While watching Olberman do his commentary last night -- live I assume at the 7 hour CST, I first thought, this is something like a Murrow moment -- reinforced when he used the Murrow quote in conclusion. I am old enough to remember Murrow during World War II, when it was actually illegal in our house to answer the phone when he was broadcasting. Few realize that up till D-Day it was illegal to broadcast any sort of recording in a news program -- they had to be live, and they were never repeated. After D-Day they allowed some minimum of recordings, but basicly everything was live. So when I wanted to check out what Olberman had actually said, I had options -- the script on some sites, and C & L video on others. When Murrow delivered the lines Olberman quoted last night, on March 9, 1954, what I really remember is my Dad reading them at the dinner table the following night from the paper, and commenting on them. Yes, I saw it live, and we teared up a bit, because my family knew the fear of that early 50's period, but for better or worse, it was really 24 hours before you could parse the words, and examine.
I frankly doubt if many today can comprehend what Murrow's taking on Joe McCarthy meant to a generation of Americans. I know, the great generation had survived the Great Depression, and fought one way or another World War II -- but McCarthyism and all it involved really did silence them. People finally had their little houses, and jobs with pension plans, and Lord Help Us, they were not to be endangered. People really did not want to fight yet again. But many knew,somehow, it would come to that. When Murrow finally spoke out clearly, it was a huge release. Change did not come immediately, but over a few years, it did. Murrow really did not live to see it, His Broadcast Career really ended in 1959, and he died in 1965, after heading Voice of American in the Kennedy years from 61-64. And while I realize that last year's film revived some interest in Murrow -- Joe McCarthy was the least of his interests as a journalist.
Murrow's career really began when he was elected President of the National Student Federation -- one of several Student organizations of the early 1930's period. It was a two year term, 31-33, and among other things the organization required his attendence at international conferences in Europe every summer, and the IIE (Institute of International Education) piggybacked on that by having the President deal with their exchange relationships. The upshot was that he met the Ministers of Education and prospective exchange students, and faculty as part of his "tour." Because of the rise of facism in Germany, in 1933 he ended up with a list that gradually expanded to about 2000 persons, who needed refuge. So he ended up heading something simply called the Emergency Committee that supported scholars where he could find sponsors and placements. Of the list of 2000 he managed to move about 700. If you listen carefully to Murrow's famous broadcast of April, 1945, regarding the opening of Buchenwald, and what he saw, the backstory is the guide was a Czech Doctor on Murrow's list that he could not place, and who survived as a camp doctor for five years. Murrow arranged for him to get medical care, and a place to write, and the first real description of it all is Eugen Kogan's "Theory and Practice of Hell" which became Nuremberg evidence. Murrow got it published in the US in 1948.
Murrow's approach to reporting needs review. He was perhaps one of the best "connected" of any reporter ever -- he was a regular at Hyde Park Weekends during FDR's Governorship, his wife was distantly related to Eleanor, (and also Ned Lamont), and because of a long planned book tour, he was in DC the weekend of December 7, 1941, and invited for scrambled eggs a la Eleanor for Sunday Supper. The invite was not changed, so he spent late afternoon and all of the evening with FDR on that date -- till long after midnight when Marshall, FDR and Murrow did Ham Sandwiches and Beer -- and he never reported a word of it in his lifetime. On the otherhand he did report the war by flying in bombers over Berlin and reporting it all live on radio.
All this is what gave Murrow the credentials to go after McCarthy when he was ripe for the taking. Murrow in fact was not exactly the first -- the same day he broadcast his McCarthy piece, (March 9, 1954) Senator Ralph Flanders (R VT) took to the Senate Floor and made a semi-famous speech ," He dons his warpaint -- he goes into his wardance -- he goes forth to battle, and proudly returns with the scalp of a pink army dentist." (While I suspect this might be offensive to some Native Americans, I think it one of the great Senate Speeches.) I don't think there was any collusion between Murrow and Flanders -- just something very much in the air.
And in the Air -- that is how I see the Editorial Comment Keith Olberman broadcast last night. I am glad that he referenced back to Murrow, because that is a tradition we need to demand be rebuilt. But Olberman is not a Murrow. Bill Paley gave Murrow the money to build a CBS Newsroom, and he hired William L. Shirer, Larry LeSueur, Eric Sevareid, Howard K, Smith, David Schoenbrun, Winston Burdett, Bill Downs, and Charles Collingswood. (Among others,) Can anyone see something of that quality happening today?
In essence, I see Olberman out there on a very very tender limb, and without a back-up, able to be cut down quickly. The key is to make certain that doesn't happen, even though some parts of his commentary are somewhat problematic. The overall point is a fight back on the crazy notion that anyone who is a critic of Iraq is somehow in league with neo-facists or whatever.