Mediated: Edward Murrow, Joe McCarthy, and Bill O’Reilly

This week’s Mediated is dedicated to the life and memory of Professor Richard D. Heffner, an American broadcaster and public television pioneer.

Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow

This week is a throwback to the days when journalism was still journalism. Everybody who knows the name Edward R. Murrow knows that with it comes the notions of news with integrity and media prestige. Lately, though, I’ve been dwelling on an argument put forth by a guy named Gilbert Seldes. You see, usually when people look back at Murrow’s utter destruction of the crazed alcoholic, syphilitic Senator Joseph McCarthy they do so with fondness. It needed to be done; no self-respecting intellectual could stand by and watch him lead the HUAC crusade to eviscerate legions of folks over nothing more than suspicions of Communist leanings.

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Senator Joseph McCarthy

Especially not an intellectual with a stage like Murrow’s program See It Now. With the name of that program came credibility – people trusted it. So, when Murrow saw the authoritarian monster that McCarthy had become he decided to take action. The whole thing was dramatized in the movie Goodnight and Good Luck. It’s a good flick for those who haven’t seen it. After verbally tearing asunder all things McCarthy, Murrow offered the senator an equal half hour time period to rebut on a later evening. This was an offer which McCarthy naturally accepted. Unfortunately for the self-proclaimed Commie hunter, the damage was done and nothing McCarthy could say would ever combat the colossal newsman that was Murrow. Shortly after, McCarthy was censured by Congress, his power waned, he faded into the footnotes of history, and fucking died. Good for him, he was nothing short of slime.

But beyond the heroic veneer of Murrow’s actions lies a much more complex and disturbing legacy. This guy Seldes makes the compelling argument that Murrow opened a Pandora’s Box of sorts. Not that what he did was wrong (believe me, there are very few people out there who want McCarthy back) but that what he did marked the first time a major news program was used for pure political opinion. Not only that, but it was used to crush a senator who’s star was rapidly rising on the backdrop of anti-Communism. It was an eye-opener – the news can be used to effect politics! Who knew? Murrow himself expressed private reservations about the can of worms he was about to unleash on the world, but he ultimately reasoned that the danger of unabashed McCarthyism was more lethal than the idea of a politically charged media.

Murrow is rolling in his grave now.

Before he ran that broadcast the idea of a Bill O’Reilly would have been laughable. News analysis would probably have been ridiculed for what it is – opinionated garbage. At a time when editorial and objective reporting were staunchly separated, Murrow’s broadcast blurred the line between the two indefinitely. Now, every reporter is a pundit and we are all forced to listen to the unfiltered opinion of our own choosing when we turn on the news. Biased reports from private companies with proud agendas clog the airwaves, and those of us who are incapable or unwilling to look up the bare-boned facts settle in with whatever vicious “news” appeals to our opinions the most. You get to pick your poison, so at least ignorance really is bliss.  Murrow’s defeat of McCarthy sent us down a slippery slope, and waiting at the bottom was the bubbling puddle of noxious sludge that is modern mass media.

The bottom line is this: Journalism is not a weapon to wield but instead a vessel for factual information. “Spin” is a word used to simply dress up what is at heart a breach of journalistic ethics: distortion of the facts. In the instance of Murrow, no matter how popular or seemingly justified, his attack was just that; an attack is never a balanced or objective thing. While it is true that pure objectivity is a falsehood, as unachievable as perfection, a journalist (especially one with influence) should do his best to convey nothing but the basic facts. And where there is editorial it should be labeled as such. Nothing more and nothing less can satisfy the honor that comes with being called a journalist. For the right reasons, Murrow nudged the news onto the wrong trajectory. Today, media practices lie far from the straight and narrow path once traveled. However, as the ages of Yellow Journalism gave way to a sort of news enlightenment, perhaps we too can rectify the legacy of Murrow’s misguided well intentions. Perhaps, now that the media has been soiled, it is up to the viewer to determine the truth. The trouble is that there seems to be a lot of “truth” to choose from.

Choose wisely, friends.

A Nice Bit of Hyperfiction

I wrote this story for recreation a week ago, and I figured it wasn’t half-bad. Decided to put this 300 or so word puppy up here for public discourse. Please, criticism is very welcome.

The Inevitability of Genius

He started with a pencil and a journal, and when he had finished Vincenzo had unraveled all the mysteries of the universe. He single-handedly cured cancer and AIDS, unlocked the truth of the mysterious origins of life and developed an alternative energy that was not just clean, but actively purified the atmosphere. He wrote the greatest story ever written and produced thousands of splendid poems. He admonished the wicked, exalted the good and proved once and for all which was which. He had tested and retested his hypotheses and researched every subject known to man to ensure total accuracy.

The moment Vincenzo was finished editing his tome he immediately set to work reproducing it. One billion ink cartridges perished in order to lend their precious toner to blank pages, giving Vincenzo’s words a greater voice with each copy. Once he had no more room to store the books he went about circulating them. He left a crate at town hall and Brannigan Square. He brought several copies to all his neighbors and asked them to pass a few on; they all kindly obliged. When visitors would pass through town he would give them two crates for free and even suggest they charge a small price – all profit – in order to spread the news further.

Everyone had a copy and everyone agreed; Vincenzo’s words were pure genius. The book of all human history had arrived and its conclusions were remarkable. The revelations it provided were so profound, so plain and honest, that it was as if the answers to the most puzzling questions had always been right before them and yet they could not see it until now. Except the details were never really discussed, and everybody was greatly relieved by that…

…because no one had bothered to read the book.

Today I Almost Became a Racist: Las Vegas Sevens and the Samoan Triumph

Courtesy of flagspot.net

The cool February desert air seemed to penetrate my scarf and jacket combo. I looked more like a haggard New York City bum on Christmas Eve than a spectator at a rugby tournament, and I felt like one too.

It had been a long succession of days and nights in Las Vegas. A string of 24 hour periods in that town can leave even the most resilient in an exhausted, immobilized state. But even now, as I sat slumped on the bleachers feeling the sometimes-warm-sometimes-cool brush of the Nevadan sun, a content smile crept across my face.

The action on the field these past few days had been incredible. The one major let down had been the United States’ game against Canada. A conversion attempt from directly in front of the posts sailed wide and sealed the loss for the Americans. It was easy to feel small in that moment, surrounded by foreigners in a crowded stadium. It was an especially easy feeling sitting next to my comrade Dos, who was draped in a vertically inverted American flag.

True, it would be unfair to take the Americans pitiful record during their time as hosts of the HSBC 7’s World Series at face value. A match the first night against the bone crushing Samoans ended in narrow defeat by a mistaken U.S. grubber out of bounds just before full time.

And the previous day a close loss to surgical Fiji in a similar manner (it was a punt out of bounds this time) proved the U.S. could hang with the higher echelons. They could even win, were it not for lethal mental errors.

Lack of discipline; it was the same disease that plagued my club at Rutgers. All of the pieces were always there and we certainly had the talent to compete, but we just couldn’t execute. It seemed that plight of Rutgers was echoed on the national stage. God help American rugby.

“No, no. All in good time,” I thought. “Perhaps we could make a statement in Rio. A strong Olympic showing might ignite some more interest in the United States.”

Indeed, the Americans had turned some heads with their play. Unfortunately each game ended up with the Eagles as the butt of many accented jokes. It was as it should have been. Chants of “Rutgers Rugby!” even came out of our demoralized little group after a while. It was the manifestation of the pure agony one feels when faced with unrecognized potential.

Courtesy of flagartist.com

But now the Fijians were getting ready to take on Samoa in the 3rd Place match. As soon as the teams’ names popped up on the digital scoreboard, America became a distant memory. Samoan flags dominated the stadium. Massive crews of massive Samoans stomped and hollered in full throat as they waited for their ruggers to take the pitch.

When they did the place erupted even further.

“Christ,” I muttered under the Earth shattering roar, “we’re in fucking Samoa!”

For three days I had privately loathed the Samoan lot. I saw Samoans as brutish and over aggressive, ignorant and self absorbed. “Large and in charge,” a phrase Lauren had used when I was expressing my aversions, kept coming to mind. It was through only mere brushes with these people in the stadium and on the shuttle from the hotel that I developed this distaste, but it had been enough for me to make a fiery statement to my companions at dinner the night before.

“If I ever somehow stumble into the White House and find myself as president, we invade Samoa,” I said, slamming my fist on the table. “Forget all of that non-interventionism garbage! We invade Samoa!”

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