Biography for Edward R. Murrow
Edward Roscoe Murrow was an independent-minded newsman who emphasized plain speaking and straightforward reporting on a high level of integrity. In the words of the New York Times, "No other figure in broadcast news left such a strong stamp on both radio and television." Murrow was born at Pole Cat Creek, near Greensboro, North Carolina on April 25, 1908, son of a farmer. He was named Egbert Roscoe, but as he grew up he became Ed, then Edward. When he was six, the family moved to a small town, Blanchard, in northern Washington. His father became a locomotive engineer for a lumber company, and young Murrow spent summers working on a survey gang in the camps. He got a taste of frontier life and labor excitement brought on by the Industrial Workers of the World. At his high school he was student body president and a champion debater. In 1930, Murrow graduated from Washington State College (now University), in Pullman, with a bachelor's degree in the speech program, which included the first college course in radio broadcasting given in the United States. At college, Murrow had become president of the National Student Federation (NSF), and after graduating he went to New York City to lead the federation's work, giving talks at colleges, arranging student exchanges, and finding speakers for the University of the Air, a Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) feature. (At an NSF conference he met Janet Brewster, whom he later married. She also became a broadcaster.) Murrow moved on to the Institute of International Education as assistant director in 1932, and the following year, as Hitler and the Nazi party took power in Germany, he became involved in bringing anti-Nazi scholars to the United States. CBS put Murrow in charge of arranging talks for its network in 1935, and two years later it sent him to Europe as director of its programs beamed to America. As political events moved rapidly forward, Murrow's voice became well known. He broadcast eyewitness reports of such historic happenings as Hitler's entrance into Vienna in March 1938 after German troops occupied Austria, which became part of the German Reich. Murrow and his staff originated the news roundup, in which, during a broadcast, reporters' accounts were picked up from several different cities. He recruited a remarkable team of foreign correspondents, all experienced journalists. Murrow made London his base during World War II. He brought home the realities of the war to the American people through his reports as they happened, describing the German blitz (bombing raids) on British cities as well as British and American raids on German cities. He reported from air-raid shelters, hospitals, camps, and—at the end of the war—from the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, where he witnessed the camp's liberation by Allied troops. He was as much a presence to the British people as to Americans and was later honored by Queen Elizabeth II with an honorary knighthood. Returning to the United States, Murrow was on the air for CBS every night giving the news with his commentary—a program that became the authoritative account of what had happened at home and abroad. Murrow saw radio and television as the means for informing and educating the public, and his objection to commercialization often brought him into conflict with the networks. From 1951 to 1958, Murrow and Fred W. Friendly produced a weekly television program called "See It Now," devoted to national and international events and problems and considered the most objective, informative, and penetrating on the air. One of the most interesting episodes of "See It Now" was an attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy that aired in 1954. By weaving footage of McCarthy's anticommunist speeches and his outbursts against witnesses before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Murrow created a harsh but accurate portrait of the senator. In the 1950s, he launched "Person to Person," in which he visited with celebrities in their homes, and another, "Small World," involving conversations by telephone with distinguished personages abroad, with relevant films and photographs. After CBS ended "See It Now" in favor of entertainment that attracted larger audiences, Murrow's disagreement with broadcasting policy became acute. In October 1958, he delivered a famous speech to a meeting of the Radio and Television News Directors Association harshly criticizing the networks for their encouragement of "decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live." His resignation from CBS followed. In early 1961, Murrow joined the administration of President John F. Kennedy as director of the U.S. Information Agency and served for three years, until illness forced him to retire. Well known as a three-pack-a-day smoker, he died of lung cancer a year later on April 27, 1965.