Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Truth, Justice and the boy from Polecat Creek

On this day in Polecat Creek, NC, Egbert Roscoe Murrow came into this world. It was 1908, and his family lived in a small log cabin and supported themselves on the few hundred dollars per year that subsistence farming brought them. Egbert’s family later relocated to Washington state, and it was there during his high school years that he acquired the nickname “Ed.” In college, he would formally change his name to “Edward,” thus becoming Edward R. Murrow. By his death in 1967, the boy from Polecat Creek would become one of the most recognized voices and faces in the world, and would set a standard for journalism that, although still remembered, is rarely emulated today.

In late 2005, George Clooney (whose legendary charm still eludes me) wrote, directed and played a supporting role in “Good Night and Good Luck,” the brilliant ode to Murrow’s fight against the rising taint of McCarthyism. David Straithairn (whose lanky charm leads me to insist on watching “Passionfish” alone so I can concentrate) portrayed Murrow in an Oscar-nominated performance. If you haven’t seen the film, do make a point of it. You’ll be glad you did.

Murrow’s career began in radio with on-the-ground coverage of the Anschluss in the late 1930s. Broadcasting from Vienna, Murrow provided eyewitness accounts of Hitler’s first move into Austria. Later, he covered the aftermath of the Buchenwald liberation, and stunned the world with the description of the suffering and death found there.

Edward Murrow made the jump to the nascent field of television in the 1950s, first guest-appearing on the CBS Evening News and then on his own show, “See It Now,” an updated version of “Hear It Now,” which he and producer Fred Friendly (Clooney’s role in the film) created for CBS radio after the war. In 1954, Murrow and Friendly produced a 30 minute special entitled “A Special Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” This well-researched and carefully produced segment highlighted McCarthy’s increasingly upward-spiraling against the so-called “Red Scare” in the American entertainment industry. Murrow and Friendly paid a hard price for exposing the truth about McCarthy. Their hard-hitting approach to news was discomfiting, and turned off viewers who were quickly becoming addicted to the novel game shows and talk shows that were beginning to crop up on the airwaves.

Those who know me know how little television I watch. We have cable at the house, but flipping through the channels leaves me tired and disgusted. Despite 50+ channels (I know, we only have a few!), it gets more and more difficult to find something worth watching, especially when Dear Daughter is around. She’d love to watch the reality shows and pre-teen sit-coms her fifth grade classmates discuss, but the couple of times we’ve actually tuned in, we’ve both quickly realized we just can’t sit through very much of that kind of drivel. At the day’s end, it’s nice to know that we can lead fulfilling lives without knowing the latest scoop on Britney, Brangelina, Sanji-whoosis or Hannah Montana (which is actually fairly tame and less smart-ass than most shows aimed at grade-schoolers).
But the absolute worst is when I try to watch broadcast news –either local or national. It’s sad and disturbing how little we’re willing to settle for in the arena of vital information. Completely overlooking the nauseating level of violence and despair in the news, the reporting itself is too frequently shallow, glib and uncaring. Coupled with Chiron misspellings, perky announcers who can’t read or pronounce names and who make inappropriate comments, the prospect of sitting through an entire 30 minute newscast pretty much sends me into a keening, thumb-sucking fetal position.

And don’t even get me started on the reporters and camera work…

Anyway, today is the birthday of the boy from Polecat Creek. Celebrate by skipping the news and taking a walk around with your eyes, ears and mind wide open.

We miss your work, Egbert. Good night and good luck.

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