrictive than others throughout the state. They include longer work-days, new limits on sick leave benefits and post-retirement health benefits, no more pay for substitute teachers while they prepare for classes, and two evaluations per year without prior notice. School Board member Art Marquardt said his panel was not trying to be punitive. But he said the elected officials are now the dominant voice instead of the union and quote, “That’s hard for some people to swallow.”

What the hell is wrong with these people? The teachers are the bullies? No, the Koch Brothers and Gov. Scott Walker are the ones forcing the teachers into this ridiculous regulation of handbooks.  Of course, now that the teachers are “at-will” employees, they can be fired with no cause or reason…and with the new Wisconsin school year starting in the next couple days, let’s see if this gets any attention in the MSM. It really is a sad state of affairs for these Wisconsin educators, but I feel that what they are going through is only a preview for many other school districts in states that are looking to do away with collective bargaining and teacher unions.

The estimated death toll has been released by the Libyan Rebels.  Rebel leaders put Libya death toll at 50,000 – Africa, World – The Independent

An estimated 50,000 people have been killed in Libya since the start of the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, according to the rebels’ military leadership.

Details of the death toll come as the Transitional National Council (TNC) gave Gaddafi supporters – increasingly pushed back to loyalist strongholds such as Sirte – four days to surrender or face a full-scale military assault.

I would not be surprised if that number goes up.  The stories of mass graves are very disturbing to read.

In a few days a new exhibit will be opening at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  ‘September 11: Remembrance and Reflection’ at National Museum of American History | History News Network

SOURCE: WaPo (8-16-11)

Within weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithsonian Institution began collecting a wide range of artifacts recovered from the three sites where the hijacked planes went down.

In an exhibit opening Sept. 3, the National Museum of American History will let visitors get much closer for a more intimate experience. The museum plans to depart from the usual glass-covered displays and assemble the objects on open, uncovered tables.

September 11: Remembrance and Reflection” contains about 60 objects from the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa.

We still have the suit and shoes my husband was wearing when he ran when the second tower fell…that was the first thing he did when he got home that night, he took the suit off and put it in a big black plastic trash bag.  It was covered in the dust from the towers, and no doubt the incinerated remains of the victims of the attack. If you are in the DC area, please go take a look at the new exhibit, and let us know what you thought of it.

I guess Obama is making some changes in the ATF, due to the Fast and Furious scandal.  A.T.F. Chief Is Replaced After Failed Gun-Trafficking Inquiry – NYTimes.com

The Obama administration on Tuesday replaced two top Justice Department officials associated with an ill-fated investigation into a gun-trafficking network in Arizona that has been at the center of a political conflagration.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the resignation of the United States attorney in Phoenix, Dennis K. Burke, and the reassignment of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kenneth E. Melson.

The two officials became the highest-profile political casualties yet in the fallout from a disputed effort to take down a weapons-smuggling ring based in Arizona and linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Give the NYT link a click to get the update on the investigation into this “operation” if you haven’t kept up with it.

Lastly, there are 20 new endangered crocodiles in the world today.  Rare Siamese crocodiles hatched in Lao PDR

A recently hatched Siamese crocodile at the Laos Zoo, part of an effort by the government of Lao PDR and the Wildlife Conservation Society to replenish the wild population of this critically endangered species. (Credit: M. Douangmyxay/WCS Laos Program)
 Working with the government of Lao PDR, the Wildlife Conservation Society has helped to successfully hatch a clutch of 20 Siamese crocodiles, a species threatened across its range by hunting, habitat fragmentation and loss, and other factors.
Hatched from eggs taken from the wild and incubated at the Laos Zoo, the baby crocodiles represent a success for a new program that works to save the Siamese crocodile and the wetlands and associated biodiversity of Laos’ Savannakhet Province.

Isn’t that a cute little critter?

I always thought the sound those baby alligators and crocodiles make is such an endearing cry…

…but just wait until they start to answer back!

Well, I know it is a lame morning post, but I am on my third day with this massive migraine, and the exhaustion is getting to me.

If you have any links be sure to share them…see you later in the comments.


SDB Evening News Reads for 060311: Better Late than Never

Whoops, I dozed off and next thing I know…it is 7:15!  So, here are your evening news reads.

John Edwards has been indicted…After meteoric rise, Edwards takes a fall like few others – Politics Wires – MiamiHerald.com

The rise of Johnny Reid Edwards from mill worker’s son to vice presidential candidate can be measured only against the stunning plummet that culminated Friday with a criminal indictment, which accuses Edwards of using trickery, deception and a pair of wealthy benefactors to hide his affair and love child from American voters.

[…]

…he was undone by his own foibles — and by a blonde campaign hanger-on who had his child and whom he allegedly allowed supporters to pay vast sums of hush money to in order to maintain his family-man image. All this, of course, while his wife was dying of cancer.

“He’s a man of enormous talents, and to see him throw it all away based on a series of decisions he made two to three years ago, it’s sad at that level,” said Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic political consultant and political watchdog in Raleigh, N.C. “He’s thrown away his reputation, his legal career and his political career.”

Take a look at the link there is a list of his bad deeds…that reads like an Enquirer front page…Oh yeah, they did break the story didn’t they?

I hated the nickname Dr. Death…So sad how he lived his last few years…in jail. ‘Dr Death’ Jack Kevorkian, advocate of assisted suicide, dies in hospital | World news | The Guardian

Jack Kevorkian, better known as ‘Dr Death’, has died aged 83 in hospital in Detroit. Photograph: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Jack Kevorkian, the pathologist known as Dr Death who claimed to have helped 130 people commit suicide when terminally ill, died on Friday in Detroit. He was 83 and had been in hospital since last month with pneumonia.

Kevorkian’s rise to fame, or infamy, in the 1990s led to a national debate in the United States on assisted suicide. He built a suicide machine, known as the Mercitron or Thanatron, which he operated out of a Volkswagen van to inject a lethal drug dose for people who sought his help in dying.

So Wisconsin waited till Friday to drop the other shoe…Wis. budget panel targets police, fire benefits – USATODAY.com

Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers re-opened the fight over collective bargaining rights Friday, proposing new police and firefighters pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits.

  • A protester is removed from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance at the state Capitol on Friday in Madison, Wis.A protester is removed from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance at the state Capitol on Friday in Madison, Wis.

A protester is removed from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance at the state Capitol on Friday in Madison, Wis.

The change, approved by the Republican-controlled budget committee on an 11-4 party line vote, would force some police and firefighters to make the same contributions toward their benefits as other public workers under a bill pushed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Legislature in March.

Which makes this announcement by Wisconsin Democrats all the more interesting.

Wisconsin Dems to announce that they will try to recall Scott Walker – The Plum Line – The Washington Post

There’s a long way to go, and the goal seems like a very tough one to reach, but Wisconsin Democrats are set to go for it: They will announce at their annual convention later today that they intend to launch an effort to recall the ultimate target — Scott Walker himself.

And lastly, what is it with these people and their horrible knowledge of history.

Sarah Palin’s History Lesson: Paul Revere Warned The British | ThinkProgress

Seemingly moved by the historic importance of Boston, Palin decided to recognize the city’s own Paul Revere and his famous “Midnight Ride” in which he hung two lanterns and rode to Lexington to warn Patriot leaders that the British army was arriving “by sea.” Palin, however, offered her own take on the revolutionary tale:

PALIN: He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms uh by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.

What are you finding in the news tonight! Lay it on me and I will try to stay awake!