We watched the film Good Night and Good Luck (see trailer here) in class and the first thing I thought about it was, “Edward Murrow is the man!” The film depicts him as this unflappable journalist who took down McCarthy without missing a beat, even when McCarthy accused him of communism. It was interesting to me that I thought that since journalists are supposed to be objective and Murrow was not at all in that film.
I would call what Murrow does in the film “advocacy journalism”. It’s fact-based, not propaganda, but supports a cause. Murrow supported stopping McCarthy’s communism witch hunts. We learn that a journalist has to be objective, to tell the truth without making judgment calls, but Murrow commented and judged what McCarthy did and is hailed as a journalistic hero. I suppose that is because another important quality of journalism is loyalty to the citizen, and when the citizen is under attack journalists can see themselves as having the need to protect them. So, objectivity versus civic duty. What is a journalist to do?
I guess he’s supposed to support the citizen and take down McCarthy. To me, the most important thing a journalist can do is speak out even when it’s hard and especially when it’s dangerous. It is a journalist’s job to tell the truth that no one else can. That means telling the country that people are being deprived of their Constitutional rights because they may have spoken to someone who spoke with someone who was friends with a communist.
Words have power to change the world and sometimes that brings the tenets of journalism into conflict. When that happens, the question arises: is a journalist’s first loyalty to people or to an ideal? It’s not an easy question, and I’m sure the answer is different for every situation and journalist.
But yeah, I still think Murrow was the man.