Two weeks ago, Rifftides examined one aspect of the film Good Night, and Good Luck, which tells the story of Edward R. Murrow’s pursuit of the demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy. The entry included this:
CBS head William S. Paley’s demotion of Murrow established the primacy of network profit over news integrity. It set up conditions for the MBA mentality that meshed with technology and the rise of cable networks to produce the broadcast and cable news we have today in which, with few exceptions, the line between information and entertainment has been blurred beyond distinction.
To read the whole thing, go here.
Three days before my posting, in her invaluable Serious Popcorn, fellow artsjournal.com blogger Martha Bayles recognized the point about commerce versus journalistic independence. As one would expect of a film critic with finely tuned political antennae, her posting ranges more widely through the film’s messages. She praises director George Clooney for not taking a direct route along the road of what she calls “righteous Hollywood anti-communism.”
No, Clooney went for the slightly less burned-over district of TV news in its early fluid state, before it hardened into the monstrous shape we know and love today. Not surprisingly, the red meat here is anti-anti-communism – or if you prefer, red-baiter-baiting, performed at the highest level of photogenic integrity. The film neither stresses nor denies the fact that Murrow came late to this cause. By the time his program, “See It Now,” jumped on the anti-McCarthy bandwagon, it was already loaded with radio commentators, print journalists and editorialists, congressmen and senators from both parties, military brass, and the Eisenhower White House.
But no matter. If this movie achieves anything beyond flogging the well pulped carcass of McCarthy, that achievement will be its portrayal of how unfree TV was during its so-called Golden Age.
Bayles refers to and agrees with the warning by Murrow’s contemporary, the critic Gilbert Seldes, that television’s power to persuade is neutral, as potentially dangerous in the hands of bad guys as it can be beneficial in the hands of good ones like Murrow. Her conclusion that the film “totally shuts out the concerns that made McCarthy’s witch hunt possible” assumes that moviegoers who were alive then have short memories and that those who weren’t are uneducated about American history. That may be at least half right. In any case, her piece stimulates thought about the uses of journalism, television and political power. To read all of Bayles’s review of Good Night And Good Luck, go to Serious Popcorn.