Edward R. Murrow

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Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the ... confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought.
Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices — just recognize them.

Edward Roscoe Murrow (25 April 190827 April 1965) was an American journalist; born Egbert Roscoe Murrow. He first came to prominence with a series of radio news broadcasts during World War II, which were followed by millions of listeners in the United States and Canada. Many journalists consider Murrow one of journalism's greatest figures, noting his honesty and integrity in delivering the news. A pioneer of television news broadcasting, Murrow produced a series of TV news reports that helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Quotes[edit]

The newest computer can merely compound…the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say & how to say it.
  • This... is London.
    • Lead in line to his broadcasts from London, England during World War II
  • Good night, and good luck.
    • Sign off line of his radio and TV broadcasts.
  • If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the ... confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought.
    • Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show, CBS and NBC (June 1953)
  • No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.
    • CBS television broadcast, on See It Now (7 March 1954)
  • He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.
  • Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices — just recognize them.
    • Television broadcast, (31 December 1955)
  • The politician in my country seeks votes, affection and respect, in that order…. With few notable exceptions, they are simply men who want to be loved.
    • Address at London Guildhall (19 October 1959)
  • The politician is … trained in the art of inexactitude. His words tend to be blunt or rounded, because if they have a cutting edge they may later return to wound him.
    • Address at London Guildhall (19 October 1959)
  • Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.
    • Comments after President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address (20 January 1961).
  • If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.
    • On receiving the "Family of Man" Award (1964); as quoted by Alexander Kendrick in Prime Time (1969)
  • The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.
    • On receiving the "Family of Man" Award (1964)
  • A satellite has no conscience.
    • On receiving the "Family of Man" Award (1964)
  • The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.
    • On receiving the "Family of Man" Award (1964)
  • We cannot make good news out of bad practice.
    • Response as director of the U.S. Information Agency to Senate critics who wanted him to ignore racial problems to promote a better public image abroad. As quoted in Life (7 May 1965)
  • Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation.
    • As quoted in The Improbable Irish (1969) by Walter Bryan
  • We are in the same tent as the clowns and the freaks — that's show business.
  • The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.
    • As quoted in Mad about Physics : Braintwisters, Paradoxes, and Curiosities (2001) by Christopher Jargodzki

Broadcast from Buchenwald (1945)[edit]

I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry.
CBS radio broadcast from Buchenwald (15 April 1945)
  • As I walked down to the end of the barracks, there was applause from the men too weak to get out of bed. It sounded like the hand clapping of babies; they were so weak.
  • We went to the hospital; it was full. The doctor told me that two hundred had died the day before. I asked the cause of death; he shrugged and said, "Tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue, and there are many who have no desire to live."
  • It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed. But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last twelve years.
  • I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry.

This I Believe (1951)[edit]

Full transcript and audio recording at This I Believe.
  • This I Believe — by that name, we present the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life. In this brief space, a banker or a butcher, a painter or a social worker, people of all kinds who need have nothing more in common than integrity, a real honesty, will write about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.
  • We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion — a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the market place while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply.
  • There is a mental fear, which provokes others of us to see the images of witches in a neighbor’s yard and stampedes us to burn down this house. And there is a creeping fear of doubt, doubt of what we have been taught, of the validity of so many things we had long since taken for granted to be durable and unchanging. It has become more difficult than ever to distinguish black from white, good from evil, right from wrong.
  • Except for those who think in terms of pious platitudes or dogma or narrow prejudice (and those thoughts we aren’t interested in), people don’t speak their beliefs easily, or publicly.
  • Perhaps we should warn you that there is one thing you won’t read, and that is a pat answer for the problems of life. We don’t pretend to make this a spiritual or psychological patent-medicine chest where one can come and get a pill of wisdom, to be swallowed like an aspirin, to banish the headaches of our times.
  • This reporter’s beliefs are in a state of flux. It would be easier to enumerate the items I do not believe in, than the other way around. And yet in talking to people, in listening to them, I have come to realize that I don’t have a monopoly on the world’s problems. Others have their share, often far bigger than mine. This has helped me to see my own in truer perspective: and in learning how others have faced their problems — this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.

Speech to his staff (1954)[edit]

No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.
Widely quoted comments from a speech to his staff before the broadcast of the See It Now program on Joe McCarthy (9 March 1954); As quoted in "Edward R. Murrow and the Time of His Time" by Joseph Wershba
  • All I can hope to teach my son is to tell the truth and fear no man.
  • No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.
  • If none of us ever read a book that was "dangerous," had a friend who was "different," or joined an organization that advocated "change," we would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants.
  • The only thing that counts is the right to know, to speak, to think — that, and the sanctity of the courts. Otherwise it's not America.

See It Now (1954)[edit]

The historic See It Now broadcast of 9 March 1954 on CBS TV; See also the transcripts of A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy at Wikisource.
We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. … We proclaim ourselves … the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
  • No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind as between the internal and the external threats of communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Good night, and good luck.

RTNDA Convention Speech (1958)[edit]

Speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) convention in Chicago (15 October 1958). Full audio recording.
  • This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.
  • I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard, the one that produces words and pictures. You will, I am sure, forgive me for not telling you that instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you that the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.
    • A variant of part of this statement is often quoted: Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.
  • I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.
  • Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.
  • During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW AND PAY LATER.
    For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally.
  • I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is--an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.
  • If radio news is to be regarded as a commodity, only acceptable when saleable, and only when packaged to fit the advertising appropriation of a sponsor, then I don't care what you call it — I say it isn't news.
  • One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.
  • I have said, and I believe, that potentially we have in this country a free enterprise system of radio and television which is superior to any other. But to achieve its promise, it must be both free and enterprising. There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or in the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the Republic collapse.
  • I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation.
  • Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market.
  • The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."
  • If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
  • Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.
  • We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
  • We are to a large extent an imitative society.
  • This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
    Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
  • ...if what I say is responsible, I alone am responsible for the saying of it...


Misattributed[edit]

  • We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.
    • Attributed by Murrow to an unnamed farmer in "Harvest of Shame", CBS Reports (24 November 1960)

Quotes about Murrow[edit]

What separated Murrow from the pack was courage. ~ Dan Rather
  • Last week may be remembered as the week that broadcasting recaptured its soul.
    • Jack Gould, TV critic for The New York Times after Murrow's See It Now broadcast of 9 March 1954.
  • It was astonishing how often his name and work came up. To somebody outside CBS it is probably hard to believe...Time and again I heard someone say, "Ed wouldn't have done it that way."
  • What separated Murrow from the pack was courage.
    • Dan Rather quoted in Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News (2003) by Jeff Alan
  • He set standards of excellence that remain unsurpassed.
    • Inscription on a plaque dedicated to Murrow in the lobby of CBS headquarters in New York City.
  • He was a resolute and uncompromising man of truth.

External links[edit]

Wikipedia
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