I finally caught George Clooney's new film, Good Night And Good Luck last night. Clooney's film is alternately atmospheric, subtle and challenging. But what it is more than anything is a timely and eloquent reminder of danger inherrent in the current politcal and media environment.
The film presents the courageous stand made by Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, against McCarthyism in a series of broadcasts on their show See It Now in 1953 and 1954. It is a tone poem, setting the scene with period music shots through the obfuscation of a news room, venetian blinds, typewriters clicking away and rings of smoke rising to the ceiling tiles. The movie is most elegant in its portrayal of the abject fear in the CBS newsroom before and after the See It Now broadcasts. For that alone, it is worth your sawbuck.
But, the real reason to watch the movie is to listen to Murrow's own words, given new life in a nuanced performance by David Strathairin (aka Pierce Patchett). Check Murrow's technique during these broadcasts and cry the next time you catch Bill O'Reilly or Neil Cavuto verbally masturbating on cable news:
Whatever happens in this whole area of the relationship between the individual and the State, we will do ourselves; it cannot be blamed upon [Soviet Premier Georgi] Malenkov, Mao Tse-tung or even our allies.
The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. 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."
, and Murrow's coup-de-grace and the movie's highest point closing his See It Now broadcast on McCarthy "
We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.
Murrow and Friendly's courage helped to bring down McCarthy and end his reign of terror over the country's consciousness. It is truly one of the high points of media in this country.
Good Night, and Good Luck has had my mind racing for the past 12 hours about Murrow's words and their implication on our own media climate: the era of demagoguery on both sides of the isle, Fox News, the Plame indictments, a 2.5 year long war 7,000 miles away with no end in sight, and goons like Ann Coulter calling people treasonous for stating their opinions
Frankly, Good Night, And Good Luck makes me realize why it is that our generation trusts news from a comedy show more than the thousands of hours of talking heads on the other television news outlet. It is because the Daily Show, while it often takes a single viewpoint on a story, does provide a voice unafraid to cut through the spin and offer a point of view un-fettered by alternate agendas. Indeed, sometimes, "fair and balanced" reporting requires the reporter to take a stand on only one side.
In closing, the next time you watch CNN or Fox News, or read a reactionary weblog (on either side of the political spectrum), digest Murrow's other prescient words, directed his own media community at a speech in 1958 (here it is in its entirety, worth a read), and reenacted in the final scene of the film:
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television [or the internet] could be useful.
Murrow gave us words to live and blog by. Thanks to Clooney for reminding us of them when we so need a tap in the right direction.