60 years ago edward r murrow too down joseph mccarthy

Sixty years ago, Edward R. Murrow did one of the most well-known things in the history of American television journalism.

On March 9, 1954, Murrow, who was one of the most respected journalists in the country at the time, devoted an entire episode of his CBS show “See It Now” to the words and actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy. He had already done a lot to earn his bad reputation. Using McCarthy’s own words, Murrow painted a picture of a man whose carelessness with the truth and ugly attacks on his critics had contributed to a climate of deep fear and repression in American life.

At the end of the show, Murrow turned to the camera and gave a long speech that said, among other things,

This is not the time for men who disagree with Senator McCarthy’s methods or agree with them to stay quiet. We can deny our roots and history, but we can’t get out of being responsible for what happens. A person who lives in a republic can’t get out of his responsibilities. As a country, we have inherited all of our wealth at a young age. We say that we are the protectors of freedom, which is true, but we can’t protect freedom in other parts of the world if we don’t protect it at home.

Three weeks later, McCarthy answered Murrow on “See It Now.” His answer was not seen as very good.

It’s hard to figure out what Murrow’s role was in McCarthy’s downfall in the end. Some people say that the senator’s popularity was already falling when Murrow went after him, or that other journalists made more damning cases against him, or that people like Joseph Welch, the lawyer who famously asked McCarthy if he had “no sense of decency” during a televised hearing, were more important than Murrow in breaking McCarthy’s power.

But it’s undeniable that Murrow’s attack on McCarthy has become legendary. It’s a classic example of journalistic guts, and it’s so direct that it’s unlikely any of Murrow’s successors would be able to get away with it today. It’s also a sign of how TV can change the way we remember history. No matter what effect “See It Now” had on people, the words and video of Murrow’s fight against McCarthy have made him a legend.

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