Let the hacks attack: A former BBC reporter says today's TV news people could learn a lot from a film about the 1950s CBS journalist Ed Murrow
Good Night, and Good Luck, the story of US TV journalist Edward R Murrow's victorious battle against McCarthyism in the mid-50s, is a cogent reminder of how badly British television subsequently failed to honour the higher principles of news and current affairs broadcasting.
Far from maintaining the courage and intellectual rigour of the campaigning standards then adopted by CBS's legendary news division, first through Ed Murrow's See It Now, (his principal attack vehicle against Senator McCarthy), and later by such reporting/commentary giants as Walter Cronkite and Morley Safer, the BBC has emerged in the 21st century as a sad follower of the dumb-down trend. This, even though, unlike CBS, the once great public service broadcaster has no commercial responsibilities to its shareholders.
George Clooney's film, on limited release in Britain now and up for six Oscars last night, concerns itself less with Murrow's struggle against the junior senator from Wisconsin, than with raising the basic issue of what TV was actually to be for.
Crucially, the nascent network, under its legendary boss William S Paley, had to determine whether editorialising was permissible, or advisable, even if it emanated from Murrow, the man who had editorialised on an unbroken London during the Blitz. After all, McCarthy was a poisonous toad, but he wasn't Heinrich Himmler. Furthermore, as the film points out, editorial courage is all very well until the big advertisers pull out.
But the BBC has never had that problem. Unlike CBS, the BBC has never had the courage to unleash the full power of its Dimblebys. While Cronkite's dispatches from Vietnam showed conclusively that the Americans were embroiled in an unwinnable struggle, and helped bring the war to an end, my efforts from the same front were met with a strict headmasterly reprimand from the BBC. Having watched some American Phantom A4s destroy a small Vietnamese village, killing only the very old, the very young and the farm animals, I cautiously opined on camera: "military historians may question the wisdom of these methods". For which I nearly got the sack.
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Vernon Clayson - 3/9/2006
Strange, you morphed from speaking about a movie, hardly a factual documentary to a long ago personal experience while faulting today's newscasters who are more political propagandists than news purveyors. Murrow took himself too seriously and now an effete liberal movie maker takes him too seriously. McCarthy was not nearly the darkman portrayed, he had America's interest at heart but was beaten down by the Reds and other socialist figures in our own government, we were the poorer for it.
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