Edward R. Murrow (1908–1965) is credited with being one of the creators of American broadcast journalism.
Murrow inspired other journalists to perpetuate First Amendment rights
His compelling radio dispatches from London during the Blitz — the nightly bombings of the city in 1940–1941 — made him a celebrity. His weekly television program, See It Now, in the 1950s solidified his reputation. His 1954 confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin made him an icon of journalistic independence, which has inspired other journalists to perpetuate First Amendment rights of free expression.
Murrow, who was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow, adopted the name Edward by the time he was in high school. He graduated in 1930 from Washington State College, where he was elected president of the National Student Federation of America. He parlayed his successful NSFA presidency into a job as assistant to the director of the Institute of International Education.
Murrow joined CBS in 1935
In this capacity, Murrow was deeply involved in the activities of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German (later Foreign) Scholars, which relocated hundreds of European intellectuals in the 1930s. Murrow left the organization in 1935 to join the nascent Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), which had been on the air since 1927. His career, and the prestige of CBS, would be linked for the next 25 years.
Murrow broadcast from Europe during World War II
The pivotal event in Murrow’s career was his appointment as CBS’s European director in 1937. Murrow arrived in a Europe on the verge of disaster. Within a year of his arrival, Adolf Hitler had contrived the political union (Anschluss) of Germany with Austria. By autumn 1940 only the British Isles remained standing against the Nazi juggernaut. Throughout World War II Murrow was a witness, telling the story on the ground in London, reporting from the air over Berlin, and entering the concentration camp at Buchenwald.
In 1947 Murrow teamed with news producer Fred Friendly to create a set of phonograph records, “I Can Hear It Now.” That partnership evolved into a weekly radio news-magazine, “Hear It Now,” which was followed in 1951 by a television program, See It Now.
Murrow played role in exposing McCarthyism to the public
A month after it premiered, See It Now aired a broadcast exposing the misinformation being disseminated by McCarthy. In March 1954 it broadcast the notable “Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,” which further criticized McCarthy and his tactics. In December 1954 McCarthy’s Senate colleagues voted to censure him. See It Now was not the cause of McCarthy’s downfall, but the televised news medium that Murrow pioneered played an instrumental role in exposing his views to the public.
In the course of his career, Murrow won nine Emmy awards. See It Now succumbed not so much to controversy, as some historians and biographers contend, but to commercialization. Murrow articulated the program’s obituary in a 1958 speech in which he remarked that “television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us.”
This article was originally published in 2009. James C. Foster is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Oregon State University-Cascades.