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.


Tuesday Reads

Coffee and Morning News, by Tim Nyberg

Good Morning!! I am sooooo exhausted. Last Wednesday, I got back home after two months in Indiana. Normally, I would crash for a couple of days and be on the way to recovery from the long drive. But this time my Mom came back with me. She has been staying at my brother’s house, and I’ve had to drive over there nearly every day since I got home.

Yesterday I spent the day with my Mom and my nearly-9-year-old nephew, who was home sick and hung around for the trick-or-treating. My Mom is flying back home this morning at 8:30, and I was dreading having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to take her to the airport. But my brother volunteered to take her–halleluja! Finally I can spend a couple of days vegetating at home! I just hope I don’t get my nephew’s cold!

Anyway, here are some news links I found for you. I’ve been a bit out of touch, so I hope I won’t duplicate anything that has already been posted.

The freaky early snowstorm has left millions of people without power, which also means no heat. Even if you have gas or oil heat, the on-off mechanism still relies on electricity. So there are lots of people living in houses with temperatures around 50 degrees. I was really fortunate that my electricity was only off for several hours, mostly while I was sleeping.

Joanelle mentioned in comments last night that in her part of NJ, there is so much damage that trick or treating has been put off until Friday. The Christian Science Monitor had a story about this happening up and down the East coast.

Until hard-pressed utility crews get the lines restrung, many residents from North Carolina to Maine are living in homes that are barely 50 degrees, and in some cases, they’re unable to heat food. School systems are closed because, among other reasons, it’s not safe for children to walk on sidewalks that may still have live power lines on them. And many businesses aren’t open because they’re still in the midst of power outages.

“Electricity is the most fundamental of utilities. Most everything depends on electric power,” says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “This has many of the earmarks of a disaster.”

In some states, governors are warning residents they may have to grin and bear it for days or even another week since the heavy snow did extensive damage to the electric grid. For example, in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the snow knocked out some of the lines that get power from the generating plants to substations, where it then goes into a local distribution network. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has asked President Obama to declare the state a federal disaster area, which would help with cleanup and recovery costs.

Herman Cain is still trying to explain away the story about his sexually harassing women in the 1990s. Now he’s calling it a witch hunt. But Rush Limbaugh, of all people, claims it’s racism.

RUSH: You know, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, folks. After all of these years, none of us should be surprised, but I still am. Look at how quickly what is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative. You know who’s laughing himself silly today is Bill Clinton. (imitating Clinton) “Yeah, I really did it. Ha-ha. They praised me and they went as far out of their way as they could. Even my old buddy Carville is out there and he’s saying, ‘Look what happens when you drag a dollar bill through a trailer park, you get Paula Jones.’ I have everybody defending me and they’re going after this black guy, and they’re going after him with some of the ugliest racial stereotypes I have ever seen. That’s how our side does it; we get away with it. I just love it. I love watching it.”

What’s next, folks? A cartoon on MSNBC showing Herman Cain with huge lips eating a watermelon? What are they gonna do next? No, Snerdley, I’m not kidding. The racial stereotypes that these people are using to go after Herman Cain, what is the one thing that it tells us? It tells us who the real racists are, yeah, but it tells us that Herman Cain is somebody. Something’s going on out there. Herman Cain obviously is making some people nervous for this kind of thing to happen.

When did sexual harassment become a racial stereotype? WTF is he talking about?

But at the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson says this may signal the end of Herman Cain’s campaign.

Here is what troubles me. Mr. Cain says: “If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it, and I hope it wasn’t for much, because nothing happened. So if there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other offices that worked for me at the association, so the answer is absolutely not.”

Okay, so if I’m reading that quote right, then:

1. Herman Cain, in his role as head of a major trade association, did not bother to learn how a complaint or complaints of sexual harassment against him was resolved.

2. Herman Cain, not bothering to have learned how a complaint or complaints of sexual harassment against him was resolved, decided to run for president without bothering to learn.

I got a lot of grief for writing that, based on my interaction with Mr. Cain, I would have hesitated to hire him to run a pizza company. I am feeling more comfortable in that judgment.

I wonder if Rush will condemn this: some Republicans in Virginia sent out a Halloween e-mail containing an image of President Obama shot through the head.

The Republican Party of Virginia on Monday strongly condemned an e-mail sent by Loudoun County’s GOP committee that shows President Obama as a zombie with part of his skull missing and a bullet through his head.

The e-mail, first reported on the blog Too Conservative, has “Halloween 2011” in the subject line and has several other images, including one of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose face has been made to look deformed with one eye bulging from its socket….

The e-mail, sent a week before local and state elections, invites supporters to a Halloween parade. “LCRC members and Republican candidates: We are going to vanquish the zombies with clear thinking conservative principles and a truckload of Republican candy. . . . It’s fun and a great way to represent our candidates to a ton of voters (and their kids) just before the election.”

Talk about ugly and wildly inappropriate! If anyone listens to Rush, let me know if he condemns this. I won’t be holding my breath though….

We’ve been talking about the irresponsible “journalism” of WaPo “reporter” Lori Montgomery, so I was interested to learn from Raw Story that a new website debuted yesterday with the goal of holding mainstream journalists accountable for what they write and don’t write. From Raw Story:

A Wikipedia-style website launched on Monday which provides information about the journalists behind the bylines.

News Transparency is a creation of Ira Stoll, the founder of another website called FutureOfCapitalism.com and the former managing editor of the now defunct New York Sun.

In a statement on its home page, newstransparency.com, the website said its goal is to help users “find out more about the people who produce the news” and “hold them accountable, the same way that journalists hold other powerful institutions accountable, by posting reviews and sharing information.”

News Transparency features an alphabetical list of hundreds of journalists and invites users to edit their profiles, which include basic biographical information such as age, education, current employer and work history.

Lori Montgomery is listed on the site, but so far there’s no information on her background. Does this woman even have a college degree? I’m waiting with bated breath to find out.

On my way home last night, I listened to the NPR program “On Point.” They were debating the Mississippi “personhood” for zygotes initiative, the goal of which seems to be to turn women into breeders with no freedom of choice and no rights over their own bodies. I highly recommend listening to the program. Hearing what the insane theocratic sponsors of this constitutional amendment have to say is truly frightening, but at the same time very important.

The New York Times has an op-ed about the proposed amendent: Mississippi’s Ambiguous ‘Personhood’ Amendment. The authors identify two main ambiguities in the amendment as written:

First, what does “fertilization” mean? As embryologists recognize, fertilization is a process, a continuum, rather than a fixed point. The term “fertilization” — which is sometimes considered synonymous with “conception” — could mean at least four different things: penetration of the egg by a sperm, assembly of the new embryonic genome, successful activation of that genome, and implantation of the embryo in the uterus. The first occurs immediately; the last occurs approximately two weeks after insemination (or, in the case of embryos created through in vitro fertilization that do not get implanted, never). Thus, on some reasonable readings of the amendment, certain forms of birth control, stem cell derivation and the destruction of embryos created through in vitro fertilization would seem impermissible, while on other equally reasonable readings they are not.

Second, the proposed amendment does not clearly indicate what the immediate legal impact would be. Would the amendment be “self-executing” — that is, effectuate a change to Mississippi law on its own — or would it require enabling legislation to set that change in motion?

Under existing doctrine, constitutional provisions or amendments that only set forth “first principles” or “policies” are not treated as self-executing, because they need laws enacted to further the stated principles or policies. In this case it’s not clear whether the amendment would, for example, immediately redefine thousands of references to “human beings” or “persons,” including those in provisions governing criminal homicide, or whether additional legislation would be necessary. Because of this uncertainty, voters considering this amendment cannot tell what actions would and would not immediately be subject to prosecutorial investigation were the amendment to pass.

I just hope this abomination doesn’t get enough votes!

That’s all I’ve got this morning. What are you reading and blogging about today?