Telling it like it is, before the blog
Murrow’s speeches and real footage of Senator McCarthy mean the film almost writes itself. Strathairn does a wonderful job of capturing Murrow’s unpretentious intensity. Ray Wise also puts in a poignant performance as Don Hollenbeck, another CBS reporter who reported from the battlefields of World War II, but committed suicide after being repeatedly accused of communist sympathies by Jack O’Brian, the TV critic and McCarthy supporter.
The film’s version of events has been criticized as exaggerating the role of Murrow and CBS in McCarthy’s downfall, but just as Murrow is clear he doesn’t know whether McCarthy’s victims are really Communists, the film is careful not to draw an explicit cause and effect link between Murrow’s broadcasts and the senator’s censure. One character even points out that “McCarthy is going to self-destruct anyway.”
Clearly, Clooney’s goal in making this film is to remind modern America how national security concerns can fuel a witch hunt. The U.S. today certainly faces subversive enemies and is partially reacting by infringing on civil liberties, but the emotional parallels Clooney tries to draw go askew. The atmosphere of groupthink and repression that gripped the country in the 1950s hasn’t reappeared. With the advent of the Internet, the sheer number of noncommercial news sources available has shattered any illusion of a silent majority.
Today, there is no hesitation or delay in calling government officials on their lies or mistakes.
Where Murrow and Friendly mull over whether to broadcast a single show pointing out McCarthy’s self-contradictions, today bloggers with hard evidence rebut government and corporate pronouncements mere hours or minutes after they’re uttered. And in this age of an audience for every informational niche and political position (with advertisers to match), Murrow’s failed corporate battle seems particularly old-fashioned. Although this doesn’t mean we should become complacent, freedom of speech in the U.S. is more secure than it has ever been.
But maybe the film is more relevant to today’s Korea. Yes, the Korean government has embraced the Internet to an even greater extent than the U.S., but corporations and the media are a different story. Fear of criticizing Samsung or other business behemoths consistently affects decisions at major news outlets. By all rights the film should be much more controversial here than it was in the U.S.
With its low-key, black and white visuals, period equipment, stirring speeches and understated acting, the film is a credit to the journalists that inspired it. It is provocative but not melodramatic, inspiring but not saccharin, tragic but not disheartening.
Good Night and Good Luck
Drama / English
by Ben Applegate