Murrow’s Enduring TV Legacy

Oct 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Edward R. Murrow’s power to send images over the airwaves preceded the advent of television.
Unaided by satellite phones or hand-held cameras, the man for whom the Radio-Television News Directors Association named its prize for journalism excellence used the sounds of war and his considerable rhetorical gifts to develop memorable pictures in the minds of his listeners via radio, from the rooftops of London during a German blitzkrieg to the inside of a combat plane.
“Murrow had been my hero when I was just a boy,” Dan Rather told the RTNDA in 1993. “Across the radio, across the Atlantic and across half the United States, his voice came, the deep rumble and the dramatic pause just when he said, `This … is London.’ I never got that voice out of my head. It was like a piece of music that has never stopped playing for me.” Mr. Murrow had been mentor and charismatic leader to an earlier generation of journalists, including Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood and Howard K. Smith, and his longtime collaborator Fred Friendly shares a great part of the Murrow legend.
First TV News Icon
After his work in radio during World War II made him a household name, Mr. Murrow went on to become TV news’ first and most enduring icon. His most famous broadcasts as a CBS correspondent exposed the irresponsibility of demagogic Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the hunger of migrant farm workers. Other broadcasts displayed an early version of celebrity journalism in which he engaged singers, actors and writers in their own homes.
Mr. Murrow’s vision for the medium he did so much to shape took into account its realities. In a 1958 address to the RTNDA-sort of a broadcast version of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famed “military-industrial complex” speech two and a half years later-Mr. Murrow offered that television “can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire.” Or, he added, it can be “merely wires and lights in a box.” Sometimes there is a clash between the public interest and the corporate interest, Mr. Murrow told the Chicago gathering. “Upon occasion, economics and editorial judgment are in conflict. And there is no law which says that dollars will be defeated by duty.”
Mr. Murrow, wrote David Halberstam in “The Powers That Be,” was “one of those rare legendary figures who was as good as his myth.” Tall and lean, with an extraordinary voice and a profound sense of adventure, he created the central casting model for a broadcast journalist. Indeed, many of “Murrow’s boys,” some of whom would become legends themselves, emulated their mentor’s on-air dignity and calm and helped establish standards still observed or at least coveted today.
“I have his photograph in my office today,” said Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News-“the house that Murrow built”-“so he’s still looking over my shoulder. He haunts these halls.”