As a journalism student in college, I learned the role/responsibility of the press. I also studied the newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hurst, and yellow journalism (sensationalized stories of dubious veracity).
Civics class in high school informed me about the function of the press in the accountability of politicians and government. Well, today it seems all I’ve ever learned and understood about the role of journalists has been abdicated for full on “entertainment”.
Set in 1953, during the early days of television, “Good Night, and Good Luck” focuses on the potential of television to inform and educate the public, so that it doesn’t become, as Murrow put it, only “wires and lights in a box”.
“Good Night, and Good Luck” also portrays how CBS news broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his dedicated staff — headed by his co-producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and reporter Joseph Wershba (Robert Downey, Jr.) defy corporate and sponsorship pressures, and discredit the tactics used by Joseph McCarthy during his crusade to root out Communist elements within the government.
This morality tale is as relevant today as it was in 2005 (if not more so). It seems that broadcast news has turned into entertainment television and lost it’s way as the checks and balances of politics and the government. The news media is supposed to be the Fourth Estate – the fourth estate is a term that positions the press (newspapers, news media) as the fourth branch of government and one that is important to a functioning democracy. In my high school Civics class, I learned that the First Amendment to the Constitution “frees” the press but also carries with it the responsibility to be the people’s watchdog.
In his fight against McCarthy, Murrow first defends Milo Radulovich, an American citizen (born in Detroit) of Serbian ethnicity and former reserve Air Force lieutenant who was accused of being a security risk for maintaining a “close and continuing relationship” with his father and sister, in violation of Air Force regulation 35-62 (a regulation which states that ‘A man may be regarded as a security risk if he has close and continuing associations with communists or people believed to have communist sympathies.’)
Radulovich’s case was publicized nationally by Edward Murrow on October 20, 1953, on Murrow’s program, See It Now: Murrow makes a show on McCarthy attacking him. A very public feud develops when McCarthy responds by accusing Murrow of being a communist. Murrow is accused of having been a member of the leftist union Industrial Workers of the World, which Murrow claimed was false. (Wikipedia)
George Clooney (Director), a journalism student in college, held this project close to his heart. In September 2005, Clooney explained his interest in the story to an audience at the New York Film Festival: “I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate.”
Clooney and producer Grant Heslov decided to use only archival footage of Joseph McCarthy in his depiction, demonstrating the furor with which McCarthy pressed his communist accusations.
The film was critically acclaimed upon release. It was named “Best Reviewed Film of 2005 in Limited Release” by Rotten Tomatoes, where it achieved a 93% positive review rating. The movie received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Clooney), and Actor (Strathairn).
The late Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, contends that “the movie is not really about the abuses of McCarthy, but about the process by which Murrow and his team eventually brought about his downfall (some would say his self-destruction). It is like a morality play, from which we learn how journalists should behave. It shows Murrow as fearless, but not flawless.”
So, the next time you’re watching the news on tv or reading your favorite print medium, ask yourself, is corporate media looking out for the people or profits for themselves.