In George Clooney’s marvelous new film, Good Night, and Good Luck, a voice from the past, Edward R. Murrow, shames us in our complacency. Like nuclear technology, television is a powerful tool that can either be used to improve or degrade humanity.
Clooney, working with screenwriter Grant Henslov, has brought the esteemed newsman back in all of his black and white glory, focusing heavily on the McCarthy hearings and Murrow’s reaction to them.
The film brings up the provocative question, where have all the Murrows gone? As we move farther and farther away from the 1950s, we have fewer and fewer admirable figures to tell us what’s what.
The liberals turn to PBS and Jon Stewart; the conservatives like Fox News. Now that the big three newsmen, Brokaw, Jennings and Rather are all gone, one wonders if the Murrow legacy persists. According to Clooney, most journalists working on television now believe themselves to be Murrow-like, whether on the right or the left. But in today’s climate, there probably isn’t anything anyone could say that would be watched by all of America and commented upon by the morning newspapers, as the film depicts when Murrow gives his first of many reports. What you see now are internet bloggers commenting on journalists in a self-serving manner – the left attacks the right, and vice-versa – the media is bought and paid for by one or the other political party, depending on which side of the fence you’re standing.
The film is a meditation on the constant friction between what the networks think Americans want and what Americans really want when they plop down in front of the TV. Is it really, as Murrow predicted in the film, a way to distract us from the reality of everyday horrors of life here and around the globe? Of course it is. And it was back in Murrow’s time. But it has also become the powerful teaching tool Murrow wanted it be, as the Hurricane Katrina coverage proved.
Clooney himself has been troubled, it would seem, by the state of television news, as his father Nick was a news anchor for many years. Clooney even had many infamous run-ins with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. Comparing the two eras for news coverage is rather startling. As Clooney recently told the Associated Press, “This was an important period of time in [my father’s] history, in shaping what he was as a newsman. It was the high-water mark.”
Murrow, and his producer Fred Friendly, provided quality content despite the fact that most network television exists only to fill time between the commercials. Like most things in America, money must be made off of it – even Murrow had to do things American audiences liked.
Though we can all be proud that CBS news, from whence Murrow came, eventually produced 60 Minutes, among the highest rated news program for the last several decades, we have much to answer for as a country with regard to our taste in programming. Do we really prefer to live in our safe little dream worlds even when the rest of the world is falling down around us? Are we, in fact, fiddling while Rome burns?
Either way, Clooney’s film is a refreshing look back to the beginnings of television – the beginning of advertising shaping how we see ourselves, even if all they’re trying to do is sell cigarettes or laundry soap. Anyone who spends any time watching TV ought to take time to see Good Night, And Good Luck.
(Stone’s review of the film appears on page 13)
Notable TV This Week
Thursday, October 13
On the Waterfront (****), 8 p.m., TCM.
The French Connection (****), 8 p.m., AMC.
The Return of the Secaucus 7 (***), 8 p.m., IFC.
The Way We Were (****), 9 p.m., TCM.
Friday, October 14
Grease (***), 8 p.m., FAM.
Mediums: We See Dead People, the real ones, 8 p.m., A&E.
Vanilla Sky (**), 8 p.m., BRAVO.
The Waterboy (***), 9 p.m., TBS.
Saturday, October 15
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (***), 8 p.m., TCM.
The Presidio (**), 9 p.m., NBC.
As Good as it Gets (***), 9 p.m., LIFETIME.
Doctor Zhivago, 9 p.m., TCM.
Sunday, October 16
Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire, it’s back…9 p.m., CBS.
The Phantom of the Opera, from 1925, 9 p.m., TCM.
Inside the Actors Studio: Elton John, 8 p.m., BRAVO.
Meet Joe Black (**), with Brad Pitt, 8 p.m., AMC.
Monday, October 17
Sideways (****), 7:30 p.m., HBO.
The Little Vampire (***), 8 p.m., DISNEY.
Wall Street (***), 8 p.m., AMC.
Sea of Souls, wonderful new series, 10 p.m., BBCAM.
Tuesday, October 18
Born Yesterday (*), the newer, lesser version, 7:30 p.m., OXYGEN.
Insomnia (***), with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, 8 p.m., AMC.
Frontline: The Torture Question, 9 p.m., KCET.
King Kong (***), with Jessica Lange, 10 p.m., WE.
Wednesday, October 19
I Walked with a Zombie (**), 7:30 p.m., TCM.
Elizabeth (****), with Cate Blanchett, 9 p.m., BRAVO.
Persuasion (***), 8 p.m., IFC.
Criminal Minds, 9 p.m., CBS.