December 29, 2015

1964. A Tribute to Edward P. Morgan

Bill Downs Pays Tribute to Edward P. Morgan
Edward P. Morgan (left) with Bill Downs (right) in 1953 during an interview with Eleanor Roosevelt

by Bill Downs
February 10, 1964
Reprinted in the Congressional Record — Senate, pp. 3819-3820

MR. [FRANK] CHURCH: Mr. President, Mr. Edward P. Morgan, who broadcasts every weekday night for ABC, is one of our Nation's most thoughtful news analysts. In an era when local radio broadcasting has become increasingly dominated by the ravings of the radical right, it is refreshing to be able to listen to Mr. Morgan's sane and rational presentations. Recently, Bill Downs paid a fitting tribute to Edward P. Morgan when he substituted for him on February the 10th. I think we all might ponder Mr. Downs' question:
Why aren't there more Edward Morgans . . . more men of intellectual stimulation and ideas . . . on the air these days?
I ask unanimous consent to have the text of Mr. Downs' broadcast inserted at this point in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the broadcast was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
For the past 9 years—and the incredible count of more than 2,000 weekday broadcasts—the voice of Edward P. Morgan has filled this time slot on this distinguished program of news and commentary.

Sitting in for him, while Morgan samples a week of the breakers and beakers of Hawaii, any substitute reporter is bound to feel nervous. It's a little like wearing a borrowed pair of swimming trunks. You hope the things will still be in place after you take the plunge into the pool.

However, there's a certain comfort to be grasped in trying to fill Ed Morgan's editorial bathing suit during his vacation. It lies in the fact that I knew him when—and perhaps you, his listeners, might like to know him a little better before his return next week.

Anyone familiar with his daily commentary knows that Morgan is not a man who hits you over the head with a crisis—or bludgeons you with personal demagoguery. He uses his viewpoint to slide quietly into your confidence—sneaks up on you in a gentle, intellectual way—and before you know it, you're trapped in logic.

I first met Ed Morgan in England, I think, during the London Blitz. As usual, we had one of those arguments that never got settled. Morgan had the gall to claim that the Luftwaffe bombings scared him more than they did me. Ed was a "Gutenberg man" at the time—working for the Chicago Daily News. I had left newspapering to go into broadcasting. I once pointed out that I could talk to more people in 3 minutes reporting on the radio than he could write for, for the rest of his life.

When he calmed down enough to follow my logic, it might have been the thing that prompted his own shift into electronic journalism.

However, he got even later. When Morgan joined the broadcasting industry, he briefly became my boss. It didn't take long for Morgan to realize that the new position meant that he was journalistically gelded. Wisely so, he quit the management job and returned to reporting.

Now, for the past 9 years, Morgan has served as a dissector of the Washington body politic—more important, he has applied the itch of truth to the American conscience. Like the renaissance British poet, Christopher Marlowe, Morgan believes that the cardinal sin of mankind is ignorance.

In his quiet way, Ed Morgan has been an angry young man long enough before the postwar English literary world exploited the phrase. But then American broadcasting has always had angry young men from the beginning, like the late Elmer Davis, the retired Edward R. Murrow who, hopefully, may soon be back in full dudgeon on the airways, men like Bill Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith and others whose indignation is perpetually young. The fact that Ed Morgan has survived them all on radio does credit to his sponsor and his network.

Now, even though Morgan is my friend and I'm his vacation replacement, I don't want this to sound like some premature, soap-opera valentine. Morgan has his faults. He's the only correspondent in Washington who can turn a question into an essay and keep Presidents like Eisenhower and Kennedy enthralled with his words. It matters not that they sometimes missed the point.

Also Morgan has a habit of coming right out on the air and putting downright embarrassing questions to the American people. You know, things like: "Why must a white child have to be coached and study up to learn to hate a black child . . . or a Jewish child or an Arab child?" "Why is it incumbent on the up-and-coming young executives in industry to convince their superiors that the buttoned-down juniors distrust organized labor as much as their boards of directors?"

Another Morgan-type question might ask: "Why should a truck driver, a carpenter or a longshoreman accept machine leadership, nepotism or corruption in his own labor union . . . when he despises it in government and industry?"

And most maddening of all, Why does Morgan inevitably leave the answers up to his listeners?

For the replies to such questions, you'll have to wait a week until your regular commentator returns. But this does leave one question hanging over the public airwaves of the American broadcasting industry. That question is: "Why aren't there more Ed Morgans . . . more men of intellectual stimulation and ideas . . . on the air these days?"

It couldn't be that Americans are becoming afraid of ideas, could it? Are we?

This is Bill Downs substituting for Edward P. Morgan and saying good night from Washington.