I only recently got around to watching the movie about Edward R. Murrow titled, “Good Night and Good Luck.” All of the derision coming my way for waiting so long is completely justified. But to be honest, I’m glad to have been late to this party, because the story is much more relevant today than it was when the movie was released back in 2005.
In particular there was one scene that stood out to me. It took place as Murrow (played by David Strathaim) and his producer Fred Friendly (played by George Clooney) were trying to convince CBS News Director Sig Mickelson (played by Jeff Daniels) to air a segment about Milo Radulovich, who had been discharged from the Air Force because his father and sister were accused of being communist sympathizers.
Mickelson suggests that Murrow is about to “forgo the standards you’ve stuck to for 15 years: both sides, no commentary.” Eventually Murrow responds by saying, “I’ve searched my conscience, and I can’t for the life of me find any justification for this. And I simply cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument.”
Even though that particular dialogue was dramatized for the film, it captures the story of how Murrow broke from the pack of journalism as it was practiced back in 1953 when he saw something happening in this country that was disturbing. There were no “both sides” to what Senator McCarthy was doing. It was simply wrong. Eventually the majority of the country came to agree with Murrow and this stand ensured his place among the finest journalists this country has known.
While the media’s addiction to “both sides” has been shaken by the presidency of Donald Trump, the remnants of balance over truth continues to this day. The most recent example that comes to mind is the fact that CNN hired Sean Duffy as a Trump defender to balance out their commentary. When the president gets in trouble, Duffy proceeds to smear a witness based on deplorable lies. We’ve come to accept that kind of garbage from right wing media. But it finds its way into mainstream media because of their obsession with balance and the need to represent both sides.
A lot of people are calling on congressional Republicans to contemplate their legacy as they continue to defend Trump. Perhaps we should ask mainstream news outlets to do the same. Edward R. Murrow is revered today because he searched his conscience and made the decision to forgo balance in the name of truth. We are once again facing a moment when it is obvious that there are not two equal and logical sides to the argument.
Every day newsrooms are making decisions that will impact their legacy and how future historians evaluate their efforts. Murrow was the guy who stood up to McCarthy. Woodward and Bernstein were the guys who wouldn’t let the Watergate break-in slide into insignificance. Will there be journalists who define the Trump era? If so, they won’t be found among those who cling to a balanced approach.