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To Murrow, To Murrow

The always intelligent Brian Lehrer had actor David Strathairn as a guest on his show today. Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney's upcoming film, Goodnight, and Good Luck which "traces the true story of how Murrow (Strathairn), and his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney), helped bring an end to the tyranny of the blacklist and the House Un-American Activities Committee's anti-Communist hearings."

Most historically sentient Americans will be familiar with Murrow's famous 1954 broadcast wherein he started his campaign against McCarthy, excerpted here as a refresher:

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.... 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 can not escape responsibility for the result.... 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." Goodnight and Good Luck.

The impression that many of us historically sentient Americans might have of Murrow's broadcasts is, perhaps, that once these Powerful Words were spoken it was pretty much Game Over for McCarthy. Well, not so, I was a bit surprised to learn. Actually, if someone had pressed me to say whether that impression was true, I suppose I would have said "probably not". It only makes sense that McCarthy would have "bashed back" (as Brian Lehrer says). It's just that the bashing back does not stick in my mind. The bashing back has been swallowed and forgotten by history. When you actually read (or listen to) McCarthy's bashing back, you can pretty much see why.

You should listen to the excerpt at the WNYC's site (.ra file) so you can fantasize along with me the face of Senator McCarthy -- with a FOX News ticker running along the bottom of the screen -- as he solemnly intones in an O'Reilly-like manner:

And, you know, it's interesting to note that the viciousness of Murrow's attacks is in direct ratio to our success in digging out Communists. I am compelled by the facts to say to you that Mr. Edward R. Murrow, as far back as 20 years ago, was engaged in propaganda for Communist causes and Mr. Murrow by his own admission was a member of the IWW, that's the Industrial Workers of the World, a terrorist organization cited as subversive by an Attorney General of the United States. On March 9 of this year, Mr. Murrow, a trained reporter, who had traveled all over the world, who was the Educational Director of CBS, followed implicitly the Communist line as laid down in the last 6 months, laid down not only by the Communist Daily Worker, but by the Communist magazine Political Affairs and by the National Conference of the Communist Party of the United States of America.

(Note: that was transcribed by me from a recording played on the show. All errors mine, but I should also point out that it sounds to me as if the tape is edited in the same manner the Murrow tape was edited, but I cannot precisely tell where the edits might have come. Listen and decide for yourself.)

The lesson here, Mr. & Mrs. American Journalists and all you shits who see but do not speak up, is that the bash-backs go away. History eats them. What's remembered are words that tell the hard truths about the times you live in.

And now for something almost entirely, but not completely, different...

Tomorrow on Brian's show, starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, he's having Thomas Friedman as his guest and -- get this -- it's a call-in. Here's your chance to try to cross phone-lines with Ol' Tom.

WNYC streams live (in Windows and MP3) at wnyc.org. I'll let you figure out what 10am Eastern Daylight Time means in your neck of the woods.


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I saw it live.

There was a biopic on Murrow in the 80s. Unfortunately, they used Daniel J. Travanti, who is a good actor but didn't sound like Murrow, which in his case would seem more important than looking like him. I hope they do better this time.

You saw McCarthy's bash-back live? That must have been pleasant.

How much of the way you are today can we blame on this horrifying early experience?

My father had been fired by the New York City school system for refusing to answer Tail Gunner Joe's nosy questions, so we were kinda like Red Sox fans watching the Yankees choke last year, to anachronize. (He made more money than he had teaching, then was reinstated with full back pay & benefits, so I do not request sympathy.)

I think I was born like this, but some say it's a lifestyle choice.

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