The deep marks that Ed Murrow left 

2 April 2021


Broadcasting magazine masthead

From ‘Broadcasting’ for 3 May 1965

Edward R. Murrow, who died last Tuesday at the age of 57, was universally hailed last week as the man who did most to establish — and elevate — the standards of broadcast journalism.

His “This … is London” broadcasts from the main target of the German blitz in World War II were heard nightly by millions in this country, and colleagues and competitors agreed last week that these dramatic but calm and precise descriptions of Britain under fire created a new model for news reporting.



His See It Now (1951-58), an outgrowth of his Hear It Now radio series and his I Can Hear It Now record albums, is regarded as having set the pattern for all television documentaries.

His Edward R. Murrow With The News (1947-60) was a nightly radio feature for 13 years, praised for its incisiveness — and with the added distinction of refusing its sponsors a middle commercial.

His Small World series (1958-60) broke new ground in international television reporting by combining films with transoceanic telephone conversations to provide “visits” with world figures.

His Person To Person programs (1953-59) took viewers into the homes of two celebrities each week, from movie stars to a young senator named John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.), with Mr. Murrow exchanging small talk through the smoke of the always-present cigarette.

On CBS Reports he appeared frequently to explore more significant and controversial issues of the day.


NW Hall of Radio History · 12 Radio Treats of Christmas: Ed Murrow on Christmas 1940 in London


To Government ■

After 25 years with CBS he left his $300,000-a-year job in January 1961 to become head of the U. S. Information Agency at $21,000 a year. He left the USIA post three years later after failing to recuperate as he thought he should from a lung-cancer operation three months before.

In and out of the hospital since then, he went to his farm near Pawling, N.Y., three weeks ago because, friends reported, “he wanted to go home to die.” He died there two days after his 57th birthday.

Old-time associates last week recalled his warmth, his loyalty, his accomplishments; but most of all they recalled his courage, his individuality and his “total commitment to his job.”



“He was working every waking moment,” said CBS newsman Ned Calmer, who worked for him in London during the war and for and with him through the years afterward. Others said he pushed himself constantly because he felt he did his best work on the fringe of exhaustion. He himself sometimes gave another explanation: “I never learned how to play.”


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CBS correspondent Richard C. Hottelet, one of his close associates, stressed his immersion in his job: “He practically invented radio reporting, but of all the hundreds of times I’ve seen him broadcast, I’ve never seen him when he wasn’t sitting there, tense, the sweat dripping off his chin, as if it were his first broadcast. To him it was just as important as if it were his first. He was totally committed to it.” Sometimes, other sources reported, to ease the tension he would keep a bottle beneath his chair and take a long pull — “a good, healthy shot” — a couple of minutes before airtime.

A Man Absorbed ■

He was a man of deep concentration — and could be moody. “He could be as garrulous as an Irishman in a pub, or as silent as the tomb,” one friend reported. Another said that, off the air, “he communicated mostly in long pauses.”

Mr. Murrow was proud but without illusions. He liked to say that his father, who had been a tenant farmer, “does not go so far as to say that there’s something dishonest about a man making a living by merely talking, but he does think there’s something doubtful about it.” He could also say, after a broadcast that didn’t satisfy him: “Tune in to Murrow tomorrow. He wasn’t so good tonight.”


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Warning: distressing content


He was independent and individualistic and largely autonomous. With Fred W. Friendly, now president of CBS News, who was his close associate and executive producer on the Hear It Now, See It Now, Small World and CBS Reports series, he did the programs they felt ought to be done, regardless of the reaction of sponsors or anybody else.

In a time when many name newsmen employed agents, Mr. Murrow had none. Instead, he had James M. Seward, now executive vice president of CBS Radio. In an association that lasted until Mr. Murrow’s death, Mr. Seward was his financial advisor and also occupied the unique position of representing both sides — to the apparent satisfaction of both — in “negotiating” what Mr. Murrow was to be paid by CBS when new programs were launched.

Farm Boy ■

Mr. Murrow was born Egbert Roscoe Murrow on April 25, 1908, the son of Roscoe and Ethel Murrow, on a farm near Greensboro,. N.C. The family moved when he was still a child to Washington state. Later, dining at the White House (as on the night of Pearl Harbor) or with Prime Minister Winston Churchill (as he frequently did), he could recall that preparations for that trip by day coach from North Carolina to Washington state included “a number of shoe boxes filled with fried chicken.”

The young Mr. Murrow attended school in Blanchard and Edison, Wash., worked summers on a survey gang and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Washington State College in 1930, meanwhile changing his first name to Edward. He was president of the National Student Federation in 1930-32 and assistant director of the Institute of International Education in 1932-35, traveling extensively in the U. S. and abroad.

He joined CBS in 1935 as director of talks and education. In one of his early on-air jobs he presided over a spelling bee between CBS’s Washington and New York announcers. In 1937 he became European director of CBS, and hired William L. Shirer to help him produce musical and informational programs.

He got his start as a war correspondent in March 1938 when the Germans marched into Austria. He was in Warsaw but, notified by Mr. Shirer of the turn toward war, chartered a 27-seat transport plane for $1,000 and flew to Vienna, from which he broadcast reports for the next 10 days.


Courtesy of CBS


The Recruiter ■

Back in London he started building up the CBS roster of news correspondents. Among those he hired, in addition to Mr. Shirer, were Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Larry Lesueur, Howard K. Smith, Richard C. Hottelet, Winston Burdett and Cecil Brown.

“I’m hiring reporters, not voices,” he is said to have replied when CBS authorities in New York complained about the sound of some of his men.

Mr. Murrow’s offices were bombed out three times, but he was on the air nightly with his “This … is London” reports. He flew 25 combat missions, bringing back descriptions of what in one famous broadcast he described as “orchestrated hell.” He also covered campaigns in North Africa and on the continent.

He developed a towering reputation for anticipating events and being at the right place at the right time. He was back in the U.S. for a brief rest — and a lecture tour — when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That night newsman Bob Trout, who was taking his place, and Mrs. Trout were at the BBC in London listening to reports on developments in the U.S. when one of the BBC people approached Mrs. Trout and asked: “Did Mr. Murrow really know this was going to happen? Is that why he went home?”

After the war he became CBS vice president and director of public affairs. But that lasted less than two years. “In-baskets and out-baskets aren’t for me,” he said, and went back to broadcasting. He did, however, remain as a member of the CBS board of directors for several years.




Courtesy of pinoyelvis


His Creed ■

Two men go through a script

Mr. Murrow and Fred Friendly began their co-production efforts in the forties with a series of sound documentaries for Columbia Records. Soon the technique was adapted to a radio series: ‘Hear It Now.’ In 1951, it was switched to television for ‘See It Now.’ Today Mr. Friendly is head man of the CBS News operation, a position held by Mr. Murrow in 1946 after nine years overseas. But after 18 months, he wanted out from under the paper work. He said: ‘I wanted to be a reporter again because I needed the dignity and satisfaction of being a reporter.’ A few months later he began his nightly radio news program.

He started his Edward R. Murrow with the News series on CBS Radio in September 1947, quoting a paragraph from his contract that seemed to sum up his attitude toward reporting:

“News programs are broadcast solely for the purpose of enabling the listeners thereto to know facts — so far as they are ascertainable — and so to elucidate, illuminate and explain facts and situations as fairly as possible [to] enable the listener to weigh and judge for himself. We will endeavor to assist the listener in weighing and judging developments throughout the world but will refrain — particularly with respect to all controversial, political, social and economic questions — from trying to make up the listener’s mind for him.”

There were critics who contended he had departed, in principle if not in fact, from this last promise on March 9, 1954, when he presented on See It Now what may have been his most widely known single TV show. Using film clips and tape recordings, the program focused on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) at a time when “McCarthyism” was widespread.

The program produced a violent reaction. Many said later that it started the beginning of the end of “McCarthyism.” McCarthy himself, when given equal time to reply, devoted it to a personal attack on Mr. Murrow.

In reply to that attack Mr. Murrow wrote: “When the record is finally written, as it will be one day, it will answer the question who has helped the Communist cause and who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy or I. I would like to be remembered by the answer to that question.”

This and many other programs were recalled last week, and some were replayed in special programs.

One that was particularly recalled was his “Harvest of Shame,” a documentary on the exploitation of migrant farm workers in this country. Later the program was sold to the BBC, and Mr. Murrow — by then the head of the USIA — appealed to the BBC not to use it. The BBC replied that it had bought the film in good faith — and had “the greatest faith” in the man who prepared it.


Courtesy of What’s My Line?


Disenchantment ■

In 1959 reports circulated that a rift had developed between Mr. Murrow and CBS management, that he felt he wasn’t being allowed the authority he once had. This was strongly denied by CBS. Mr. Murrow took a year’s leave of absence, returning in 1960 to See It Now and other TV and radio work — including a radio report on call girls in New York that jarred city police authorities.

During his 25 years as a broadcast newsman Mr. Murrow won all the major radio and TV awards, some of them several times. He won the Peabody award, one of the most respected, four times.


Courtesy of Elliot Rose


Murrow in a suit with his ever-present cigarette

In 1963, as director of the U.S. Information Agency, Mr. Murrow inspected the new $23-million transmission facilities of the Voice of America at Greenville, N.C.

His death last week brought tributes from the White House, from 10 Downing Street, from other public figures and from colleagues and competitors. Earlier in the year Queen Elizabeth had named him an honorary knight commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and last fall President Johnson had awarded him the Medal of Freedom, this country’s highest civilian award.

President Johnson, during a news conference on the afternoon of Mr. Murrow’s death, said that the CBS newsman had built his life on the “unbreakable truth” that “free men and free inquiry are inseparable.”

On the Walter Cronkite CBS Evening News show Eric Sevareid said that “there are many, working here and in other networks and stations, who owe to Ed Murrow their love of their work, their standards and their sense of responsibility.”

The Huntley-Brinkley program on NBC-TV paid tribute that same night, and on his ABC radio and television program Howard K. Smith said that “nobody argues about who is the best TV newsman ever; it is Murrow.”

William S. Paley, CBS board chairman, who hired Mr. Murrow in 1935, said his death “ends the first golden age of broadcast journalism.”

Brigadier General David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA, said Mr. Murrow’s integrity “raised the stature of the profession.”

Leonard H. Goldenson, president of American Broadcasting-Paramount Theaters and of ABC, said Mr. Murrow’s “imprint on electronic journalism … will last as long as the medium itself.”

Robert F. Hurleigh, president of Mutual, said that “his greatness was more than just personal. It was something that comes with a will and desire to serve that is given few men in a generation.”

Mr. Murrow is survived by his widow, the former Janet Huntington Brewster, whom he married in 1934; a son, Charles Casey, a freshman at Yale, and two brothers, L. V. Murrow of Washington and Dewey Murrow of Spokane, Wash.

Edward R Murrow (Egbert Roscoe Murrow) 25 April 1908 – 27 April 1965


Courtesy of CBS News


You Say

1 response to this article

Nigel Stapley 3 April 2021 at 11:07 pm

Any chance of Murrow’s creed quoted here being tattooed on the inside of the eyeballs of Kuenssberg, Peston, et al so that they could be constantly reminded of what broadcast journalism should be?

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