Ever heard of Edward R. Murrow? He’s a legend in journalism who gained notoriety reporting out of London during the German Blitz in World War II. He had a habit of taking radio microphones to the tops of buildings to record the sounds of bombs dropping. As the war ended, Murrow was also one of the first to cover the liberation of German concentration camps. When he got back to the states, Murrow was an avid proponent of television as a tool with great potential for education, and was a strong proponent for non-profit news programs. Today, he’s largely remembered for his direct opposition of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.
For those who don’t know, the Red Scare was nation-wide paranoia of alleged Communist infiltration and subversion by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Americans were told Soviet agents could be lurking everywhere, undercover as your neighbors, co workers, government employees, and even family members. Everyone was a threat, and it was your responsibility as a citizen to report any and all “suspicious activity” because the fate of the free world depended on it.
Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy was the face of this paranoia and it bolstered his career by making wild, largely unsupported accusations of communists within the government and the entertainment industry. Those who opposed his aggressive methods were usually labelled as communists themselves, largely silencing opposition and often ruining lives in the process.
Murrow saw it as his duty as a journalist to counter the senator’s campaign of fear. Along with his team of reporters, Murrow assembled a series of broadcasts to expose the belligerent, hypocritical nature of McCarthy’s witch hunts.
I find those old reels as relevant now as they ever were. The current political climate is the most sinister, brutal, and ugly I have ever known. Truth and integrity don’t seem to apply anymore in an age of “alternative” facts.
I feel that, right now, we need Murrow more than ever. But we don’t have Murrow. He passed away decades before I was even born. He never got to see a world where barriers to publishing are almost non-existent and content can be instantly delivered to devices the public can carry in their pockets. We can never know how he would have reacted in the face of the Far-Right wave that has swept into Washington. We cannot say how he would have reacted to the ever-increasing commodification of news. We will never know how he would have challenged a political regime to which objective facts are completely meaningless, and complete fabrication is a daily occurrence.
All any of us can do is try to learn from Murrow’s legacy. He taught us that knowledge and friendship cannot be restricted by border walls. He charged that it is one’s duty as a citizen to be informed. Murrow taught us that hyperbole is a tool of fear-mongering and holds no place in reporting, and every legitimate reporter must use the power of journalism in the defense of truth and liberty.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the days to come. For all of my life, I had liked to imagine I would be able to stand in defiance of oppression. It was an easy fantasy to maintain, for I quietly believed previous generations had left no dragons to slay. I suspect it’s that complacency that has allowed those beasts to return—not at our gates, but in our walls. All I can do, all any of us can do, is use what tools we have to fight for what we know is right.
What comes now will not be easy or glamorous, but it will be necessary. We are going to have to stay vigilant on the local stages of government as well as the national, calling out misuse of power and standing against it. That means seeking out news beyond one’s social media feed, corroborating information, being in touch with government, protesting, and above all, voting.
We can take some comfort knowing history favors progress and those who abuse power may have that power stripped from them. We all have a long fight ahead of us, but it is one I believe we can win.