The CBS News Bureau of 1941 had already compiled an extraordinary organization.
Premiere announcement of Hear It Now over KGLO from December 15 1950
CBS News' The World Today spawned numerous excellent news specials and regular broadcasts over the legendary history of the CBS Radio News Bureau. The hands-down standouts from CBS' Radio News division over the years that spanned the Golden Age of Radio were commentators H.V. Kaltenborn, Elmer Davis and Edward R. Murrow.
The Golden Age of Radio spanned some of the most momentous news events of the Twentieth Century: the aftermath of World War I, The Wall Street Crash, The Great Depression, The League of Nations, World War II, The Korean War, and the Cold War Era. Competition for Radio news coverage of all of these historical eras was predictably stiff. NBC, CBS and MBS were the major players during this era. ABC came to the Radio news arena somewhat later during the Golden Era of Radio news coverage.
News coverage during the rise of the Nazi party and the lead up to World War II was especially well covered by all three major networks of the era. Competing news bureaus, both independent and print media bureaus, kept a steady flow of fascinating coverage throughout the lead up to World War II, its prosecution and aftermath. But CBS News, in particular, was remarkably effective at consistently 'scooping' its Radio network competitors. Indeed, CBS even went as far as to rewrite broadcasting history on a few occasions, as with its attempt to take credit for the first breaking news about Nazi Germany's first acts of War during World War II.
CBS' preeminence in Radio News, whether earned or perceived, remained legendary throughout the 1940s and beyond. But by far the most legendary of CBS' numerous Radio legends of the era was Edward R. Murrow and his 'boys.' Murrow and Murrow's Boys captured the imagination of America throughout the lead up to the U.S. involvement in World War II, as well as America's prosecution of the War.
Murrow's legend was as well-deserved as it was hard-earned. Indeed, Murrow's reputation was as secure throughout the British Empire and Europe as it was throughout North America. All through the 1940s and 1950s--on Radio and Television--Murrow and his CBS Radio news staff continued to produce some of the most compelling and hard-hitting news, features, and documentaries in CBS' history:
- This Is London (short-wave)
- An American In England (short-wave and broadcast radio)
- Edward R. Murrow with the News (radio)
- Hear it Now (radio)
- CBS Views the Press (radio)
- CBS Evening News (radio and television)
- I Can Hear It Now (for Columbia Records)
- See It Now (television)
- This I Believe (radio, newspapers, and records)
- Person to Person (television)
- CBS Reports (television)
- Years of Crisis (television)
- Small World (television
- Background (television)
Edward R Murrow presides over a 1955 complement of his 'Murrow's Boys.' (from left, Bill Downs, Daniel Shorr, Eric Sevareid, Richard C Hottelet, Murrow, Robert Pierpont, David Shoenbrun, Howard K. Smith, Alexander Kendrick)
Throughout World War II, Edward R. Murrow and his 'Murrow's Boys' remained an iconoclastic, straightforward, no-nonsense journalistic team. The 'icons' in this instance were CBS Radio's existing policies, especially its long-standing proscription against 'recorded interviews and sound bites.' Murrow's repeated push-back against CBS' policy on the use of recordings in News resulted in some of the most effective and stirring reporting ever heard for their day.
Murrow fought hard to keep his team's journalism 'pure' of any commerical, political, or corporate taint and pressures. This was no mean feat at CBS, especially during the years immediately following World War II. CBS' exponentially growing emphasis on its corporate image, bottom line, and stockholders began to create a growing rift between the ideals of its News team and CBS corporate interests. One by one, 'Murrow's Boys' were becoming systematically hobbled, edited, or silenced altogether whenever their investigative journalism ran afoul of CBS' growing emphasis on the network's corporate identity or commercial success.
Edward R. Murrow had always resisted any commercial or sponsor pressures on his reporting--the one possible exception being International Silver during World War II. Murrow long preferred that all of his productions be broadcast sustained by the network. Naturally, as Murrow's popularity continued to arc, sponsors continued to stand in line for a chance to associate themselves and their products with Edward R. Murrow's reputation, fame and popularity. For Murrow's part, he saw nothing to be gained by associating his 'name' with corporate or commercial interests as they affected his journalism--quite the contrary. CBS for its part, was continuing to tighten its editorial control over Murrow and his team throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Murrow's continued clashes with those sponsors which he was forced to accept during the post-War period created a growing disaffection in Murrow with the direction in which his beloved CBS News was shaped, controlled and hamstrung by CBS Corporate. The friction was all the more pointed owing to virtually all of Murrow's productions routinely finding themselves in the top four highest Hooper-rated programs throughout the period.
CBS premieres Hear It Now during the 1950 Holiday Season
From the Time Magazine of Monday, December 25th 1950:
Radio: Hear It Now
Into one hour last week, CBS tried to pack all the news of the previous seven days. Listeners to Hear It Now (Fri. 9 p.m.) heard "drama for the ear" that originated in the trampled snow of North Korea, the drapery-hung walls of Lake Success and on the quarter-deck of the battleship Missouri.
Ballyhooed by CBS as "the biggest project ever undertaken in the field of information," Hear It Now derives from such radio news shows as THE MARCH OF TIME and NBC's Voices and Events; it has frankly borrowed from the techniques of TIME and the I Can Hear It Now record albums created by Edward Murrow and Writer Fred Friendly. With their new show, Murrow & Friendly hope to report and interpret the news with "the actual sound of history in the making."
Particles of Voices. Some of Murrow & Friendly's effects were fairly routine: the railing voices of Communist China's General Wu and Russia's Vishinsky contrasted with the country-lawyer diction of U.S. Delegate Warren Austin. But others achieved a vivid reality, e.g., the flat, unemotional American voices recorded in a command post against the background of artillery fire, and the bitter comment of a wounded marine. There was deep sonority in Carl Sandburg's recital of his The People, Yes. Says Friendly: "One of the nation's troubles is that there's been no one to listen tono Roosevelt, no Churchill, not even a Willkie. We're trying to build something in particles of voices; but we don't want them all to come from New York, Washington and Lake Success."
CBS searches out the other voices with mobile recording units. From 1½ hours of interviews in Koto, Murrow & Friendly culled a 21-second spot for Hear It Now: for other stories. CBS network stations sent mobile units up to the Canadian border and deep into the backwoods of South Carolina. Shying away from the musical "stings" that usually embellish radio documentaries, Hear It Now employs instead such topflight composers as David Diamond and Lehman Engel to supply unobtrusive incidental music.
Make Your Mistakes. Murrow handles the front-page news and the editorial interpretations. But Hear It Now also has oral "columns" and features. Red Barber talks on sports (Pittsburgh's General Manager Branch Rickey urged the nation to keep its morale high with baseball); drama is covered by Comic Abe Burrows (he didn't like the Broadway revue Bless You Allsee THEATER); press by Don Hollenbeck (he disapproved the newspapers' handling of the Truman-Hume correspondence); and movies by Bill Leonard (a vote for Born Yesterday; a vote against Red Skelton's Watch the Birdie). Hear It Now ends with a four-to ten-minute "closeup" (last week's subject: General Douglas MacArthur).
Though the first show did little to illumine or interpret the news, it managed to move quickly and interestingly from event to event. Murrow, who hopes the first few programs will serve as a shakedown cruise, says: "It's something you have to worry over, and make your mistakes and get some informed criticism."
Arguably the most ambitious undertaking of its kind over Radio, Hear It Now was presented as a weekly "document for the ear," comprised of "the week's news and the men and women who made it." Compiled from commentaries and some forty to fifty historic soundbites during each hour-long broadcast, the series was one of the rare all hands on deck productions from the CBS News Division during its history. With Edward R. Murrow billed as the ostensive editor of the series, that single credit was typically humble of Murrow. This was an Edward R. Murrow-Fred Friendly collaboration from the first minute to the last.
Nothing short of a minute by minute outline of each amazing installment of Hear It Now could do it justice. It has to be heard to be fully appreciated. Not even an episode by episode outline would truly do Hear It Now justice. Fred Friendly and Edward R. Murrow's segues and transitions between each segment were as brilliant, thoughtful and exqusitely timed as the prose comprising each segment. The complete Hear It Now canon, though comprising only twenty-seven episodes, is unquestionably a document for ear for today--and every bit as much as for 1950 and 1951 as for now:
- The elaborately and brilliantly ironic--or ascerbic--civility between politicians of the era underscores the great chasm that now separates the Senate, House of Representatives and State Governors of the early 1950s with those of today. Politicians on either side of debates of the era didn't need lobbyist or corporation manufactured talking points to debate their issues. They knew their issues and they knew their constituents. And they knew that their constituents were not only citizens of their own state(s), but the entire nation of citizens they swore to defend and protect while upholding precepts of their Nation's Constitution. 'Staying on message" meant something vastly different in 1951 than it does now. Staying on message in 1951 meant holding onto one's position on an issue until persuaded otherwise. Staying on message today simply means naysaying.
- The numerous commentators of the series were journalists first and commentators second. They didn't need teleprompters. The few that needed to refer to their own organized notes, scripts, or outlines--whether on Radio or Television--were forgiven referring to their notes in favor of speaking in thoughtful, measured, and brilliantly crafted reportage or opinion.
- With rare few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of the more powerful American politicians, journalists, corporate executives and statesmen of the era were uniformly patriotic. They still viewed their own interests as secondary to the interests of their Nation.
- Virtually all American citizens of the era still believed in the 'Four Freedoms' espoused by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1941. Corporate America and lobbyists of the era respected America's belief in the Four Freedoms. And even those with more callous and cynical views or corporate agendas respected America's belief in those freedoms enough to studiously avoid attacking them. Such is clearly not the case today:
- Freedom of Speech or Expression has become either "corporate speak," "P. C. speech" or "talking points."
- Freedom of Worship has been appended to include "as long as you're an evangelic, ultra-conservative, white Protestant." Everyone else is simply un-American by that inference. This is clearly not the Freedom of Worship espoused by F.D.R.
- Freedom from Want has become "freedom to lie, cheat, steal, gamble, pillage, and grab all you can get. Those too old, too young, too disabled, too ill, the wrong color, the wrong heritage, the wrong religion, or too weak to keep up--or compromise their own integrity--deserve to fail, starve, lose their jobs to Mexico, India or China, lose their homes, or die prematurely."
- Freedom from Fear has become "be afraid, be very afraid--of everyone and everything," or simply Freedom to Fearmonger.
- The notion of shared sacrifice was still fresh in the minds of corporatists, politicians, and average American citizens alike. Shared sacrifice wasn't just a lofty ideal in 1950 and 1951--it was still an absolute necessity. Today the notion of "shared sacrifice" is characterized as class warfare or income redistribution.
Hear It Now underscored the vast chasm between then and now in virtually every segment of every production.
One is also struck with the brilliance of the journalists' and editors' craft employed throughout the series--every segment, every interview, every transition. It was level of journalism that America seems no longer able to summon; not for lack of education, talent, elocution, or craft--but for lack of spine, integrity, and resolve.
The more talking heads we're presented with to compare and contrast with Ed Murrow, Charles Collingsworth, H.V. Kaltenborn, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Douglas Edwards, Paul Harvey, Bill Downs, Harry Reasoner, and Howard K. Smith, the more stark the differences. Almost to a person, the more powerful journalists of The Golden Age of Radio were staunchly independent of corporate influence. Their respective News Bureau chiefs not only encouraged that journalistic independence and integrity, but battled network presidents and vice presidents daily and weekly to preserve that integrity.
Today we have corporatist news bureaus issuing daily talking points and editorial guidelines to keep their more thoughtful and independent commentators and news readers "on message."
Such was not the case with Hear It Now. Murrow and Friendly's portfolio throughout the canon was to present every weekly issue facing the G.I. in a foxhole, John and Jane Doe on Main Street, the most powerful politicians and statesmen in the world--and everyone and every topic in between. And if CBS Corporate didn't like something, Fred Friendly and Ed Murrow duked it out with them before--and sometimes even during--each broadcast.
CBS' legendary love affair with portable magnetic tape recorders had come into full flower by 1950. NBC by comparison had long imposed a network-wide proscription against the employment of pre-recorded sound bites in live broadcasts. CBS' wide use of prerecorded segments in news broadcasts had entered wider adoption throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. Hear It Now was arguably the most effective use of the portable tape recorder in CBS history up to that point. NBC, ultimately recognizing tape's effectiveness launched its similar Biography In Sound documentary series in 1954. CBS later countered with its remarkable series, CBS Radio Workshop, in 1956.
Hear It Now set the standard for all of the news documentaries--over both Radio and Television--that followed. The immediacy and visceral effectiveness of contemporary tape-recorded segments brought an entirely new dimension to both Radio and Television. It also brought new life to Radio News. Hear It Now and the extended news programs, documentaries and interview programs that followed it throughout the 1950s and 1960s showed that there was still life, effective commerce, and compelling content to be obtained through the medium of Radio.
'The Great Debate' occupied a great deal of the recorded news bites employed by Hear It Now throughout its Summer 1951 broadcasts. The Great Debate represented a series of congressional inquiries into the history and future of America's involvement in the Far East. The most contentious and controversial component of The Great Debate was President Harry Truman's recall of General Douglas MacArthur from Korea, effectively terminating MacArthur's military service.
Here's a key exchange highlighted in the PBS Series The American Experience from MacArthur's three days of testimony before the Senate:
Senator McMahon: ...If you happen to be wrong this time and we go into all-out war, I want to find out how you propose in your own mind to defend the American Nation against that war.
General MacArthur: That doesn't happen to be my responsibility, Senator. My responsibilities were in the Pacific, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the various agencies of this Government are working day and night for an over-all solution to the global problem. Now I am not familiar with their studies. I haven't gone into it. I have been desperately occupied over on the other side of the world, and to discuss in detail things that I haven't even superficially touched doesn't contribute in any way, shape, or manner to the information of this committee or anybody else.
Senator McMahon: General, I think you make the point very well that I want to make; that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, has [sic] to look at this thing on a global basis and a global defense. You as a theater commander by your own statement have not made that kind of study, and yet you advise us to push forward with a course of action that may involve us in that global conflict.
Conservative and bombastic chickenhawk, Senator Joseph McCarthy (WI-R), waded into the controversy by stating that:
"Frankly, Marshall and Atcheson, et al, have decided that in order to keep Russia out, we can't let Communist China lose the war. Secretary Marshall's testimony in regard to the Chinese Air Force being built up, our failure to conduct reconaissance, the danger of their hitting our troops, would indicate to me beyond any doubt that we're preparing for another planned Pearl Harbor which will be much, much bloodier than the last one. And as I have said, during any other period of history, during any other administration, I think that someone would hang for this treachery."
This was the gulf that separated the predominately chickenhawk Republicans of the era and the more prudent but isolationist Democrats of the era. It was the beginning of the 'two-war' military capability strategy of the Department of Defense that carried forward to the mid-1980s, until the further 'two and a half war' strategy that drove the Department until the mid-2000s. It was clearly unsustainable then as much as now. 1950s America was still recovering from the inflationary influences of the post-World War II era. Our military was entrenched in an undeclared police action in the Korean Pennisula that posed the threat of escalation into an all-out third world war that almost certainly would have been nuclear. America was not the only nuclear-armed world power. MacArthur and McCarthy's positions were entirely unsupported by the facts of America's military rearmament efforts--and that of its Allies--during the era. And of course it was President Truman himself who knew all too well of the consequences of potential atomic warfare.
Understandable patriotic support for General MacArthur flooded the mailboxes of both The Congress and President Truman, but MacArthur's consistent push for all-out war with China was a step too far for the majority of Americans. President Truman took a great deal of heat over his dismissal of MacArthur but as history has demonstrated, Truman's decision was one of the more courageous of the era. It should be remembered that President Truman not only argued against all-out war in Korea and China, but also strenuously fought against demands to decrease the size of the military by as much as 500,000 personnel.
Hear It Now dutifully broadcast all of the developments of the Korean Conflict, traced the entire Great Debate, and sounded a clarion call drawing attention to the forces beginning to polarize America during 1951. But Hear It Now effectively contrasted those undercurrents of polarization with all of the current developments in technology of the era, the entertainment world of the era, visceral depictions of slices of American life across the country, and America's social, cultural, and political landscape as contrasted with the landscape outside the U.S.
Hear It Now's news reports capture a vivid image of 1951 America--America at a Cold War crossroad. They encapsulate the nexus of Senator McCarthy's growing influence on American culture. They trace a resurgence of political fearmongering that began to polarize America for the following fifty years.
Hear It Now Epilogue and Legacy
By the late 1950s, with Edward R. Murrow and CBS almost continually at loggerheads over journalistic integrity and independence, Ed Murrow's growing disenchantment with corporate influence over broadcast journalism increased even further. True to his own beliefs and personal integrity, in 1961 Murrow accepted President John F. Kennedy's offer of the position as head of the United States Information Agency, the producer of Voice of America. Murrow remained with the USIA until his personal battle with lung cancer forced him to step down.
All corporate-delivered news in the U.S. is thoroughly sanitized, homogenized, sterilized and corporately vetted prior to airtime. The more anxiety-producing or fear-inducing news, the better. Feel-good and human interest stories of hope, success, triumph over adversity--let alone the starker, darker day to day circumstances of the average American--are regularly and deliberately withheld. Wall Street rules. Main Street and America's Middle Class are no longer "air worthy." And in the final analysis, where else do the overwhelming majority of average American citizens have to go for their news over either Cable or Television?:
- The National Broadcasting Company is owned by Comcast
- The Columbia Broadcasting System is owned by Viacom
- The American Broadcasting Company is owned by the Walt Disney Company
- The Fox Network is owned by News Corp and The Murdoch Family
- The Cable News Network (CNN) is owned by Time-Warner
The above five companies control an estimated 87% of the news consumed by the average American citizen.
The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in contrast to corporate media, is owned by its 384 constituent member stations. Both PBS and National Public Radio (NPR) are controlled by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CBP). Both PBS and NPR are governed by the mandate set forth by The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which requires that the CPB operate with a:
. . . "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature. "
'The Act' also requires that the CPB regularly review national programming for objectivity and balance, as well as report on "its efforts to address concerns about objectivity and balance."
As must be obvious, none of the five coporations cited above are controlled by The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. Nor are they required to adhere to any of The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967's precepts. Nor, apparently, are they required to adhere to the precepts of the Communications Act of 1934:
"regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority theretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is hereby created a commission to be known as the 'Federal Communications Commission', which shall be constituted as hereinafter provided, and which shall execute and enforce the provisions of this Act."
. . . nor the Telecommuncations Act of 1996 as amended in 1999 which notably provided provisions . . .
“to provide for a pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced information technologies and services to all Americans by opening all telecommunications markets to competition...."
"that a broadcast station should not be allowed to refuse a request for political advertising time solely on the ground that the station does not sell or program such lengths of time."
It would seem apparent by now that all efforts to maintain the public airwaves in the interests of all Americans, especially those efforts mandated by the various governing communications acts have proven utterly ineffective. Throughout the Golden Age of Radio the overarching guidelines of the Communications Act of 1934 were adhered to by force of American morality and fair play ideals alone. Business and corporate interests continually pushed back against those precepts and guidelines, but public opinion and the wide diversity of communications outlets between 1934 and the Reagan Administration throughout the 1980s prevented the most outrageous abuses of the Act from taking root.
The Reagan Years sadly marked the beginning of the end for any real promise of fairness, balance and diversity of public communications.
||Edward R. Murrow, Judy Holliday, Carl Sandburg, Bernard Baruch, Red Barber, Abe Burrows, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Andrei Vishinsk, Thomas Dewey, The Duchess Of Windsor, Branch Rickey, Warren Austin, Brooks Watson, Matthew Ridgeway, King Carol of Romania, Senator Kenneth S. Wherry, Ben Hogan, Pope Pius XII, King George VI, John Foster Dulles, Edmond Scott, Jack Nell, Governor Thomas Dewey, Walter Winchell, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Taft, Dean Acheson, Harold Stassen, Chester Nimitz, James Byrnes, Johnny Dundee, James Conant, Joe Martin, Leo Durocher, Sen. Sam Rayburn, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Sugar Ray Robinson, Herbert Hoover, Aga Kahn, Harry Byrd, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Russ Hodges, Alexander Kendrick, Chuck Wiley, Alan Dulles, Mike De Salle, Frank Costello, Winston Churchill, Larry Parks, Judy Holliday, Jose Ferrer, Groucho Marx, Louella Parsons, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Mack Sennett, Samuel Goldwyn, Arthur Vandenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harry Truman, Alben Barkley, Honus Wagner, Connie Mack, Lionel Barrymore, Ezio Pinza, Richard Rogers, Robert Pierpoint, Gen. George C. Marshall, Lionel Barrymore, Sterling Hayden, Sam Goldwyn, Mayor Fletcher Borwon, George Jessel, Harry James