The Life and Work of Edward R. Murrow an archives exhibit

Murrow at CBS, USA, 1946-1961

Murrow at CBS USA, 1946-1961

With the war finally over, Edward R. Murrow considered various job offers among them the presidency of Washington State College, Assistant Secretary of State, administrating philanthropies at Carnegie Foundation, or working as news correspondent for a radio contract paid for by Campbell's Soup Company and organized by the Stix & Gude agency which had represented Murrow and other radio news personalities during World War II. Eventually though, Murrow decided to stay with CBS, whose president, William S. Paley, had tempted him with an offer to take over management of news broadcasting worldwide. When Murrow returned to the U.S. in March 1946, it was as Vice President of CBS, Director for News and Public Affairs. He soon found out, however, that he was neither satisfied nor perhaps ideally suited to work solely as administrator. Barely a year later, in the summer of 1947, Murrow resigned as vice president and returned to doing broadcasts and news analysis for CBS until 1961. From 1947 through 1956, Murrow was also a member of the CBS Board of Directors.

During the next 14 years Murrow gained national prominence with a number of programs and in his various guises as host, moderator, analyst, and producer. Among these were:

  • Edward R. Murrow with the News (radio)
  • Hear it Now (radio)
  • CBS Views the Press (radio)
  • CBS Evening News (as news analyst)
  • See It Now
  • Person to Person
  • This I Believe (radio/newspaper; arranged and edited by Ed Morgan and later by Raymond Swing)
  • CBS ReportsYears of CrisisSmall WorldBackground (radio)

Murrow's broadcasts including those from World War II, won him and his colleagues every possible award in the field of broadcasting, numerous other prizes, honors, and honorary degrees. His broadcasts also earned him a salary higher than that of the president of CBS himself. Interestingly enough, the largest portion of his income accrued from his radio programs and sponsorship contracts.

The 1950s were characterized by a growing alienation between Murrow, CBS administrators, and sponsors, who both had come to dislike his independence, his critical broadcasts, and his critical analysis of the broadcasting industry. Entertainment and finance increasingly ruled priorities and decisions in the media industry, at CBS, and in its news division. In addition, personality conflicts between Murrow and administrators, in particular with Frank Stanton, grew worse over time. In 1959, when CBS was critiqued over its television quiz-show scandal, Stanton attempted to deflect attention away from CBS's collusion: he unfairly and incorrectly compared any rigging of its quiz shows to the preparation necessary to shoot Murrow's show Person to Person on site. He thus implied that Murrow and his team were using presumably duplicitous methods. Murrow protested publicly. By the late 1950s, most of Murrow's programs had been cut, negotiations for his new contract had stalled, and he was only occasionally doing CBS Reports. At the same time as CBS chose to underutilize its most renowned radio and television anchor, its news ratings slumped in comparison to NBC. Murrow, of course, began to look for other employment possibilities befitting his background and age. One such offer came from the BBC which asked Murrow to produce a television series about contemporary England. Ultimately though, Murrow accepted John F. Kennedy's appointment to become Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA). He resigned from CBS in January 1961.

Teamwork at CBS

Murrow's workload at CBS was tremendous. It left him little time for coming up with his insights and analysis and led every so often to breakdowns in his health. Juggling his many programs meant that much of the background work and even writing had to be done by staff members. In fact, over time, the staff learnt how to write in order to sound like Murrow.

Take the radio program Edward R. Murrow with the News. When Murrow returned to broadcasting in 1947 he took over Robert Trout's show, The News Till Now, which was renamed accordingly. Murrow kept on Jesse Zousmer and John Aarons, who previously had worked for Robert Trout. Together Zousmer and Aarons proposed, researched, and wrote the news portion as well as Murrow's word-for-the-day; much later Edward Bliss Jr. took over those tasks. Murrow wrote the tailpiece analysis for each radio broadcast. With more and more radio and television programs to organize and present e.g. See it Now,Person to Person, and This I Believe, Murrow was reluctantly compelled to hire a ghostwriter for most of his radio news commentaries. But, in hiring the veteran Raymond Gram Swing to write news for him and to arrange and edit the remaining This I Believe broadcasts, Murrow was one of the few in the industry who did not cave in to its blacklisting. Swing had been listed in the anti-communist Counterattack two years earlier, had resigned from the Voice of America after being besmirched by McCarthy, and had thereafter become unhireable.1

Program Focus and Program Ideas

Murrow's political views were not radical or progressive; he was more closely alligned with the Democratic Party and had even considered running for political office several times. Given his family background, though, he never overlooked the poor, the so-called forgotten, the African Americans, or the 'everyday person' and included them and their points of view in innumerous broadcasts. His broadcasts were more interesting and lively for it. This focus was also rooted in his conviction that everyone deserved attention and equal chances, and that a democracy that foregoes the lives and fates of those people does so at its own peril. And so Murrow produced or presented memorable broadcasts on poverty; on the school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court in 1954; on the link between lung cancer and smoking;the See It Now special Harvest of Shametracking the lives of migrant agricultural workers (produced and filmed by David Lowe and Marty Barnett); the documentary The Lost Class of '59 for which he and Fred Friendly won a Peabody Special Public Service Award; or the Christmas in Korea special in 1952, among many others.

Many of Murrow's program suggestions did not come to fruition such as As Others See Us, Who Made This Country, and A Thirty Day Diary, all ideas which Murrow mentioned to William S. Paley, then Chair of CBS Board and former owner of the network, in 1956.

Edward R. Murrow's program proposals

A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy

The 2005 movie, Good Night and Good Luck, tells the story of the See it Now special for which Edward R. Murrow is perhaps best known. It is the broadcast on the Junior Senator of Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, from March 9, 1954. On the air and in print, numerous reporters and journalists had long attacked the senator for his undemocratic persecution of alleged Communists. In fact, Eric Sevareid, one of the Murrow Boys, and others had criticized Murrow over the years for not using his prominence to report on Senator McCarthy.

One exception to Murrow's silence on the topic was his 1951 Thanksgiving evening radio broadcast in which he stated: 'This is a day when it is customary to list reasons for thankfulness. ... We should, I think, be grateful to Senator Joe McCarthy. He has become a symbol of accusation without proof. We shall have to decide - we are in the process of deciding, - whether as a people, we are prepared to proceed upon that premise.' Murrow, in fact, had lost a personal friend to an early campaign of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948. HUAC and one of its more famous members, Richard Nixon, turned the accidental death of Laurence Duggan, director of International Institute of Education, into an admission of guilt in 1948. Laurence, Stephen Duggan's son and a friend of Murrow's from the 1930s, had been interviewed in connection with the Hiss investigation a few days of his accident. Upon Laurence's death, rumors about his ties to the Soviet Union were spread by HUAC without providing any evidence for those claims.2 In response, Murrow did a scathing radio broadcast about the accident and HUAC's allegations.

Against a backdrop of rising opposition to McCarthy in 1953, Edward R. Murrow and his See it Now producer Fred Friendly finally found an interesting angle to address McCarthy's tactics. In October 1953, they aired a See it Nowprogram regarding the case of Milo Radulovich (1926-2007). Radulovich, a second-generation U.S. citizen, was discharged as reserve Air Force lieutenant due to his family's alleged Communist contacts. After Murrow's program and the ensuing publicity, Radulovic received a hearing and was reinstated in the Air Force.

Murrow and Friendly followed this up with their March 1954 See it Now Special on the Senator from Wisconsin himself, paying for the program's advertisement out of their own pockets. Consisting largely of excerpts from McCarthy's television appearances, this broadcast and McCarthy's televised response did much to reveal the senator's illogical, crude, and undemocratic crusade to a general public. Murrow's stature and analysis did the rest. Murrow's broadcast came right in the middle of the Army - McCarthy dispute over preferential treatment for a former McCarthy aide, Gerard David Shine. Starting in late April 1964, the 36 days of televised Army - McCarthy hearings were key to three developments: McCarthy's eventual censure by the Senate in December 1954, his loss of political power, and the public's disenchantment with the senator after his behavior was exposed on ABC over seven weeks.

Sponsors and Program Content

Murrow always appeared reluctant to have sponsors for his programs or, rather, to have sponsors involved in his programs. Of course: he made excellent money with his sponsoring contracts, the most famous of which was with ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America) during the 1950s. His first sponsorship, during the war, appears to have been with Silver Industries soon followed in 1943 by the American Oil Company (AMOCO) and the Campbell's Soup Company.

Murrow's first public comments regarding his sponsors in April 1943 are typical for his journalistic skills. He managed to allude to his reservations, praise his first sponsor International Silver for their non-intervention, and at the same time do some publicity work for International Silver in the contemporary context of war:

"It is customary, I believe, for broadcasters to say something about their sponsors when they begin a new series. I refrained from doing so when this series began a year ago tonight [Sunday Broadcast Series], for I didn't know how the thing would work out. But it seems to me fair now to say that at no time has International Silver told me what to say or what not to say; there nave never been any suggestions that these reports should be weighted or coloured in any way. As I understand it, International Silver is now engaged in war work exclusively. The craftsmen who once made fine silver are now making rifle parts, incendiary bombs, surgical instruments, cartridge clips, bomber parts and all kinds of military equipment. I saw some of their products being used in North Africa, with the realisation that men whose work gave pleasure in peacetime are now producing the weapons necessary for survival. It is no mean achievement."

– Murrow broadcast from London about the campaign in North Africa, April 25, 1943

Murrow was critical of the potential editorial role of sponsors, the role sponsors played in making or unmaking radio or television programs, and he was opposed to their advertisements infringing on or interrupting his reports and analyses. When he began Edward R. Murrow with the News, for instance, he successfully insisted that Campbell's Soup Company was not allowed to break into the middle of his program with a commercial. At the height of his fame and stature, Murrow was long cushioned from usual commercial pressures on program content. However, with radio news and, later on, television maturing, corporate sponsors gained in power over the U.S. media industry. At the same time, the media industry itself was turning increasingly corporate and was thus ever more sensitive to corporate pressures. Over time, the broadcasting industry increasingly passed over news and education broadcasts in favor of more lucrative entertainment programs. This further weakened Murrow's position.

As long as ALCOA produced aluminum goods for industry, it stood behind Murrow's programs - and as long as it needed to reinvent its corporate image, which had been partially tarnished by a 1937 antitrust lawsuit. In sponsoring See it Now in the early 1950s, which usually cost ALCOA about $50,000 per week, ALCOA relished the positive image that Murrow's programs gave to its company. Given little notice and no indication of what was about to be aired, ALCOA also sponsored Murrow's McCarthy special. It stood by Murrow after the show had aired and refused to pay the production cost of McCarthy's filmed reply, as the senator had demanded. Instead, CBS picked up the bill. However, the more the company moved into producing household goods, such as aluminum foil, the less enchanted it became with Murrow's provocative broadcasts. The final straw was a See It Now program called The Power of the Press regarding a land grant scandal involving Texan state officials and veterans in May 1955. ALCOA was trying to expand its production in Texas at the time and in response to the show it canceled its sponsorship with the end of the season. This killed the weekly See It Now program.

While the See it Now series had never been a big crowd pleaser, it had brought CBS numerous awards, industry leadership in the making of news documentaries, and public acclaim. During the Harris Congressional subcommittee hearings over the quiz scandal in 1959, Frank Stanton opportunistically pointed to CBS's continuing, albeit lukewarm support for See it Now Specials to escape more trenchant criticism and action given the network's rigging of quiz shows.

Some of the hundreds of Murrow's awards and certificates are on display in the Edward R. Murrow Room at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, Medford. All others are part of the Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985 at the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University.


1) Counterattack was a weekly newsletter published by American Business Consultants, Inc. A number of former FBI agents founded ABC Inc. and began publishing Counterattack in May 1947. In 1950, they published 'Red Channels,' a book listing possible subversives in radio and television, all of whom were consequently blacklisted from any employment in the entertainment industry.

2) Only five decades later, records were made available that indicated that Laurence Duggan, indeed, had provided information to the Soviet Union; see here Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - the Stalin Era (Random House: New York 1999). For an edited version of Murrow's broadcast regarding Laurence Duggan's death on December 21, 1948, 7:45pm, see Laurence Duggan 1905-1948: In Memoriam (1949).


Credits

Text and Selection of Illustration

Susanne Belovari, PhD, M.S., M.A., Archivist for Reference and Collections, DCA

Digitization

Michelle Romero, M.A., Murrow Digitization Project Archivist

Images

All images: Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA, Tufts University, used with permission of copyright owner, and Joseph E. Persico Papers, DCA.


Partial Bibliography

For a full bibliography please see the exhibit bibliography section.

Books consulted include Sperber (1986); also Persico (1988) and Kendrick (1969).

The Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA

Laurence Duggan 1905-1948: In Memoriam (The Overbrook Press: Stamford Conn. 1949).

Filardo, Meyer Peter. "The Counterattack research files on American Communism, Tamiment Institute Library, New York University - weekly anti-Communism newsletter published by American Business Consultants, Inc., 1947-1968," Labor History, May, 1998.

See it Now, edited by Murrow, Edward R. and Fred W. Friendly (Simon and Schuster: New York 1955).

Wersheba, Joseph. The Senator and the Broadcaster: An intimate history of the most famous program in television history: Edward R. Murrow's 'See it Now' documentary on Joe McCarthy, November 1953 - March 1954.