Is the name of a film staring George Clooney that alobear and I watched last Saturday night. It’s the story of Edward R. Murrow who was the first American journalist to stand up to Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film is excellent and it’s no co-incidence that it has a significant number of parallels with what is happening currently in the USA.
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.
The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.
We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion—a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the market place while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply.
This reporter’s beliefs are in a state of flux. It would be easier to enumerate the items I do not believe in, than the other way around. And yet in talking to people, in listening to them, I have come to realize that I don’t have a monopoly on the world’s problems. Others have their share, often far bigger than mine. This has helped me to see my own in truer perspective: and in learning how others have faced their problems— this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.
No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.
During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, PAY LATER. For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally.
One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the coporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this.
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, “When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.” The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.