July 12, 2018

1957. This Is Murrow

This Is Murrow
Caricature of Edward R. Murrow by Al Hirschfeld, used for the November 3, 1956 edition of TV Guide (source)
From Time magazine, September 30, 1957:
Television: This Is Murrow

Amid the trite and untrue that shed a honky-tonk glare from the nation's TV sets come moments that pierce reality and live up to television's magic gift for thrusting millions of spectators at once into the lap of history in the making. As television moved this week into its second decade, chances were that some of the best of such moments in the new season would come from a dark, high-domed man with a hangdog look, an apocalyptic voice and a cachet as plain as his inevitable cigarette. His name: Edward R. (for Roscoe) Murrow.

Many have come and many have fallen in TV's growth to immature maturity, but CBS's Ed Murrow, 49, marches on as TV's top journalist. Six years after his See It Now pioneered the technique for capturing the sights and sounds, persons and events that shape the news, it is unchallenged by any newer or better technique for exploiting TV's potential or overcoming its shortcomings. The combination of brains, integrity, attractiveness and showmanship that makes him such an effective journalist also establishes Murrow, in his role of star on the trivial but popular Person to Person, as one of TV's five top-rated entertainers.

By the Ears

From his pinnacle atop the nation's TV antennas, Murrow commands a huge circulation. The monthly See It Now, which starts its new season next week (Sun. 5 p.m.. E.S.T.), draws viewers in a Nielsen-estimated 3,850,000 homes; his Person to Person (Fri. 10:30 p.m.. E.S.T.), now in its fifth year, flickers weekly into more than 8,300,000 homes, and his ten-year-old radio broadcast, its audience shrunken by TV competition, still enables Murrow to get more than 1,000,000 Americans by the ears every weekday evening at 7:45, E.S.T.

In prestige and awards, he outrates anybody in TV. He has been laureled not only with eight honorary degrees, but four colleges (one of them: his alma mater, Washington State) have offered him their presidencies. In addition, he has been showered with nearly 100 assorted prizes and honors, including so many George Foster Peabody Awards for various feats that the Peabody judges gave him another just for "being himself."


Murrow was the author of TV's most explosive telecast: the March 1954 show that indicted Joe McCarthy out of the Senator's own mouth in film clips. He did not bother to clear the show in advance with CBS, and in turn CBS decided retroactively that it had lent Murrow the network's right to editorialize. The network lists him only as one of its hired hands, but Murrow is something of a power in himself, with his own generously financed domain and the strong personal loyalty of key CBS news staffers. His unique status stems from 1) his close friendship with Board Chairman William S. Paley, with whom he deals directly, 2) his onetime role as a major architect of its news staff and policy, and 3) the hard fact that if CBS ever loses him, it will be NBC's gain. CBS pays him well over $300,000 a year. To a questioner who demanded at a stockholders' meeting why he got more money than Paley or CBS President Frank Stanton, the board chairman himself replied: "His value seems to be higher."

Apart from his rating in television, Murrow is a VIP's VIP. After dinner at the White House on Dec. 7. 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt confided to him just what losses the Japanese had inflicted at Pearl Harbor that morning. When his broadside against McCarthy provoked the Senator to counterattack, President Eisenhower pointedly described Murrow as his friend. Carl Sandburg calls him a poet. He is a longtime friend-at-the-bar (Scotch, a little water, no ice) of Sir Winston Churchill. Interviewer Murrow is often more celebrated than the celebrities on Person to Person, sometimes must work to bridge the gap. When Rocky Graziano appeared, he urged the prizefighter to call him Ed. Replied Graziano on the air: "Oh no, Mr. Murrow, I can't do that.''
Edward R. Murrow with Fred Friendly and Carl Sandburg in the 1950s (source)
Wide & Weird

The world of electronic journalism that Murrow bestrides runs a course far wider than the one from the tabloids to the Times and weirder than anything in between. It echoes with the weepy singsong of Gabriel Heatter, still broadcasting after 32 years, the now-stilled, intelligent frog croak of Elmer Davis, the cocksureness of Fulton Lewis Jr., the literate wit of Eric Sevareid, the pear-shaped tones of Lowell Thomas. Gone now from radio is Winchell's clattering telegraph key and breathless bleat: too seldom heard is aging (79) H. V. Kaltenborn's clipped assurance. The news comes by short wave and on tape, the newsmen in snazzy ties and boutonnieres (ABC's popular John Cameron Swayze), and even in pairs (NBC's intelligent and informative duet, earnest Chet Huntley and wry David Brinkley). TV's journalists flit all over, like the technically muscle-flexing Wide, Wide World, or work in a simple star chamber, like Interviewer Mike Wallace. On too rare occasions, the newsmakers themselves step before the cameras: Kefauver dueling with a faceless Frank Costello, John McClellan patiently at work on Teamster Jimmy Hoffa and his voluble forgettery. Daily, the networks pour money, manpower, miles of cable and film into an often losing race to outdistance the spoken word.

What gives Murrow his big edge in prestige and following over his rivals? He does not write so well as his own colleagues Sevareid and Howard K. Smith, or ad-lib with the graceful ease of ABC's John Daly, CBS's Walter Cronkite and Robert Trout, or analyze the news with the pungency of ABC's Quincy Howe. As a reporter, he is not always as knowledgeable as ABC's Edward P. Morgan. Murrow's pontifical superficialities in his pundit's dialogue with Sevareid in CBS's presidential-election coverage last year sounded as if he had worked too much with the top of his head and not enough with his legs. As a digger and ferret, he is no match for NBC's Martin Agronsky or CBS's Richard Hottelet.

As an interviewer, Murrow's reputation suffers from the insipid conversations he conducts on Person to Person (and even some of his See It Now interviews show a lack of the flexibility to follow up an opening instead of going on to a prearranged question). Person to Person (sponsors: American Oil Co. and Hamm Brewing Co. alternating with LIFE) makes its pitch mainly to viewers who want to rubberneck in celebrities' homes. It deliberately casts Murrow, sitting in a Manhattan studio, as a discreet electronic guest whose job is to make polite chitchat, not ask probing questions. Murrow's own discomfort is sometimes visible, but he sold Person to Person as a package to CBS this year in a capital-gains deal, thus is undoubtedly committed to go on with it. The show does have what one frequent viewer calls an "idiot fascination," and it is a prime moneymaker for CBS.

One big answer to the question of Murrow's supremacy is that, in TV, Journalist Murrow deliberately bypasses the challenge of the spot news; he lets others try to work—if ever they can—a way in which TV can cover the day's events as effectively as radio, which not only beats TV on most news but provides more of it. The rest of the answers are more personal: one is what TV hucksters call sex appeal. Murrow is tall (6 ft. 1 in.) and compact (175 lbs.). His saturnine good looks and taut doomsday voice project virile authority. Person to Person, which also displays his urbane charm and ready smile, attracts far more women than men viewers, according to Trendex surveys, and in deference to this finding Person to Person technicians (so far unknown to Murrow) are now under orders to adjust camera angles and lighting to compensate for the latest recession in his hairline and to make the most of his expressive hands.

Furrows in Murrow

As a performer, Murrow has expert technique. During the blitz, when he served as Britain's Boswell, his "This [pause] is London" carried the thrill of Britain's finest hour across the Atlantic. His timing can make silence more eloquent than words. Between his ominous tone and his spare, understated writing springs a tension suggesting that, as one listener put it, "he knows the worst but will try not to mention it."

Beyond personality and technique, Murrow's persuasiveness is rooted in a prickly social conscience and a sense of mission about keeping people informed. An NBC cynic has versified: "Nobody's brow furrows like Edward R. Murrow's." Murrow's worried look is genuine. "He internalizes world events," says a friend. "They flow right through him like a stream. The fall of Britain would have been as meaningful to him as the loss of a child to one of us." This outsized sense of responsibility fills Murrow's work with conviction and sincerity. Says a colleague: "Above all of us in this business, Ed Murrow is the one who can make serious matters appeal to large audiences."

Alarms & Excursions

Beyond that, as solid a reason as any for Murrow's edge is simply that he is a fine reporter with sight and sound; he has a gift for capturing actuality in its moods and nuances as well as its meaning. Many a veteran of printer's ink has been, in the words of one of them, "faintly scandalized that such good reporting can be done by a man who never worked on a newspaper in his life." Fellow reporters have nicknamed Murrow "the Professor" after his academic past and "the Bishop" for his solemn cadences, but they agree with Walter Lippmann that he is "really first rate."

Murrow's alarms are almost always matched by his excursions to the scene of the news. He covers his stories with an intensity that courts exhaustion and a passion for physical danger that is the despair of his friends and employers. Says his friend and boss, Bill Paley: "You could almost call it a drive to self-destruction. He's never happy unless he's working. When he looks like death, that's when you feel a happy glow."

He covered the London air raids from the streets and rooftops, made a point of dining under a skylight in a Soho restaurant. Against CBS orders, he went on 25 bombing missions over Germany and broadcast from a British minesweeper in World War II. He has rushed to floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, made three different trips to cover the Korean front—one during his month's vacation—and once had to be hospitalized for exhaustion on his return. Last season, between interviews with Nasser in Cairo, Chou En-lai in Rangoon, and Tito on the island of Brioni, he dashed off to cover the Suez invasion.

"The Little Picture"

Murrow's zest for chasing fire engines on a global scale sometimes forces him to commute across oceans to keep his weekly date on Person to Person. By the time the show's technicians have torn their five tons of equipment out of a visited celebrity's home, Murrow may be on a plane to Washington to lay the groundwork for a new See It Now or closeted in a projection room to edit film for one already in work. At the end of a routine day's conferring, writing, filming or reporting, he must also make his nightly radio deadline—"This [pause] is the news." Murrow has little interest in food ("He could eat scrambled eggs three times a day," says an associate), gets four or five hours sleep a night, manages at best two weekends out of three with his wife Janet and his son Charles Casey, 12, at his 280-acre farm at Pawling, N.Y., close by the estates of his occasional golfing friends, Lowell Thomas and Thomas E. Dewey.

For all of Murrow's outpourings of energy, See It Now is a complex team operation. Almost as important to the show as Murrow is big (6 ft. 2 in.), bustling Co-Producer Fred W. Friendly, 43, who went to work with him eleven years ago after proposing the idea for their I Can Hear It Now, a replay from the recording files of voices and history of 1932-45, brought out by Columbia Records. The record and its sequels led to a radio program, and then to the TV show. Without film training or TV experience, Murrow and Friendly together worked out the See It Now technique for getting at the heart of current issues and problems by narrowing their focus on "the little picture"—the human beings intimately involved.

Twenty to One

The technique, which borrows from radio, movie and printed journalism (and owes a huge debt to THE MARCH OF TIME, which made the mold for film journalism), is the most realistic reporting yet devised for documentary film. Unlike any documentary before it, See It Now sends its cameras after a story without any script, shoots everything with sound, never dubs afterwards, never rehearses an interview, shoots as much as 20 hours of film for one hour of the final product—a ratio greater than any other TV show, newsreel or Hollywood itself. The method is costly in effort and money—$100,000 a show (plus $75,000 for TV time). Though Sponsor Pan American World Airways picks up part of the tab, CBS loses money on the program. Murrow and Friendly may spend as much as a year preparing a single show, e.g., Automation, Weal or Woe?, or follow a breaking news story on two hours' notice and come back with the memorable Clinton and the Law.

Last week one of See It Now's four full-time field teams (each consists of a reporter-director, cameraman, assistant cameraman and sound man) finished a job in Alaska for a show on Alaskan and Hawaiian statehood and flew to Tokyo to join Marian Anderson on a three-month tour of Southeast Asia. Two teams were finishing film for next week's show, The Great Billion Dollar Mail Case, a critical look into the U.S. Post Office. A fourth crew was filming in Europe. In Manhattan headquarters. Friendly pruned incoming footage for perusal by Murrow and began a first draft of next week's narration. Says Friendly, who suffers a severe case of Murrow-worship, a malady rife in the TV world: "My relation to Ed is that of first sergeant. He's the company commander. Everything I edit I edit with Ed's eyes. I write with his fingers." He denies what many pros say—that he gets too little credit: "I get a lot of credit that belongs to Ed."
Cover of Time magazine's September 30, 1957 issue
Eye & Ear

Each show grows first out of hours of talk by Murrow and Friendly. Friendly then briefs the staff, sometimes in a jointly signed memo. After years with See It Now, the staff has soaked up the kind of perceptiveness for human and atmospheric detail that Murrow showed in wartime London when he dramatized the blitz with such tellingly simple touches as the sound of unhurried footsteps, caught by his microphone on the sidewalk as Londoners walked calmly to their air raid shelters.

When Murrow and five teams made the eloquent This Is Korea—Christmas, 1952, the Murrow-and-Friendly advance memo explained: "We want to portray the face of war and the faces of the men now fighting it ... The best picture we could get would be a single G.I. hacking away at a single foxhole in the ice of a Korea winter . . ." Murrow brought back the vivid sight and sound of a marine's shovel rasping futilely at the earth. Other memorable See It Now moments for eye and ear: a Buchenwald tattoo on the arm of an Israeli jet pilot; a "rehabilitated" Mau Mau warrior singing Onward, Christian Soldiers; the ding of a bullet taken out of a G.I.'s spine as it was tossed by the surgeon to a nurse and dropped into a cup in her hand.

In the gap left in news-in-depth reporting when See It Now abandoned its weekly schedule of half-hour shows two years ago for monthly hour-long shows, all three networks have tried to use something of its approach. Though such programs as NBC's Outlook, CBS's World News Roundup, ABC's Open Hearing are often well done, they suffer from a lack of See It Now's huge budget, its lavish shooting, its long experience. They also lack Edward R. Murrow.

"Foghorn Voice"

Murrow, who lives on Park Avenue and gets his suits from a Savile Row tailor, started out, on April 25, 1908, named Egbert, the son of a tenant farmer, in a log-slab house near Pole Cat Creek in North Carolina's Guilford County, twelve miles south of Greensboro. He was the youngest of Ethel and Roscoe Murrow's three boys. The eldest, Lacy, rose to be an Air Force brigadier general in the 18th Tactical Air Command, and is now a transportation consultant in Washington. The other, Dewey, is a contractor in Spokane. "I had one pair of shoes a year," says Ed Murrow. "I can't remember when I didn't have to work."

When he was five ("a fat little boy with a regular foghorn voice," recalls a cousin), the family moved to Blanchard, Wash., 70 miles north of Seattle, where his father (who died two years ago) became a locomotive engineer in a logging camp. Ethel Murrow, now nearing 80, was a frugal, hard-working Methodist who read her boys a Bible chapter every night until they went off to college. She wanted Egbert to be a preacher; he now regards religion as "more ethics than faith." She recalls him as a lad with a strong sense of duty and determination, who could not wait to grow up to his brothers' level. Typically, when a photographer was once posing the two brothers in their school clothes, little Egbert, not yet old enough for school, grabbed a book and crashed the picture with a mature scowl (see cut). He began earning money at 15. At 16, when his boss in the logging camp began calling him Ed, he gladly dropped the Egbert.

Academic Fringe

At Edison High School young Murrow won the school's popularity contest, graduated at the head of his class. In Washington State College, as a speech major, campus politician, actor, debater and R.O.T.C. cadet colonel, he honed his voice, enunciation and speaking technique, made Phi Beta Kappa.

For five years after his graduation, Murrow hustled on the academic fringe, first as $25-a-week president of the National Student Federation, then as assistant director of the Institute of International Education. The jobs entailed speechmaking on 300 U.S. campuses, European travel, arranging international student exchanges. Firsthand glimpses of the rise of Hitler in Germany appalled Murrow. He joined an emergency committee that helped to bring 288 displaced German scholars to safety. "It was the most satisfying experience I ever had," he says. During the same period, on a train to a student conference in New Orleans, he met a pretty Mount Holyoke graduate named Janet Brewster. They were married in 1934.

A year later CBS hired him as its director of talks and education, and in 1937 sent him to London as "European director," a one-man foreign staff charged with arranging cultural programs. As an assistant on the Continent, Murrow hired from the now-expired Universal Service a newsman named William L. Shirer. Soon the two switched from "cultural stuff" to report the Austrian Anschluss, and then, as Europe hurtled toward war, Murrow began hiring the core of what is still the best news staff of the networks. Among the "Murrow boys," as CBS calls them: Eric Sevareid, Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, Richard Hottelet, David Schoenbrun and Bill Downs.

The war made Murrow one of radio's legends. In New York, CBS staffers formed a Murrow-Ain't-God Club so they could view him with proper detachment. (When Murrow got wind of it, he demanded charter membership.) His vivid picture of Londoners under fire stirred the heart of the U.S., stands as one of the war's memorable reporting jobs.

Head-On Clash

Back home, Murrow became CBS vice president in charge of news. After a year and a half he decided that he did not like paper work, budgets, and "most of all, I didn't like firing people." Before he went back to broadcasting with a $150,000-a-year sponsored news show, he took a hand in writing what is still the network's policy forbidding its news analysts to inject editorial opinion into their "objective" interpretation. After Bill Paley added him to the CBS board of directors in 1949—a post he held until 1955—Murrow eyed TV even more distrustfully as a platform for a newsman's personal opinion. He asked in a memo: "Is it not possible that . . . an infectious smile, eyes that seem remarkable for the depths of their sincerity, a cultivated air of authority, may attract huge television audiences regardless of the violence that may be done to truth or objectivity?"

Broadcaster Murrow does not practice the objectivity that Policymaker Murrow preached. He could be accused of using the word "objectivity" sloppily. For, like any other journalist worth his salt, Murrow concedes that, for all the lip service paid to it, there is no such thing as true objectivity in handling the news. The job, as he sees it, is "to know one's own prejudices and try to do the best you can to be fair." He admits to open violations of the CBS policy, notably in some sharply partisan See It Now shows on civil-liberties issues. The climax was the McCarthy show—and an uproar that produced 50,000 letters, phone calls and wires (four to one for Murrow, by CBS's count). In defense of such violations, Murrow says that "most of the time" he has forthrightly identified them as such on the air.

Yet on his nightly news show, Murrow conveys, by his choice of items and his showman's command of tone of voice, the news as Edward R. Murrow wants it to be understood. Example: on the State Department's obstacles to travel of U.S. newsmen to China. Murrow's reporting has dripped with disapproval. The Murrow aphorism ("A Word for Today") that closes the newscast is often chosen to make an editorial point. Something as simple as a See It Now shot of a subject's grimace or surreptitious scratch can carry as much condemnation as a Chicago Tribune editorial.

Murrow admits to prejudices shaped by his background; he tends to favor labor, farmers, Britain, underdogs (and, in the opinion of some Republicans, Democrats). He says he owes allegiance to no party. He speaks often of the rule of law and the right of dissent. But the enormous impact of his few overtly controversial broadcasts during the McCarthy era has given him a reputation for the kind of partisanship that he usually succeeds in keeping under control.
"Edward R. Murrow speaking with an unidentified man in front of television cameras" (source)
Spread Thin

A few who have known him for years think that Murrow has grown vain and pompous—an impression that his style also induces in some of his audience. Vanity is an occupational hazard that a performer has to watch as a woman watches her weight. Living in a swirl of hero worship, Murrow is obliged to recall the Murrow-Ain't-God Club. He smokes too much (three packs of Camels a day), is still gnawed by nerves before every broadcast; even in the air-conditioned studio, doing his radio show, he drips sweat and jiggles his legs tensely. He is a procrastinator and a soft touch. He has little small talk in social conversation. He has an intemperate streak that pushes him beyond sensible limits in poker playing, makes him work 40 hours at a stretch in a projection room or overdo the plowing on his farm. Sometimes in company he drifts off into trancelike gloom. Though he can be an amiable companion to the bottom of the bottle, he has a reserve that keeps his closest friends at arm's length. "I've never had any intimate friends," he once confided. "If I were in serious trouble, I would have trouble knowing where to turn."

In his TV career Murrow has become more of a performer and an editor, something less of a reporter and a creator. He is spread thin by three shows. The news roundup on his radio program has always been written by an assistant, but for the last four years ex-Broadcaster Raymond Swing has had a big hand in preparing the interpretive "end piece'' that Murrow used to write alone. Person to Person was thought up by Co-Producers Jesse Zousmer and John Aaron (formerly associates on the radio news show), and they leave Murrow little more to do than the viewer sees on the screen. The workaday brunt of See It Now is borne by Friendly and staff. Murrow's role keeps him from doing as much legwork as a good reporter should. He knows it, and his forays to the news fronts are spurred by the strongly felt need to replenish his credentials with the raw facts.

Work & Play

Murrow sometimes talks wistfully of quitting for six months or a year just to "keep silent, listen in on myself." As a man who "never learned how to play," he also would like more time for his hunting (he is a good wing shot), fishing and golf (lefthanded). He has little time now to enjoy his money, is uneasy about the celebrity that has robbed him of his anonymity in streets and restaurants, and he wears the burden of being unable to be very proud of the medium in which he works. Murrow thinks that TV at large threatens to become an "opiate" and that the network managements lack "guts." His son Casey is permitted to watch TV only half an hour a day.

But almost in the same breath that he talks of quitting, Murrow may spout plans for big new projects. Forthcoming on See It Now: the peaceful uses of atomic energy: the best from an eight-hour Murrow interview with Harry S. Truman. Murrow and Friendly have made an exciting pilot film of a new TV show called Small World, starring not Murrow but "my colleague" Eric Sevareid, which will present personalities in different parts of the world, joined in conversation through radio circuits and simultaneous movie photography. (But viewers may not see it: so far, CBS has been unable to sell it to a sponsor.) He wants to put a crew on the caboose of a freight train and let the cameras grind all across the U.S.

Murrow's success is, by its lopsided domination, a reflection on the state of TV journalism as a whole. For all its variety and originality, his achievement also leans hard on formula, and TV's trail is littered with the remains of formulas dead of overexposure. The fact that nothing new or exciting is in view to take Murrow's place is explained in great part by the nature of television. It is primarily an adman's medium conceived in escapism and dedicated to the proposition. Its role in communicating information plays second fiddle to the canned comedies, saddle-soap operas and variety shows. In its daily efforts to cover the news, television has not really made up its mind what it is trying to do. TVmen are exhilarated by their technological power to reach at one instant into almost every living room in the U.S., yet timid about using it to edify. So far, for all the earnest thought and energy that is devoted to it, electronic journalism has illuminated with bright flashes but few steady beams of light. Perhaps that is the best it is destined to do.