Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They don't make 'em like they used to...

This evening I watched Good Night, and Good Luck with my girlfriend. The movie was made in 2005 (directed by George Clooney), and is about journalist Edward R. Murrow's conflict with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the former's Red Scare in the 1950s.

The title of the movie is derived from Murrow's signature sign-off line, which he derived from his time in London during World War II, when neighbors (who may not see each other the next day after a bombing) would say "Good night, and good luck."

The movie is black-and-white, and has a very subdued manner about it. At points it feels slow, but it probably has a really accurate view of the environment back then. Apart from that, there is an excellent cast (Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., and David Strathairn to name a few) that seems to portray their characters very realistically.

As I was watching this, I really liked Murrow's speech about how television will be "evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live."

In the now-famous "lights and wires speech", Murrow warns of television becoming a tool more tuned for entertainment and distraction rather than education and a link to reality. The whole speech is rather lengthy, but I recommend going through to read it at some point in your life.

A few paragraphs near the end stand out with me:
"I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.
We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small traction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure--exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.
To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful."

When I read this, I am somewhat saddened to see our society slowly (although picking up speed) devolving into a complacent generation that doesn't hunger for the solidity of hard-hitting, truth-revealing, reality-enlightening, responsible journalism--instead, they reach for the baby-aged mush from supposed "news networks" they've been fed their whole lives.

More often than not, a news network, or station, or paper will pounce on a story and throw it to the public, regardless of credible information tied to a story. The competition in this digital-age is slowly undermining the integrity of news in general, and what Murrow was trying to say is that it should actually help the integrity of news. With so many ways of (almost instant-)communication, news has the capability of being very accurate and reliable.

Now, if only all the stations, papers, and networks would stop sacrificing honesty and journalistic integrity for ratings, hits, and money. It seems like there is a plague of "reporters" and "journalists" everywhere you turn, and the majority of them aren't being held to the same standards that the public should be holding them to.

Although, I will note that there are many dedicated men and women who take responsibility and time to report on real stories that matter, and reporting facts honestly to the public. The truth remains though, we need more Edward R. Murrows in the world to take down the ever-growing, hydra-headed McCarthys of society.

Also, I found out that Murrow grew up here in Washington, and went to high school in Edison, which is a town on the other side of Skagit Valley. My girlfriend's great-grandmother's claim to fame is being on the Debate team with Murrow in high school. (Let's all play 'six degrees of separation,' shall we?)

I guess what this rant is eventually winding down to, is the idea that the public should be the watchdog for journalism and news departments, as those are in turn responsible for keeping an eye on the government. If you agree with me that the majority of "news" shows aren't being held accountable to the titles they flaunt, then we as "consumers" should take a stand, and throw a few rocks at the Goliath-news-networks. We should all become a little bit like Murrow.

Good night, and...well, you know...

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