"Good Night, and Good Luck": Some Thoughts
George Clooney's modest, loving homage to crusading journalism, Good Night, and Good Luck, was never destined to win wide audiences or convert the unconverted. Still, the cinematic valentine to legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow is a nice reminder of a time when a journalism icon appreciated the responsibility of the Fourth Estate.
That might just be the single most salient theme of Good Night, and Good Luck, which centers on how Murrow (portrayed with crisp earnestness by John Sayles' utility player, David Strathairn) finally took televised aim at Commie-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy.
While Murow's "See It Now" program on McCarthy was welcome and long-overdue, Clooney's film places the episode squarely in context with the TV news troubles that were just beginning to take form. David Halberstam's excellent examination of the news media giants, The Powers That Be, turns a jaundiced eye at Murrow's shot across the bow and what it meant for broadcast news.
From The Powers That Be:
"The new affluence was not by any means matched by public accountability. As for the McCarthy show itself, which CBS would later cite as one of its finest hours, no less an authority than Murrow himself felt it was a symbol not of the network's strength but rather of its unwillingness to accept responsibility. The show had been done by Murrow, not by CBS, he (Murrow) told his friend David Lilienthal somewhat bitterly. He thought CBS had backed away from it and he felt strongly that on an issue of this gravity the network should have accepted responsibility for the program.
"What he had feared, he told Lilienthal, was now taking place, a huge growth of power and influence without a comparable willingness to accept responsibility for it. Murrow's show on McCarthy had probably salvaged television's respectability, without it the medium would have been disgraced. Always sensitive to the charges that the networks failed in the area of public affairs, senior officials would later point to the McCarthy show. The implications were clear, that they did programs like this all the time ..."
Slate's Jack Shafer has an interesting take on the media-fanned fire of Good Night, and Good Luck. A fair amount of it is just old fashioned bashing, but he does make some good points.