Murdering Murrow

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It may read like a thorough dismantling of George Clooney's new film Good Night and Good Luck, about CBS News broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, but it's actually Jack Shafer taking a mallet to a plaster saint, then stomping on the shattered pieces.

The verdict of his two-part Slate piece comes at the very end:

If I judge it correctly, Good Night, and Good Luck intends to serve as a parable for our times and not a history lesson. Its makers want us to find contemporary "resonance" in the film and conclude that, compared to the giants of 1954, modern journalists have been cowed by those in political power. What a facile, Hollywood cliche. Journalism has improved vastly since 1954, certainly eclipsing the likes of Edward R. Murrow's overrated TV output, and today's reporters are more independent and willing to confront presidential administrations and powerful political figures than Murrow and his boys ever were.

The worst bane of Hollywood was always its insufferable nostalgia.

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  1. This sounds very much like the Jose Ferrer movie The Great Man. Of course we can’t expect Hollywood to have an original idea.
    And didn’t Daniel J. Travanti play Morrow once?

  2. today’s reporters are more independent and willing to confront presidential administrations and powerful political figures

    Well there’s a new one.

  3. Hagiographic boot-licking aside, Murrow’s WWII broadcasts were brilliant. The report where he set the microphone on the ground to record the calm footsteps of Londoners walking to air-raid shelters during an air-raid was pure brilliance.

    Again, though, people are making the mistake of thinking that TV news is journalism.

  4. And didn’t Daniel J. Travanti play Morrow once?

    Yes, in an HBO movie, with Ed Hermann as Fred Friendly.

    Lots of elitist sniping at the populrity of quiz shows and the like. I was impressed by it as a 20something, but it’s been awhile and my imperfect memory leads me to believe i would not be so impressed if I saw it again.

    Murrow does deserve credit for showing the public a less than flattering view of McCarthy.

  5. I agree, Murrow did a great service to the Soviet Union by protecting their American spies from McCarthy, and should be counted next to Walter Duranty as one of Communism’s great Western heroes.

  6. Journalism has improved vastly since 1954, certainly eclipsing the likes of Edward R. Murrow’s overrated TV output, and today’s reporters are more independent and willing to confront presidential administrations and powerful political figures than Murrow and his boys ever were.

    Is it possible that today’s willingness might owe something to the Murrows, et. al. of yesteryear?

  7. In defense of the film, which I have not seen:

    There are two ways you can write the Murrow/McCarthy story as a drama.

    One way is to make the central conflict Murrow vs. McCarthy. The problem there is that no matter how fair to McCarthy you intend to be, Murrow has by far the better side, and so it’s just a slightly more balanced exercise in hero worship.

    The other way is to just take it for granted that McCarthy was a prick and focus on how Murrow interacted with his colleagues and the network as he confronted McCarthy, which is the way I understand this film goes. The focus of that kind of film is how conflicted people react in the face of nascent fascism, not whether the good guys or the bad guys are going to win.

    Shafer seemed to be criticizing the film for being the second kind of film instead of the first kind of film. It might have been better history if you did it the first way, but the second way seems more promising as a film.

  8. I’m looking forward to the article in (insert lunatic-fringe sociocon website of your choice here) slamming the film for villainizing poor ol’ Tailgunner Joe…

  9. If historical inaccuracy ruins a screenplay, doesn’t that make Shakespeare a hack?

    …I wonder what Jack Shafer thinks of The Crucible?

  10. Edward R. Murrow was a great man. Dan Rather still thinks I’m innocent, too.

  11. If historical inaccuracy ruins a screenplay, doesn’t that make Shakespeare a hack?

    …I wonder what Jack Shafer thinks of The Crucible?

    I think The Crucible sucked.

    And yes, Shakespeare was indeed a hack.

  12. Yes The Crucible indeed does suck. Witches don’t exist…so Commies don’t exist? I wonder what the Wiccans and CPUSA have to say about that!

  13. Here in Sinincincinnati, we noticed Geoge Clooney recently snubbed Jerry Springer. They both have a lot of local connections.
    The holier-than-thou mentality of the whole Clooney family reminds me of why, 35 years ago, I decided to put down roots north of the Mason-Dixon line. (The Clooney HQ is just to the other side.)

    I like Jerry Springer. He has a hankering to get back into government in Ohio. You know, he would have been a wonderful nominee to fill the SCOTUS vacancy, eh?

  14. “Yes The Crucible indeed does suck.”

    Whoah, you don’t mean the Daniel Day Lewis version?

  15. [i] The holier-than-thou mentality of the whole Clooney family reminds me of why, 35 years ago, I decided to put down roots north of the Mason-Dixon line. (The Clooney HQ is just to the other side.)[/i]
    So you live in Pennsylvania while they live in Maryland? :p

  16. Murrow is the patron saint of journalists. He changed his name from Egbert Roscoe Murrow to Edward R. Murrow and built his reputation on total honesty.

  17. Jeff P,
    Jose Ferrer was married to Rosemary Clooney, right? And I’m pretty sure he helped George Clooney break into show biz.

    With regard to Edward R. Murrow, he may have been a step up the evolutionary scale from “Newsreel News” that we used to get when we went to the movies, but the toadiness–I hope that is the correct word–of all journalists then would make bloggers today choke on their vomit.
    Look at Bob Schiefer as a guy who has evolved and managed to be semi-successful at making a leap similar to the leap made by just a few from silent films to “talkies,” then, later, just a few, from radio to TV.

  18. Listen “Smart Torontonian,”
    I don’t know why you would want to be picking on the very soul trying to still the dogs of war betwixt the US and Canada.
    But, to try to be tolerant of youse, the Mason-Dixon line continued west, using the Ohio River.
    I’m not a surveyor, but rivers, it seems, cut way back on hoity-toity surveyor/consultant fees.

  19. I live just on the other side of the Clooney / Springer divide. I never noticed a difference in quantity of holier than thouitude. At least my CCW works here in the Bluegrass.

    I don’t claim Clooney. Except for Oh Brother. Which is among the best movies ever made.

  20. I brought up The Crucible, of course, because it’s related.

    They’re both set in a historical context but, apparently, not historically accurate. Indeed, if you made The Crucible historically accurate, wouldn’t it ruin what the play says about the Red Scare? Is that also the case with Good Night, and Good Luck? …If they changed the film, if they portrayed Morrow’s role in a manner more proportionate historically, would it take away from the message? …Would the film still say what is says about Iraq, etc.?

    …’cause otherwise, it sounds like Shafer’s just criticizing the film for not being an historical reenactment. …Personally, I’d rather watch a documentary than an historical reenactment.

    When critics talk about history, sometimes they’re talking about the intentions of the author or the artist, or in cases like this, the director.

    …I would understand nitpicking the costumes, etc. like some obsessed science fiction fan pointing out that photon torpedoes, if they existed, wouldn’t make any sound in space. …if, that is, the film simply recreated some historic event, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Shafer appears to recognize that Clooney and company are using the Red Scare to say something about current events just as Miller used the Salem witch trials to say something about the Red Scare. …Shafer seemed to compliment the historical accuracy of the sets, the acting, etc.

    …So what is he criticizing here? Surely Shafer could have written about our distorted view of Morrow without critiquing this film. …Perhaps, in the second part of the article, we’ll get something more about what a bad job Clooney and company did in getting their point across. Pending that, I find myself wondering if Shafer just doesn’t like what Clooney and company had to say.

  21. The worst bane of Hollywood was always its insufferable nostalgia.

    That may be true. Still, it would be remarkably ironic if Hollywood was nostalgic for the Red Scare.

    …Does this film glorify the Red Scare?

  22. I agree, Murrow did a great service to the Soviet Union by protecting their American spies from McCarthy, and should be counted next to Walter Duranty as one of Communism’s great Western heroes.

    As far as I can see, McCarthy rendered Communism a far greater service than Duranty, Murrow or even Hiss did by diverting attention to multitudes of hapless smucks while the real Soviet operatives (who were far too smart to be involved with Progressive Youth movements and the like) operated with impunity.

  23. As far as I can see, McCarthy rendered Communism a far greater service than Duranty, Murrow or even Hiss did by diverting attention to multitudes of hapless smucks while the real Soviet operatives (who were far too smart to be involved with Progressive Youth movements and the like) operated with impunity.

    Hapless smucks? If you’re by chance referring to Hollywood, you are confusing the activities of McCarthy with those of HUAC. If not, I apologize.

    That said, there are too many dumb fucks who think McCarthy went after Hollywood.

  24. The problem with the Crucible is that it is nothing more than a Self Righteous Arthur Miller Message Play, kind of like Stanley Kramer movies (*cough* cough* High Noon anyone?). It is not historical accurate or even good in an objective wat but can only be enjoyed by a bunch of Commies who still believe that Dalton Trumbo was not a Stalinist Commie and that McCarthy ran HUAC and Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were innocent, etc.

  25. The problem with the Crucible is that it is nothing more than a Self Righteous Arthur Miller Message Play, kind of like Stanley Kramer movies (*cough* cough* High Noon anyone?). It is not historically accurate or even good in an objective way but can only be enjoyed by a bunch of Commies who still believe that Dalton Trumbo was not a Stalinist Commie and that McCarthy ran HUAC and Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were innocent, etc.

  26. Indeed, if you made The Crucible historically accurate, wouldn’t it ruin what the play says about the Red Scare?

    Well, yes, historical accuracy does tend to take the zing out of propaganda.

    “The Crucible” pretty much loses all of what little merit it had once a viewer is educated enough to realize that Communist agents, unlike witches, actually existed.

  27. It’s spelled “schmucks”, Annie Hall.

  28. Y’all are certifiable.

    Oedipus Rex and Antigone are predicated on anti-Persian propaganda. They’re also historically inaccurate. …They didn’t even play nice with the legends!

    …Does that make them bad plays? …I already brought up Shakespeare. …for Pete’s sake!

  29. If I judge it correctly, Good Night, and Good Luck intends to serve as a parable for our times and not a history lesson. Its makers want us to find contemporary “resonance” in the film and conclude that, compared to the giants of 1954, modern journalists have been cowed by those in political power.

    I haven’t seen the film yet. …when I do, I’ll look for contemporary references.

    Readers of Reason didn’t miss much in the run-up to the Iraq War. …That one of the reasons I subscribed again.

    When I saw the polls that came out a full year after we invaded showing that a majority of Americans still believed that Saddam Hussein was complicit in the attacks on 9/11, I found myself wondering about the rest of the press. …and whether they’d been cowed by those in power. …I still wonder about it.

    …If the main stream media had shown more backbone, …?

  30. The worst bane of Hollywood was always its insufferable nostalgia.

    I guess this is why half of the “new” movies coming out now are based on old Baby Boomer sitcoms.

    It wasn’t always so bad. I like to look back at the movies of my childhood, and think, “Gee it was great when there wasn’t so much nostalgia around — those where the good old days.”

  31. [i]Y’all are certifiable.

    Oedipus Rex and Antigone are predicated on anti-Persian propaganda. They’re also historically inaccurate. …They didn’t even play nice with the legends!

    …Does that make them bad plays? …I already brought up Shakespeare. …for Pete’s sake!
    [/i]

    Well they don’t teach those plays as political treatises do they? Unlike the Crucible whose sole reason for being praised is for its “message.” Oh and it sucks too.

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