Edward R. Murrow was an American broadcast journalist. His voice was recognized around the world, and he pioneered television documentaries that have more than once been credited with changing history. To this day, his name is synonymous with courage and perseverance in the search for truth.
Egbert Roscoe Murrow was born on April 25, 1908, near Polecat Creek, not far from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was the youngest son of Quakers who lived on a farm without electricity or plumbing. The family brought in only a few hundred dollars a year from farming corn and hay. When he was five, the family moved to Washington State and homesteaded just 30 miles from the Canadian border in Blanchard, on Samish Bay. He attended high school in nearby Edison, excelled on the debate team, and was the student body president his senior year. He went by the nickname, “Ed.”
Ed enrolled in Washington State College - Pullman in 1926. He majored in speech and was active in college politics. While he was attending an annual convention of the National Student Federation of America in 1929, Ed gave a speech that urged college students to become more involved in national and world affairs. That speech led to his election as the federation's president.
Murrow moved to New York City, and from 1932 to 1935, he served as the assistant director of the Institute of International Education. In 1935, Murrow joined the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS) as director of talks. He would remain with the network for his entire broadcast-journalism career. At the time, CBS did not have a news staff. Murrow’s job was to line up newsmakers to appear on the network and talk about the issues. Bob Trout was the announcer. Murrow was intrigued by the way Trout delived his messages. The veteran gave Murrow tips on how to commuicate effectively over the airwaves.
Murrow married Janet Huntington Brewster on March 12, 1935. The couple would have one son, Charles Casey.
Assigned to London
CBS sent Murrow to London in 1937, as director of CBS's European operation. His job was to persuade European figures to broadcast over the CBS network. He assembled a group of young reporters who would become household names during World War II. Among them were William Shirer, Charles Collingwood, Bill Shael, and Howard K. Smith. The group became known as “Murrow’s Boys.”
Murrow gained his first taste of fame during the 1938 Anschluss, in which Adolf Hitler’s Germany annexed Austria. Murrow was in Poland arranging a broadcast of a children’s chorus when he got word from William Shirer of the annexation, and also learned that Shirer was unable to get the story out from Austrian state radio facilities. Ed sent Shirer to London, where he was able to deliver an uncensored account of Anschluss. Murrow then chartered a plane to fly from Poland to Vienna, Austria, to cover for his friend.
CBS requested that Murrow and Shirer put together a European News Roundup to broadcast the reaction to the Anschluss. That brought together correspondents from various European cities for a simultanious broadcast. The "special" came off without a hitch, years before modern technology made it routine. The broadcast was considered to be revolutionary at the time, and was the basis for the World News Roundup, which still runs every weekday morning and evening on the CBS Radio Network.
Covering World War II
Murrow was based in London before World War II. When war broke out, he remained in London to report on it. He even flew with Allied forces during air raids. While he reported, he became known for two catch phrases: the first was “This... is London,” which is how he began all of his reports; and in 1940, he ended on with "Good night, and good luck", which became his standard sign-off.
On April 15, 1945, Murrow reported on the liberation of the Buchenwald extermination camp in Germany. The broadcast was an example of his uncompromising journalistic style, which caused a great deal of controversy and won him a number of critics and enemies. Murrow's report described the emaciated physical state of the concentration camp prisoners who had survived. He also described "rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood" and refused to apologize for his words' harsh tone:
“I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words. If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry.”
At the top of his form
At the conclusion of the war in 1945, Murrow returned to the United States. He was promoted to Vice President of News, Education and Discussion Programs, but resigned the position in 1947. He resumed his broadcasting career the same year, and in 1949, he was elected as Director of CBS. In 1950, Murrow presented weekly shows titled Hear It Now. The success of that program led to television for Murrow. Initially, he distrusted the new medium, averring that the news was best broadcast by voice only.
November 1951 marked the beginning of See It Now, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The program focused on a number of controversial issues in the 1950s. It is best remembered for contributing to the political downfall of communist-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. That coverage earned Murrow a Peabody Award.
See It Now was selected as "Program of the Year" in 1952 by the National Association for Better Radio and Television, and won an Emmy Award, a Look-TV Award, a Sylvania Television Award, and a Variety Showmanship Award.
The final broadcast of See It Now was on July 7, 1958. Murrow's success in broadcasting had made him a household name. He retired from CBS in 1961, and took the controls of the U.S. Information Agency. He retired from that position in 1964, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Murrow had been a heavy smoker most of his life, and was never seen on television without a lighted cigarette.
Death of a giant
Edward R. Murrow died on April 27, 1965, at the age of 57, on his farm in Pawling, New York. Following his cremation, Murrow's ashes were scattered on the site of his upstate home, Glen Arden Farm.
Murrow was awarded honorary degrees by five colleges, including an honorary law degree from the University of North Carolina; and in 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Though regarded as a controversial figure by many, Murrow left a legacy that stands as one of the cornerstones of broadcast journalism. Murrow's status as one of broadcasting's greatest journalists has not waned in the decades since his death.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Edward R. Murrow.
If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the ... confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought.
Ford 50th Anniversary Show, 1953
Regarding Winston Churchill
He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.
CBS Broadcast, 1954
Regarding Lincoln-Douglas Debates
After last night’s debate, the reputation of Messieurs Lincoln and Douglas is secure.
Commenting on the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960
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Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson.
Citizens of London is the story of the American firebrands who broke rank with popular opinion and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with England during the ...