Sunday, November 06, 2005

Where is Ed Murrow when we need him?

Those who care about real news reporting – surely there are three or four of you left – should send a ticket to “Good Night, and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s superb new film about Edward R. Murrow, to the news directors and corporate heads of every newspaper and television station in the country. Hopefully it might remind them all of what journalism actually is. And serve as a rebuke against what it is not.

The film focuses on the production of Murrow’s early television news program, “See It Now,” on CBS, and specifically on Murrow’s reporting on Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “fight” against Communism during the early 1950s. Younger viewers may be unfamiliar with the story. In a nutshell, McCarthy developed a political base for himself by smearing supposed Communists and Communist sympathizers during the backdrop of the Red Scare. Mess with him and you are un-American or, worse, a Red agent.

Murrow stood up to McCarthy. Sponsors balked. His news program got canceled. Television has failed ever since to rise above its reputation as a cultural wasteland whose purpose is to entertain rather than inform.

The movie does a better job than any other of its kind in recent memory of putting the viewer in the middle of the action. This film could almost be a documentary. The acting is that good.

The use of black-and-white photography was a no-brainer. You are there at the CBS studio as Murrow (perfectly portrayed by David Strathairn) and his producer, Fred Friendly (Clooney), go after McCarthy over the objections of CBS head William S. Paley (Frank Langella).

The most effective technique is the decision to use actual footage of McCarthy, rather than have an actor play him in the film. It both adds to the realism and allows the viewer to judge McCarthy on his own words.

One is reminded of how relevant this film is today. Not only against the backdrop of the Patriot Act and the current political climate, but also in an era when network TV news programs spend entire hours devoted to the adventures of Hollywood actors and celebrities.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” is also in many ways an ode to a long-gone era. One in which all the men wore ties and hats and everybody and their grandmother smoked cigarettes.

And, sadly gone too, one in which journalists examined and reported on the difficult issues of the day. Yes, Murrow had to interview Liberace and his ilk on his “Person to Person” program. But he gritted his teeth when he did it. These days such fluff pieces are often disguised as hard news stories.

Don’t go see this movie expecting to be entertained. It does something better than that. It makes you think.

And it makes you wonder where the heck guys like Ed Murrow are today.

Good Night, and Good Luck” is rated PG. It is now playing at Regal CinemaArt Downtown West.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Murrow struck me as self-righteous, humorless and brittle.

Paley, on the other hand, operated with balance and integrity -- at as portrayed in the movie.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

I think the truth was probably a little more complicated than even the movie expressed. From what I've read, Murrow and Paley were good friends (you didn't get that impression in the film). At least according to biographer A.M. Sperber, Paley was caught between a rock and a hard place with regard to Murrow and McCarthy.

1:27 PM  

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