Edward R. Murrow

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

Journalist’s Name: Edward R. Murrow
Years of birth/death: 1908 to 1965
Nationality: U.S.
Places where the journalist lived: London and New York

Edward R. Murrow. Photo courtesy of RR Auction

Edward R. Murrow. Photo courtesy of RR Auction.

Short description of journalism work:

Edward R. Murrow is credited with founding modern radio journalism as CBS’s first European news director, beginning in 1937. At a time when his job duties were circumscribed to recording cultural events such as Vatican choir performances for live radio broadcast, Murrow broke with the network’s expectations and began reporting live from the field, eventually becoming a widely lauded eyewitness to history. After World War II he became vice president of news operations at CBS, and soon began a new series of television documentaries between 1951-58. One 1954 report flambéed Senator Joseph McCarthy for his persecution of alleged communists, leading to the senator’s downfall. In 1961 Murrow became director of the US Information Agency, overseeing Voice of America under President Kennedy.

Description of involvement in reporting or depicting the Holocaust:

Murrow is best known for reporting that was packed with vivid, visual details and delivered in a calm, authoritative tone.

He flew with British bombers, stood on his London rooftop during air raids [listen here], and entered Buchenwald as the first Allied journalist [listen here], where he described the bodies “stacked up like cordwood” and the rations of “one piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum.”

Murrow was also responsible for building a network of correspondents, including William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood and Fred Friendly, among others.

Ethical questions raised by his work:

Murrow is the archetypical broadcast journalist, and is often heralded for his courage and integrity. He said, “to be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.” At one time Murrow’s image loomed so large at CBS that some New York staff created a “Murrow-is-not-God-club.”

Murrow struggled with the commercialization of broadcasting and had to literally break his contract to begin covering news instead of just delivering cultural programming. In one WWII speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs he lamented “the failure of broadcasting to accept its responsibilities, to seek for truth wherever it might be found and to disseminate that truth as widely as possible.”

Also, he struggled with conveying the true scale of atrocities he witnessed at Buchenwald. “I regarded that broadcast as a failure,” he said. “I could have described three pairs of those shoes–but hundreds of them! I couldn’t. The tragedy of it simply overwhelmed me.”

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