Ming Fearon & Jackie Wang
We watched Good Night and Good Luck, which was a 2005 movie directed by George Clooney. The title refers to the phrase Edward R. Murrow said each night when he signed off of the air. Murrow was a broadcast journalist whose most notable achievement was in helping to stop Senator Joseph McCarthy’s influence on America during the late 1950s.
On a purely aesthetic level, we appreciated the movie for its stylish use of black and white footage and the authenticity of its presentation of 1950s America. The movie itself was very compelling because it demonstrates the power of the media. During that era, Cold War tensions were at their highest, and Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin fueled fears that there was a communist infiltration in the American government. People began wildly accusing neighbors and even friends of communism in order to avoid being suspected of communism themselves. During this time, a simple unsubstantiated accusation was enough to bring someone to trial for espionage and plotting against the U.S. government. This behavior became known as “McCarthyism.” Its influence was so powerful that it ruined lives and even caused people to commit suicide if they were accused of communism. In the film Don Hollenbeck, who was a colleague of Murrow’s and fellow commentator on CBS, committed suicide after breaking under the pressures that came with being an accused communist sympathizer.
In Good Night and Good Luck, Murrow publicly denounced McCarthy’s extreme practices on his show See It Now. In his rebuttal, McCarthy accused Murrow himself of communist practices without any evidence backing the claims. Ultimately, Murrow more or less humiliated McCarthy on air by pointing out the weaknesses of both McCarthy’s arguments and logic. These See It Now episodes helped to bring down Senator McCarthy and his influence on the American public because Murrow was able to point out the melodrama and ridiculousness of McCarthy’s arguments.
An important message that Good Night and Good Luck presented to us is how the mass public will believe almost anything it is told, including what one should fear, as long as the media or government appears to present some sort of legitimacy to its claims, no matter how dubious they are. What was so impressive about what Murrow and his producers did was that they went against not only the hysteria of the public and the intimidating practices of the government, but also the admonishments of their sponsors and the highest executives at CBS. They stood up for what they believed in even in the face of being fired from their jobs and being blacklisted by the government.
In presenting this film to the class, the professor stated that Good Night and Good Luck is an excellent example of the pressures that journalists, especially hard-hitting investigative journalists, must face, and we agree.