“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” ~ Edward R. Murrow
This film dramatizes legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow’s confrontation with McCarthyism, which culminated in his devastating documentary, “Report on Joseph R. McCarthy,” which aired on March 9, 1954. The piece K.O.’d McCarthy (though it’s been pointed out that he was already on the ropes by the time it aired) and is still a benchmark for documentarians who seek to impact the world.
The parallels between McCarthyism and, say, today’s unsavory USA Patriot Act are legion. One salient example: thanks to said Act, anyone who contributes to or attends a meeting of an organization that the government considers subversive can be labeled a “terrorist”. During the McCarthy era, one could be denounced simply for, say, having once attended a commie meeting (a “crime” which was committed in the 30’s by anyone, commie or not, who gave a toss about civil rights, rights of working people, etc.). For those interested in further parallels/context, I include a link to the ACLU’s important “Report it Now” project: http://www.participate.net/reportitnow/partners
The film labors strenuously to show that Murrow (David Straithairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) didn’t themselves yearn to see the hammer and sickle unfurled o’er the White House; their motivation to fight McCarthy was that they happened to rather take seriously the Bill of Rights. Straithairn plays Murrow not as a man immune to fear (which in a way would be to diminish his bravery), but rather as being all too grimly aware that going up against McCarthy could destroy one’s life. Straithairn lets traces of fear play around and behind his resolute eyes.
Clooney, who directed, tells this story in black and white imagery suffused with great gusts of cigarette-smoke. There are interludes with Diana Reeves singing lively renditions of the popular music of the day, such as 1953’s “TV is the Thing This Year” (“Radio was great, now it's out of date!”).
This film is a useful corrective to the right which, emboldened by the declassifying of the Venona Project, continues apace its beastly campaign to exhume McCarthy. That’s why I was heartened when as the credits rolled the audience applauded, not necessarily for the considerable aesthetic achievements of the film, but for the words of Murrow reproduced in its script such as his signoff to that 1954 broadcast which I found transcribed in a collection of investigative journalism and have excerpted below:
“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 which were for the moment unpopular…We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, what’s left of it, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home…Good night, and good luck.”
- Nov 14, 2005