Had Adolph Hitler not chosen to subjugate England during the blitz of 1939, Edward R. Murrow might be just another forgotten wartime journalist. But Hitler foolishly kept bombing during what became known as the Battle of Britain, and Murrow’s nightly reports from London’s rooftops riveted even isolationist Americans. When he concluded with “Good night, and good luck,” Murrow inadvertently coined one of the first catchphrases in broadcasting history.
Following his celebrated term as a war correspondent, Murrow came home to the post of Vice President of Public Affairs for CBS, but couldn’t shake the desire to get back behind a microphone. He anchored the nightly newscast on CBS Radio for several years, then began his own program, Hear It Now. But the advent of television already began to eclipse the influence of radio, and the show became See It Now when Murrow moved it to CBS Television.
Clearly the most memorable episode of See It Now was Murrow’s attack on the Red Scare, led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Depicted in the recent film Good Night, and Good Luck, the program used mostly McCarthy’s own words to show his contradictions and paranoia. It was the beginning of the end for the senator, and Murrow is rightly held in high regard for helping to bring that shameful chapter in American history to a close.
Murrow also pioneered what might be called celebrity journalism in his Person to Person series. He’d visit people in their homes (sound familiar, Barbara Walters?), encouraging them to let down their guard and speak freely. He interviewed a wide spectrum of people, including Frank Sinatra, Bogart and Bacall, Margaret Mead, and John Steinbeck.
Edward R. Murrow is still the standard by which television news is measured. But the man himself was aware of his medium’s limits. He once said, “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.”