Today marks the birthday of the Edward R. Murrow, possibly the last honest reporter in television news. Working for CBS Radio in Europe at the outbreak of World War II, Murrow became famous for his reporting from the front lines, and even on a bombing mission over Germany. He came home a hero after the war and moved into the new media of television. He quickly became known for his integrity and honesty reporting the news.
Constantly butting heads with his bosses at CBS for his topics, his popularity allowed him a certain allowance on the controversies of the day. That almost cost him his job when he decided to take on Senator McCarthy and his anti-communism commission in the Senate. CBS was under tremendous pressure from Washington to quiet Murrow. Murrow answered by televising an actual hearing of the commission. Although America was in the height on the Cold War, they saw McCarthy as an over-bearing bully in these hearings. Murrow was redeemed, and McCarthy went on to be shamed out of the Senate.
Murrow would use the same tenacity and daring from his days as a war correspondent to report on the news stories of the day. This tenacity would cost him his job though. The head of CBS, Bill Paley ( a friend of Murrow’s) stood by him when Washington and half of America was upset with his coverage of the McCarthy Hearings; until they actually saw what was going on. But even Paley couldn’t save his job when Murrow took on his next target.
A chronic chain smoker, Murrow’s trademark was his beloved Camel cigarettes. In 1963 Murrow was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. His investigations led him to believe that his cigarettes were the cause of it, and his show See It Now was the first time cigarettes were linked to lung cancer. Murrow’s sponsors at the time was Camel Cigarettes. CBS could stand by Murrow when he took on Washington, but he was fired for taking on a sponsor. Modern television news was born.
After his television career ended, Murrow worked for the government in information services, and was instrumental in not only setting up Radio Free Europe, but also PBS in the United States. Happy Birthday to Murrow, we sure could use a few like him in television news today. But, I wonder if they could even get on the air.