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Four Years at the Mount

Given all the hoopla over "Fake News," we asked our FYATM writers to watch Edward R. Murrow's famous speech - Good Night and Good Luck - and challenged them as future journalists to reflect on Murrow's predictions and the degradation we are witnessing in Murrow's belief that society needs honest, hard hitting news sources.

Fake News? Good Night and Good Luck

October 2017

Seeking truth and luck

Kaitlyn Marks
MSM Class of 2021

When I was a little girl, I loved to write. I still do, of course, but there was something magical to me within words, stories, books, movies and news. Everything about the journalism and writing fields appealed to me. The intensity of scouring the earth for truth, collaboration with the intellects of others, bringing together the perfect culmination of words and media in a way that makes people feel something, act or change all made my heart swell with a desire to be a part of something. However, I’ve simultaneously become someone who does not enjoy watching the news. With constant bombardments of two contrasting forms of media becoming the popular standard on television, I find myself appalled by not only the ‘fluff’ pieces that seek to gain views and chatter from the public, but also by the bias and opinionated reporting styles that have become the cornerstone of journalism. In the movie "Good Night and Good Luck", the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow takes on the battle of sourcing the truth within reporting and gives a speech on the dangers of the uses of technology, journalism and television as forms of entertainment rather than informational and educational.

Murrow foreshadowed a world where people were lazy. He imagined a country where no one cared about the problems facing anyone else; he described it as a "built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information", and I believe that he was right. When a story is reported today, especially with the new forms of ‘flash journalism’ that bring instant live coverage of incidents to the fingertips of the viewer, it is centralized around garnering views, providing the necessary information but not full details, and concealing anything that would make a central figure or group appear in a negative light. It is the responsibility of the journalists and the press to cover stories in their entirety. Their duty lies in uncovering facts and truth amidst a chaotic world. Words are more powerful than any weapon, any person and anything on this earth, especially when they are used to provoke a change. Any good writer or speaker can carefully place eloquently chosen pieces of language together in a way that brings people to tears, sparks anger, eradicates barriers between groups or nations, or teaches the reader or listener something they couldn’t have learned any other way.

I believe that Murrow was right about the dangers of news as an entertainment source rather than an educational source. If every piece of media that we view is targeted towards making us smile, laugh, or forget our worries, how can we learn and grow? How can we develop ourselves, realize how huge the world around us is, or gain the strength to be more philanthropic and active in bettering our communities? In his famous speech, Murrow’s summary point was to draw on the equality of power between the viewer and the press in shaping the style of journalism we use. He said, "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference". Every person who picks up a newspaper, turns on the television, reads a book or a magazine or listens to the radio or a podcast has the power to direct its content simply by listening, reading, or choosing.

Of course, I still believe in choice and free will in itself. My favorite pastimes include reading, watching television and movies, and scrolling through social media. I don’t deny these interests for the sake of sounding more intellectual; they are a natural part of the media industry today. Entertainment is still a valuable and core piece of journalism. The message of Murrow’s speech that is relevant to today, for me, is a forewarning about laziness and a call to action for a revitalization of the informational and educational aspects of the field. If people turn a blind eye to the powerful and sometimes unpleasant stories and facts, there will be no reason for anyone to report them or to create a program or story in which they are shared. There is a vicious cycle where the viewer controls the content, which in turn controls the viewer.

With the conflicts in the modern world and our very own political landscape, we should be doing everything in our power to weed out the negatives or the falsified, quick-view type of information and instead seek out the powerful and true facts. Terrorist attacks, incidents of violence and racial conflict, political upheavals, and strife in foreign relations all are dependent on the media to share them in an accurate way in order to make a change and improve the state of things. While it is difficult to embrace opposing viewpoints, to expose the truth and expand horizons, news and technology should be used to convey messages that defend ideals, people, morals and intellect. They should promote civil discussion of ideas and allow for a platform to exist for discourse to be worked through. Issues and turmoil, especially within the darker corners of society and the world, should be brought to light, exposed and given a chance to be made right.

As a culture, we should not be reliant on fast and easy reads or the quickest method of getting information. In the words of Murrow, news and technology become a "powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive…we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizen from anything that is unpleasant." In most dystopian literature, society has become ruined by the leaders’ desire to keep the citizens from knowing or experiencing anything that is unpleasant. Without being uncomfortable, our comfort zones can never grow. Without hearing, seeing and experiencing things that are harsh, difficult, dangerous or sad, we cannot empathize or care enough to make a difference. With that, I hope to conclude by acknowledging that media can be used in a positive way for entertainment, but as a society we must shift away from such a fast-paced world of instant gratification and more towards a media where facts, truth, and the unpleasant are embraced for the greater good of educating people everywhere.

Read other articles by Kaitlyn Marks

Signing off

Angela Tongohan
MSM Class of 2020

After watching "Good Night, and Good Luck," I could not help but feel in awe of the sheer brazenness of Murrow, Friendly, and their team. For those of you who have not yet watched the movie I highly recommend watching. "Good Night, and Good Luck" focuses on Edward R. Murrow, a celebrated news reporter for CBS who famously reported on the London Blitz and the rise and fall of McCarthy. Murrow and his team began their expose on the communist witch-hunt with a young man named Milo Radulovich, who was in the U.S. Air Force. During the Cold War the concept of communism was unclear and lead to a atmosphere within the country of paranoia and accusation it was because of this and the people prepared to exploit it that Radulovich was forcibly discharged without trial solely based on his father who was accused of subscribing to a communist newspaper. If he renounced his father and sister he would be welcomed back, he refused to do so and lost his military career based on nothing.

Murrow used this to begin his broadcast of Junior Senator Joseph McCarthy and exposed the unjust machinations of McCarthy. The the movie retells the struggle of Murrow and his team as they were forced to choose between ignoring the story or pushing through with it and risking their jobs and quite possibly their names as reliable reporters. The movie highlight McCarthy’s methods in disposing of those who went after him and his fear mongering; he accuses Murrow of being a Communist himself. Murrow, ever the leveled head journalist, easily disproved McCarthy’s claims on live television with grace and ease. In the end, United States had become disillusioned to McCarthy and had wised up to his ways.

Murrow faced an ethical dilemma; whether to broadcast what was happening or keep everything hushed because of the intimidating power that he was going against. He was willing to risk everything—his job, his show, even his own image—to show the world that Junior Senator Joseph McCarthy’s groundless accusations against certain Americans were unfair and reflected poorly on the American people and their values.

I absolutely loved this movie because it has helped me to realize I am growing up in an age in which television more often broadcasts entertainment than anything of real substance. I think this is what we are lacking in television today: the people who are not afraid to broadcast the truth. We are so focused on gaining viewers or votes or high ratings that we tend to forget about the harm we are doing by taking it upon ourselves to shield the public. There are so many issues in today’s world that go on unreported. They are deemed not interesting enough to be broadcasted on the news. New channels would rather report the latest viral cat video or the latest celebrity wedding over what may be happening over in Syria or Iraq. Prime time TV would rather cover the Kardashians or the gossip of housewives in Atlanta then famines or killings.

It seems we as people have become more concerned with temporary, meaningless information rather than knowledge that could help us to better ourselves. Unlike the reporters of today, Murrow challenged what was universally accepted. Many called McCarthy’s war on Communism a "witch-hunt", comparing it to the hysteria of the "witches" of Salem. However, their complaints did not do much to stop him from continuing his alarmism and accusations against anyone who opposed him. Murrow seized an opportunity to reveal the truth, and in doing so he prevented the unjust trials with due processes of the law which is the right of every American citizen.

In the news media today, we need to take more risks. We cannot be afraid of the bigger power when it comes to broadcasting controversial or not widely accepted ideas. We cannot constantly accept what is being told to us for the simple fact is that not everything we are told is true.

As viewers, we need to give less priority to empty television. My own peers, often called millennials, frequently fail in the fact that we are not as involved in politics and world issues as we could be. We have the technology to make a difference. We have the means to make our voice heard. We have a voice. But we don’t use it. We are not taking advantage of what we are given to change our world. Why do we focus so much on temporary news and 5-second video clips, when we have the power to establish our generation as an active and vital voice in the world?

In an era of scarcely less fear and disillusionment than our own, Murrow showed bravery. He was bold, audacious, and daring. He had so much to lose, but he continued to fight not for himself, but to show a generation that they could be better. He needed the truth, and he wanted the world to know it.

That is what journalism is about.

My friends don’t agree with me. They call me a hypocrite because I spend so much of my time focused on media that is meaningless and un-educational (like the ever-tempting Netflix). How can I ridicule television’s evolution into an entertainment box when I only use it for entertainment myself? I suppose I can’t. But I do not agree with television becoming solely for entertainment purposes. Television can be used for so much more. Why settle for only entertainment when we have the perfect device to communicate knowledge to people all over the world?

Perhaps entertainment television is not completely bad, but it should not be excuse enough to replace all broadcasting of substance. The change in television’s purpose would be a radical one, and doubtlessly one that would take a lot of time and face extensive opposition. However, if the attitudes of viewers and broadcasting companies alike align themselves more closely with those of Murrow, we will all become more intelligent, more informed, and more capable of making meaningful changes in the world around us.

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan

News Journalism: Entertainment in Disguise

Shea Rowell
Class of 2019

What would happen if people stopped caring about what is true, and instead focused all their attention on what is entertaining? What would it be like to live in a world in which facts are sacrificed to fantasy? Questions like this are posed in the film, "Good Night and Good Luck," based on the famous career of Edward Murrow, a reporter for CBS. In his famous "lights and wires in a box" speech, Murrow prophetically addresses the dangers of the use of television, radio, and newspaper for entertainment instead of for education. According to the film, he spent his career broadcasting informative and strongly opinionated pieces which addressed current events controversies in an environment in which many others were too afraid to speak out. He warned in his speech that the delegation of American television to the realm of entertainment would cause widespread ignorance and indifference to the conditions of the world.

In Murrow’s time, it is very likely that television either served its purpose in education or in entertainment. However, the lines have blurred dramatically since then, and now the danger is that viewers can no longer tell the difference between the two. It is clear when "channel surfing" on just about any television that most of the available channels are dedicated to entertainment. Children’s and adult’s cartoons, sit-coms, sports, and competitions appear without cease. There is always another sports season starting, always a new singing show to watch, always a new season of a favorite crime show to catch up on. However, some of the channels on everyone’s television are deceptively difficult to divide: are they entertainment or education?

This issue is particularly apparent in today’s news stations. Any given channel has a political bias; you’ll hear you neighbors and co-workers say, "I don’t watch News Channel A, it’s far too liberal for my taste!" or vice versa. There seems to be nowhere to get information that isn’t trying to push a specific agenda—this can be honest journalism if, like Ed Murrow’s show "Good Night and Good Luck," it is formatted as an editorial. However, if newscasters continue to broadcast "partial truths" or even falsehoods which support their own pre-conceived opinions instead of reporting all accessible factual information, they cease to report news, and their journalism and becomes propaganda.

As a result, these biased broadcasts disguise themselves as educational, while in reality they are a dangerous form of entertainment; they support the opinions and ideals of the viewer. They are like virtual "yes-men," never forcing the viewer to consider an alternative perspective to his own, and never making him feel threatened or challenged. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence; every form of media partakes in this in some way. For example, Internet searches, pop-up-ads, and social media posts are eavh geared toward the interests and tendencies of the viewer. Technology is so advanced that it tracks your search history, and determines what you are most likely to be interested in, giving you more of what you have already seen. Biased journalism does the same, providing the viewer with the means to conflate his or her own opinion; those who disagree are rarely watching. This is another way of going through life unaware of the views of those outside of one’s own ideological circle. Without actively seeking the opposition, a media viewer can feasibly go through life without encountering dissent.

In his speech, Murrow observes the pattern of the use of television as a mere distraction from the realities of the world; one which numbs the sense of concern for reality and advocates for the perpetual delegation of the important and challenging work of fixing the word to others. Murrow warns that the rising indifference to the state of the world as it truly is will lead us to reject all that is unpleasant, preferring to dwell on the comedic, the joyous, or even the fictitious. This avoidance of conflict and discomfort becomes problematic when it ceases to recognize the unpleasantness and guilt that resides within itself.

However, we live in a very different world than the one Murrow knew. The people of today’s world are not shielded from unpleasant information at all. In fact, we are flooded with it. Technological advancements have allowed our journalists to respond to world events with near immediacy. If there is a storm, a war, or a political election, it will not take long for the dialed-in American community to become aware of it. Our indifference is not based on ignorance, as Murrow presumably imagined it would be. The unpleasantness and discomfort of this information has not been entirely replaced by entertainment; it has become the entertainment itself. Each news story is sensational, attention-grabbing, and often disturbing to the viewer. The latest tragedy holds our attention just long enough for the next one to step in and distract us. The news of yesterday which drove us to rage or tears is forgotten as soon as it is replaced by the equally provocative news of today. We are emotionally invested in what we see, but not for very long. It is as if the news reports we watch do not strike us as reality; they are only empty flashes on a screen.

Who is accountable for this degradation? It is easy to point accusing fingers at the television networks, radio stations, and even newspaper reporters, for their delivery of a sensationalized and politicized version of the truth through the media platforms which claim to deliver facts. However, these organizations are businesses like any other, and they will supply whatever their customers demand. The viewing audience has received only what it has asked for. If, as the viewers of televised media, we desire an understanding of opposing worldviews, we must seek it outside of the sources which parrot our own biases back to us. If we desire deeper knowledge, we must extend our attention to sources of greater depth. And if we desire the truth, we must demand it and nothing less.

Read other articles by Shea Rowell

Looking for luck

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

About four years ago, I was a rising sophomore told that I had to watch the movie "Good Night and Good Luck", which chronicled the events surrounding famous journalist, Edward R. Murrow and his ‘Lights and Wires in a Box’ speech. Instead of watching the movie however, I settled for reading the transcript of the speech, believing that it would give me a better picture than a dramatization. However, in reading my old work—specifically that article—I realize that I have not done Murrow the justice he deserved. I realized that my article relied almost exclusively on block quotes and summarization. This time around I watched the movie after which I binged on clips of Murrow’s broadcasts. From his ‘This is London’ to his reports on the treatment of migrant workers to his historical battle with Junior Senator McCarthy (which is featured in the movie) I was in absolute awe at Murrow’s assessment and presentation of the news. Unfortunately, Murrow’s career ended shortly after his broadcasts on McCarthy. This was due to a variety of circumstances, but it is reported that he disagreed with his network’s (CBS, or Colombia Broadcasting System) increase of entertainment and advertisement segments. I shudder to think what he would think of the sheer number of ads and fluff pieces that run rampant through the public news networks.

After watching "Good Night and Good Luck", I believe that Murrow’s warning went unheeded and that the world today has become the rabbit hole of news. That is not to say that the news is not informative, but rather that it chooses to inform on events that are not entirely newsworthy. An argument can be made that with the growth of technology and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and thousands more suppling the news, the public is educated more on the issues facing our world. However, the information is in overwhelming quantities it is difficult to know where to look and to be sure that what you are looking at is true.

The news has become nation-oriented. This is not a huge problem; as an American living in America I like to know what is happening within the country, but the issues chosen are reported to ad nauseam. Not only that, but new outlets have become so biased and willing to force their beliefs that it is hard not to turn on any news station without feeling as though you’ve tuned into an especially long lecture.

Murrow was part of an age in which the news stood on it is own. Its purpose was to inform the public, not to coddle or entertain it; journalism, and journalists, had integrity and a sense of responsibility to their audience. I have talked at length of unbiased news, however this journalistic responsibility is meant for those moments when unethical practices threaten the public good. Murrow was famously non-partisan in his broadcasts, but the most documented instance in which he chose a side was when he went up against Junior Senator McCarthy during the Junior Senator’s communist witch-hunt in the 1950’s. Even though Murrow took on an extremely controversial subject he did so with a cool, matter-of-fact approach. Now this battle was one of ethics, it is not for the journalist to create some wild story, or to lead a witch hunt of his or her own; rather it is their duty to present the story to the public as it is, and with the evidence provided, let them draw their own conclusions.

Know there is a danger in all of this. Good journalists will face off with parts of humanity that can cause a person to become vain and bitter, but they are also exposed to a lot of the good in the world and they hold in them the power to bring about change. I fear if he could see us today Murrow would say we have turned into a generation of escapists, swaddled and fed entertainment that masquerades as news. We care more for celebrities than we do our fellow man, we care more for causing dissension than finding common ground, and more for arguing and belittling than educating. Looking at the news in the past few years I am appalled by the topics on which we choose to focus. If the amount of coverage that a 40-character tweet receives equaled that of the problem of the illiteracy rates in our country or the dangers of anxiety and depression in college-aged students, wouldn’t we be better for it?

However, I don’t believe everything is as ‘doom and gloom’ as I have made it out to be because I believe there is still time to turn this around; and address those my own age and younger who are pursuing journalism. Media is shifting farther and faster than ever before and the rules are up to us to make. We should strive to provide a legacy of not of the vapid, complacent, generation Murrow feared we would turn into and that previous generations think we already are. Instead we should aim to create a flow of information that teaches those around us about the world at large. It is our duty to take people out of themselves and see the world is a brilliant place; a brilliant place full of life and lives that long to connect with each other. It is our job then to provide that connection and if we fail at seeking and providing truth to the world around us then "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves".

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

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