Murrow, Edward Roscoe

views updated May 14 2018

MURROW, Edward Roscoe

(b. 25 April 1908 near Greensboro, North Carolina; d. 27 April 1965 in New York City), government official, author, newscaster, and television and radio host who lent integrity and intelligence to broadcast journalism in the 1950s and 1960s.

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was one of three sons born to Roscoe Murrow, a North Carolina farmer, and Ethel Lamb, a homemaker and former schoolteacher. Murrow spent his early years in a log cabin in Polecat Creek, North Carolina, on a 120-acre farm in an area that had not changed in more than a hundred years. His parents were both storytellers, and he and his brothers, Dewey and Lacey, were also blessed with that talent.

In 1912 the Murrows moved to the state of Washington to make a better life for themselves. His father worked at whatever jobs were available, from farmhand to lumberjack. Murrow's brother Dewey described the intense religious and moral tutelage of their mother and father. The guidelines of his upbringing were an integral part of what made Edward R. Murrow so true to the broadcasting industry's highest standards of public service.

Murrow's formal education began in the Blanchard grammar school, near his home in Washington state, a two-room shack in the countryside near Edison, Washington. He started working at the age of twelve as a field hand. He attended Edison High School, and in his senior year he was elected senior class president, president of the student body, and most popular student athlete. During his high school and college years, Murrow spent his summers working in lumber camps in Washington, where he developed both his ability to get along easily with other people and his love of cigarettes. He changed his name to Ed because, he said, "it was safer" and protected him from being teased by his coworkers.

Murrow graduated from Washington State College in Pullman in 1930. He was president of the National Student Federation of America during his senior year at Washington State (1929) and held the position until 1932.

In 1932 he became the assistant director of the Institute of International Education, at that time located in New York City, in charge of the foreign office. He married Janet Huntington Brewster on 28 October 1934, and they had one son.

In September of 1935 Murrow left the institute to become the director of talks and education for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), a job he held until 1961. As director of the CBS European Bureau in London during World War II, he hired and trained some of the most notable war correspondents. A distinguished correspondent in his own right, he became "the voice of London," a symbol of the fight to overcome the Axis powers.

Murrow returned to the United States in 1946 as a CBS vice president and director of public offices. In 1947 he resigned to return to radio broadcasting. In 1951 he started his television career with the show See It Now, an offshoot of his radio program, Hear It Now. Often controversial, a daring 1954 edition of the program scrutinized Senator Joseph McCarthy and criticized his devastating effect on free speech and freedom of the press. Murrow's other television programs included Person to Person (1953–1959), Small World (1958–1960), and CBS Reports, an acclaimed, sixty-minute series dealing with contemporary issues. One of Murrow's most notable documentaries for CBS Reports was "Harvest of Shame," which vividly portrayed the exploitation of migrant workers in America.

By 1960 Murrow's career in broadcasting exemplified the struggle between the era of autonomous news broadcast personalities and corporate news-gathering and reporting departments.

Murrow used his radio and television broadcasts to revive and popularize many democratic ideas, including free speech, citizen participation, the pursuit of truth, and the sanctification of individual liberties and rights. Recognizing these attributes as well as his popularity, visibility, and abilities, President John F. Kennedy appointed Murrow to head up the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in 1961. Murrow took the job as an acceptable way out of his difficulties with CBS. (In a time when the networks were determined not to be confrontational, Murrow's hard-hitting journalistic style made executives try to reduce his profile.)

Thomas Sorensen, USIA adviser, listed the qualifications for the director of the agency: "Experience in world affairs and knowledge of foreign peoples … should comprehend the 'revolution of rising expectations' throughout the world, and its impact on U.S. foreign policy.…" Fur thermore, the USIA director should be "pragmatic, open-minded, and sensitive to international political currents, without being naïve. Understand the potentialities of propaganda while being aware of its limitations." This is an excellent description of Murrow.

Murrow's appointment to the USIA was controversial. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), did not like or trust Murrow. The FBI finally turned over the summarized reports they had accumulated on the journalist and let President Kennedy decide whether or not to finalize Murrow's appointment. The political focus of the USIA under the Kennedy administration was directed to so-called country teams and objectives that included regularly drafted country plans and a direct and immediate connection of agency products to radio, television, film, and publications. From the beginning, Murrow had no problem adopting an activist role. He shared Kennedy's view of the world and spent much of his time recommending to the president that the Foreign Service Institute be revamped and expanded. The Institute is the federal government's primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs and interests both overseas and in Washington, D.C. In Murrow's time the USIA provided the materials and conducted some of the training. Murrow helped reshape the institute into the organization it is today. Even though he was unsympathetic to the "Ban the Bomb" movement, Murrow, along with his policy people, spearheaded the USIA drive to link nuclear testing with disarmament and to halt the development and spread of nuclear weapons. The project occupied much of his time during his last two years as director.

Murrow, though not excluding the happy possibility of dialogue, accepted the administration's view of the agency job as that of psychological warfare with the Soviets and other hostile forces—of political, not military battles, and words instead of weapons. This stance puzzled many who knew him as a newsman. But having taken on the job, he pursued it vigorously, with what Joseph E. Persico called "puritanical consistency." Therefore, he could easily testify against legislation threatening a cutoff of mail service between the United States and Eastern Europe on the grounds that the flow of information went both ways, or he could urge that "Red China" not be barred from access to American-developed communications satellites.

Murrow's parting words as USIA director were especially meaningful to those who remained in the agency under President Lyndon B. Johnson: "Communications systems are neutral. They have neither conscience nor morality, only a history. They will broadcast truth or falsehood with equal facility." His influence continued long after he left his leadership position with the USIA. McGeorge Bundy believed that Murrow left "a lot of your friends wiser than you found them," and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., once wrote that Murrow was "always the Voice of America."

By the fall of 1963 Murrow had developed lung cancer but had not reduced his activities, although it became obvious he would soon have to stop working. His friend Pat Smithers described Murrow's appearance at a meeting: "There was something a bit shadowy about what had been substance. Physically, not intellectually or mentally." Soon after that, his poor health, as well as the desire to express his own ideas and concerns, persuaded him that he was ready to move back to radio or television. He arranged a meeting with Elmer Lower, the newly appointed president of American Broadcasting Company (ABC) News, but went into the hospital instead. Following his death his body was cremated, and the ashes were scattered in a glen at Glen Arden Farm in Pawling, Dutchess County, New York.

Murrow died almost twenty years to the day of the euphoric gathering in the Scribe bar in a liberated Paris, where he commented to his colleagues "We've shown what radio can do in war. Now let's go home and show what we can do in peace!" During his life he earned nine Emmy Awards and received the Freedom House Award in 1954; was trustee at the Institute of International Education and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and belonged to the Association of American Correspondents, London, Phi Beta Kappa, and Kappa Sigma. He received numerous honorary degrees from Oberlin College, Hamilton College, Rollins College, and Temple University.

"Broadcasting gave fame and fortune to Mr. Murrow, but it remains in debt to the man," according to Jack Gould. Many of Murrow's biographers initially believed in his persona of perfection, but after their research they discovered his public and private lives to be distinct from one another, and his inner self a mystery. Murrow exemplified what is best in journalism: curiosity, independence, and principles. He remains an inspiration to his fellow craftsmen.

The Murrow Papers are at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. For biographical information, see Alexander Kendrick, Prime-Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow (1969); Robert Lichello, Edward R. Murrow, Broadcaster of Courage (1971); Robert Smith, Edward R. Murrow: The War Years (1978); David Halberstam, The Powers that Be (1979); A. M. Sperber, Murrow, His Life and Times (1986); and Joseph E. Persico, Edward R. Murrow: An American Original (1988). Murrow was the author of many works, including This Is London (1941); In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938–1961 (1967); and "Call in Courage: Act on your Knowledge," a speech published in Vital Speeches (1993). An obituary is in the New York Times (28 Apr. 1965).

Joan T. Goodbody

Edward Roscoe Murrow

views updated Jun 27 2018

Edward Roscoe Murrow

Edward Roscoe Murrow (1908-1965), American radio and television news broadcaster, pioneered in developing journalism and political and social commentary for the mass media.

Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert R. Murrow on Polecat Creek near Greensboro, N.C., on April 25, 1908. The family moved in 1913, and Murrow grew up in Washington state. He worked in logging camps during vacations from Washington State College, changing his first name in the process.

Murrow began his career in international student exchange, but after his marriage to Janet Huntington Brewster he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1935 as director of talks. In 1937 he went to London to arrange speeches and concerts for the American radio network. However, in 1938, he was plunged into news broadcasting when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to Germany, and he continued to broadcast throughout World War II. The German "blitz" against London in 1940 made Murrow's the best-known American radio voice from overseas, identified by his incisive personal reporting from rooftops and airfields and his social and political probing behind the wartime headlines. After America entered the war, Murrow won renown for his broadcasts describing a bombing raid against Berlin, the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and the American capture of Leipzig.

Returning to the United States after the war, Murrow inaugurated television journalism-in-depth in 1951 with the weekly program "See It Now." It examined political and social issues and in 1954 challenged the nation's most feared demagogue at that time, Senator Joseph McCarthy. "See It Now" stirred controversy as it explored various national concerns, and Murrow ranged the world to film news and interview political figures. With his good looks and forceful personality, he became a well-known public figure in his own right, especially after starting another television program, "Person to Person," which brought him electronically into the homes of celebrities.

But the widening mass nature of television with its increasing commercialism and costs put the emphasis on entertainment programs that won audience ratings. Murrow's brand of purposeful news broadcasting found less and less time on the air. A notable speech to the broadcasting industry in 1958 appealling for better programs found little response. Murrow left broadcasting in 1961 to become director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). He restored the USIA's morale and effectiveness, damaged in the McCarthy years, but found conflict between his role as government propagandist and his independent journalistic past. Ill health compelled his resignation, and he died on April 27, 1965.

Further Reading

A collection of Murrow's wartime broadcasts is his This Is London (1941). A much wider range of his radio and television broadcasts is provided by Edward Bliss, Jr., ed., In Search of Light (1967). Murrow's associate Fred W. Friendly wrote about him in Due to Circumstances beyond Our Control (1967). Alexander Kendrick, Prime Time (1969), is a full biography. □

Murrow, Ed

views updated May 23 2018

Murrow, Ed ( Edward Roscoe) (1908–65) US journalist. He joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1935 and during World War II gained fame for his vivid descriptions of the Battle of Britain. After the war he became a CBS vice-president and then a news analyst. Murrow also produced many programmes for television, including the popular See It Now and Person to Person. He was director of the US Information Agency (1961–64).

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