Movie Review: Good Night and Good Luck
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
Coming from a newspaper family, I grew up respecting the role of journalist. Back then in my childhood and adolescence I watched my Father, Robert B. Carr, work his damnest to find and report the truth. He wrote for the Boston Globe. He had an excellent work ethic, a sense of integrity and he was Catholic. My Father could have best been described as this classic liberal. He would be in the vein of the Harry Truman liberal, as opposed to the Kennedy-Clinton liberal of today. (Yes, I am fully aware that Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and her husband represent two sides opposing sides of a bizarre coin on the fringe of political thought.)
Back then reporters had integrity. They had passion and they understood the poor and the marginalized. My Father covered busing in Boston and had to bring a plexiglass shield with him to work. He needed it to fend off the rocks thrown at him by the South Boston protesters and others. Back then protesters used the rosary to mock the then Cardinal Archbishop of Boston Humbert Medeiros who called for a gospel based charity in the unrest. I worked at the Globe as a janitor and a security guard from 1976-1978. I remember sitting in the guard house on Dorchester's Morrisey Boulevard with the CB radio the security crew used to contact each other. Located between the two warring factions of the city of South Boston and Roxbury, I heard the calls from one waring faction to the other over the CB radio, "Breaker One-Nine for the niggers". How much my Father spoke angrily that people could be treated so poorly because of the color of their skin.
News was important then and news reporters had integrity and passion. Of course, that was at the tail end of an era. The downslide began in the 1960's. CBS' Dick Salant formally announced it in 1986 when he reported to the news staff that he had good news and bad news. The good news was that CBS made a profit on its news division. The bad news was that CBS made a profit on its news division. He knew that news would lose its integrity. That has clearly happened.
I speak as one who was recently lied to by a Boston Globe reporter. He, obviously, did not take the time to figure out who I am before he came to our door at the rectory. After all, I am sure in his mind, I was nothing more than some stupid priest. He came to write a story on the closing of our parish school. He said he was just an education reporter doing a story on the history of the school. He lied. He also asked me to have the common courtesy to not paint all Globe reporters with a broad brush. An irony of irony considering the brush the Globe and other news organs used to paint all priests.
This was all in my mind as I sat down to watch Good Night and Good Luck, a great movie about Edward R. Murrow and the See It Now series. It was brought to America weekly by the classic news team at what was then William Paley's Tiffany Network, the Columbia Broadcasting System. Murrow was the model of news integrity and he is portrayed, I suppose quite accurately as one, with his team, who helped bring Senator McCarthy's red scare tactics to an end. It was the beginning of advocacy journalism that stood up for truth. An art that has long disappeared except with Jorge Ramos on Univision, the only remaining TV newsman who could have held a candle to Edward R. Murrow. Ramos only works in Spanish.
Behind Murrow, was Fred Friendly, the CBS News Producer who stood with Murrow as they came together to bring down McCarthy. The Junior Senator from Minnesota who for years had wielded an unjust hatchet. He glorified himself at the expense of the poor and innocent who were terrified that they would be named unjustly as Communists. The Murrow/Friendly et. al team used their roles as journalists to act in nothing but true integrity and courage. They gave others the courage to stand tall and speak out. The movie demonstrates well the influence one man can have when he chooses to stand up for the truth. It also demonstrates well the reality of what happens when people cower when threatened by political foes.
David Straihorn plays Murrow, the hard smoking, war correspondent turned investigative journalist. He more than looks like him. He is him in his dry style and his professional manner. He brings the powerful journalist to life right before us.
George Clooney, who also co-wrote and directs the picture, plays Fred Friendly. The other half of Murrow who, with the on air journalist, brought news into the new era. Clooney plays Friendly in a way that clearly demonstrates the pioneering spirit that he and Murrow embraced. He, as director, films the entire movie in black and white, adding a realism to the story that empowers the film. Finally, his use of Dianne Reeves for jazz interludes are alone reason enough to see the film.
Two other notables are Ray Wise as Don Hollenbeck the 11:00 pm news anchor who suffers in silence by the darts of a Hearst columnist siding with McCarthy. He plays the role convincingly and powerfully as we see Hollenbeck's calm desperation turn to despair as he is attacked as the weak link in Murrow's team.
Frank Langella plays the executive William Paley, the owner of the Tiffany Network from its radio days to well into the Golden Era of TV. He wants to stand behind his men without losing the whole network and the thousands of people employed by it.
Finally, it was good to see Robert Downey, Jr. doing well what he does best. May we all pray that stays off the drugs.
If the film has a flaw, it is in assumption that we would know who all these people are. I am not sure the movie goer of today, even those at my age of 47 would comprehend names such as Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow as the men who literally built CBS News and literally pioneered the genre of television news in America.
One has to put the clues together to determine who each man is. For example, in one scene you hear Clooney's character called Fred, and another you hear him called Friendly. You, then realize that Clooney is playing Fred Friendly. Yet, I believe only the passing mention of Don Hewitt (played by co-writer Grant Heslov) would resonate with most people today. Hewitt, of course, went on to create the 60 Minutes franchise for the then Tiffany Network.
CBS is now the adopted brother of MTV under the VIACOM umbrella.
Murrow's integrity no longer exists in TV news and the movie begins and ends with his accurate prediction of where news would go. Indeed, today, when I hear of a news station receiving the "Prestigious" Edward R. Murrow award, I am ready to vomit. I am sure Murrow would as well.
My father was one of the old style journalists and days before his death, I heard him talking about how the Boston Globe was no longer the same. His biggest pet peeve for years was the journalism students who could could not spell. "One misspelled word," he would tell me, " brings into question the whole article."
Say that today to a Globe Reporter who lies, does not report the full truth or who spells that word for the table on which we celebrate mass A-L-T-E-R. Let us not forget the reporters who are literally taking Voice of the Faithful press releases, adding a word here and subtracting a name there and then publishing it as their own work. The news business is lost. It is no wonder that an anti-Catholic form of McCarthyism has taken over the journalism field.
Yes, print journalism and TV journalism have gone the way Murrow said they would. Only the citizen journalist of the blog and the passionate world of the Internet prevents total cowardice from infecting our information flow in our country. It is the Internet journalist of today who is the Murrow of yesterday. I am sure Murrow, if he were alive today would have long left TV and jumped over to the Internet, I could not see how such a man of integrity could have it any other way.
http://www.revrobertjcarr.com MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Priest, 617 625-0029
Edward R. Morrow, News, Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney, CBS,
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