Saturday, April 26

Good Night, and Good Luck

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was born on April 25th, 1908.

Friday, on what would have been Edward R. Murrow’s 100th birthday, I found little mention of the man and his legacy. The CBS News website has some old clips, and a quote from plaque that hangs in the lobby of the CBS Broadcast Center in New York: "His imprint on broadcasting will be felt for all time to come." The article makes it clear that if Murrow didn’t invent broadcast journalism—on both radio and TV—he shepherded both through their troubled adolescence, setting standards and hiring the men and women who made broadcast journalism an essential part of American life and brought CBS honor and accolades. He challenged future generations of journalists to strive for excellence, and he showed them what excellence was.

But the article fails to mention that when he got too controversial CBS effectively shoved him out the door. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”

There’s a great line in the play “A Man for All Seasons.” I think I’ve got it down: “It’s easy to stay alive, friends. Just . . . don’t . . . make . . . trouble. Or if you must make trouble, make the kind of trouble that’s expected.”

When Murrow’s documentaries kept making the kind of trouble that cost CBS money, he found himself with less and less to do at the network. He made waves, not money, and occupied valuable prime-time territory. Before long the documentary unit created specifically by and for him was getting less air time and he was forced to share the (greatly lightened) load with others. He was, in effect, benched.

Finally, bitter and discouraged, he left in 1961 to take a position in the new Kennedy administration, working for the new President he had called "That boy." He choked back tears as he taped a farewell that was played in CBS stations and bureaus around the world; played for many who idolized him and owed their careers to him.

Cancer killed him in 1965, two days after his 57th birthday. So it goes.

Now, less than fifty years later, we’re shocked and saddened that CBS is shoving so many dedicated, successful broadcast journalists out the door at its owned-and-operated stations, and that the CBS Evening News is in such disarray. Why so surprised? CBS is just doing what it has done in the past. If they could do it to Murrow, what makes you think they can’t do it to you?

We should always remember what Murrow did for broadcasting.

We should never forget what CBS did to Murrow.

So it goes.