Sixty-three years ago today, Murrow’s moment set a standard

Sixty-three years ago tonight (Thursday), Edward R. Murrow set a standard which TV journalism has struggled to equal every day since.

On March 9, 1954, Murrow’s See it Now aired its takedown of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies,” Murrow said of McCarthy’s abuse of power while investigating Communism. “And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it – and rather successfully.

“Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.’ Good night and good luck.”

In his op-ed in the Seattle Times this afternoon, former editorial page editor James Vesely said Murrow’s genius was built on sober understatement.

He never called McCarthy a monster, never warned the Nazi Brownshirts were coming. Murrow understood the soup lines of the Great Depression, saw firsthand war’s atrocities, gazed at America’s occasional banal ignorance and withstood obtuse attacks on the press.

Historians say too many people wilted in the face of McCarthyism. Hollywood had endured the black list, President Dwight D. Eisenhower waited too long to denounce McCarthy while some in the press cowered or enabled his manipulations, just as now. It took an Edward R. Murrow to turn the tide, just as now.