The divine virtue of Edward R. Murrow

I revisited Good Night, and Good Luck yesterday for the third time, and got even more goosebumps than I have in the past. There’s something about American political investigative films that strikes a chord with me and ensures the shivers. The Insider did it too, as did All The President’s Men. And I’m increasingly convinced that speaking truth to power is a distinctively American theme. They do not, of course, have a monopoly on democracy and all things liberal. But they do seem to have something about their culture and national attitude which makes their politics particularly fertile for this sort of self-criticism. 12 Angry Men works in a similar way.

Edward R. Murrow was, clearly, a God amongst journalists, the Form of a Lockean citizen. I don’t use divine imagery lightly. It is meant less theologically and more as a nod to Aristotle, who thought that in rare cases men exceed all others in virtue to such an extent that the term is warranted.

And that’s what I mean here. It takes real balls to put your neck on the line, fight fear and retain your integrity by saying what you truly believe when your society falls victim to the Herd instinct, and a man with power like McCarthy labelling anyone a communist who criticises his methods is sure to quickly turn his wrath next on you. Murrow went through those smears and stuck by his commitment to liberty, transparency, Due Process. He’s a model for those in the television business who need to understand the medium’s potential power, and he’s a fine example of courage and conscience that we’d all do well to follow.


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