Murrow at CBS, USA, 1946-1961

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Murrow at CBS USA, 1946-1961

Cartoon of Edward R. Murrow on the cover of The New Yorker magazine, 1953 With the war finally over, Edward R. Murrow considered various job offers among them the presidency of Washington State College, Assistant Secretary of State, administrating philanthropies at Carnegie Foundation, or working as news correspondent for a radio contract paid for by Campbell's Soup Company and organized by the Stix & Gude agency which had represented Murrow and other radio news personalities during World War II. Eventually though, Murrow decided to stay with CBS, whose president, William S. Paley, had tempted him with an offer to take over management of news broadcasting worldwide. When Murrow returned to the U.S. in March 1946, it was as Vice President of CBS, Director for News and Public Affairs. He soon found out, however, that he was neither satisfied nor perhaps ideally suited to work solely as administrator. Barely a year later, in the summer of 1947, Murrow resigned as vice president and returned to doing broadcasts and news analysis for CBS until 1961. From 1947 through 1956, Murrow was also a member of the CBS Board of Directors.

During the next 14 years Murrow gained national prominence with a number of programs and in his various guises as host, moderator, analyst, and producer. Among these were:

• Edward R. Murrow with the News (radio)
• Hear it Now (radio)
• CBS Views the Press (radio)
• CBS Evening News (as news analyst)
• See It Now
• Person to Person
• This I Believe (radio/newspaper; arranged and edited by Ed Morgan and later by Raymond Swing)
• CBS Reports
• Years of Crisis
• Small World
• Background (radio)

Murrow's broadcasts including those from World War II, won him and his colleagues every possible award in the field of broadcasting, numerous other prizes, honors, and honorary degrees. His broadcasts also earned him a salary higher than that of the president of CBS himself. Interestingly enough, the largest portion of his income accrued from his radio programs and sponsorship contracts.

Edward R. Murrow with Bill Downs and 
	  Ron Cochran at a national conventionThe 1950s were characterized by a growing alienation between Murrow, CBS administrators, and sponsors, who both had come to dislike his independence, his critical broadcasts, and his critical analysis of the broadcasting industry. Entertainment and finance increasingly ruled priorities and decisions in the media industry, at CBS, and in its news division. In addition, personality conflicts between Murrow and administrators, in particular with Frank Stanton, grew worse over time. In 1959, when CBS was critiqued over its television quiz-show scandal, Stanton attempted to deflect attention away from CBS's collusion: he unfairly and incorrectly compared any rigging of its quiz shows to the preparation necessary to shoot Murrow's show Person to Person on site. He thus implied that Murrow and his team were using presumably duplicitous methods. Murrow protested publicly. By the late 1950s, most of Murrow's programs had been cut, negotiations for his new contract had stalled, and he was only occasionally doing CBS Reports. At the same time as CBS chose to underutilize its most renowned radio and television anchor, its news ratings slumped in comparison to NBC. Murrow, of course, began to look for other employment possibilities befitting his background and age. One such offer came from the BBC which asked Murrow to produce a television series about contemporary England. Ultimately though, Murrow accepted John F. Kennedy's appointment to become Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA). He resigned from CBS in January 1961.

Teamwork at CBS

Edward R. Murrow with John Aaron (left) and Jesse Zousmer (right) who both first worked on the Daily News and then on Person to Person, early 1950s Murrow's workload at CBS was tremendous. It left him little time for coming up with his insights and analysis and led every so often to breakdowns in his health. Juggling his many programs meant that much of the background work and even writing had to be done by staff members. In fact, over time, the staff learnt how to write in order to sound like Murrow.

Take the radio program Edward R. Murrow with the News. When Murrow returned to broadcasting in 1947 he took over Robert Trout's show, The News Till Now, which was renamed accordingly. Murrow kept on Jesse Zousmer and John Aarons, who previously had worked for Robert Trout. Together Zousmer and Aarons proposed, researched, and wrote the news portion as well as Murrow's word-for-the-day; much later Edward Bliss Jr. took over those tasks. Murrow wrote the tailpiece analysis for each radio broadcast. With more and more radio and television programs to organize and present e.g. See it Now, Person to Person, and This I Believe, Murrow was reluctantly compelled to hire a ghostwriter for most of his radio news commentaries. But, in hiring the veteran Raymond Gram Swing to write news for him and to arrange and edit the remaining This I Believe broadcasts, Murrow was one of the few in the industry who did not cave in to its blacklisting. Swing had been listed in the anti-communist Counterattack two years earlier, had resigned from the Voice of America after being besmirched by McCarthy, and had thereafter become unhireable.1

Program Focus and Program Ideas

Edward R. Murrow covering a political convention, 1948 Murrow's political views were not radical or progressive; he was more closely alligned with the Democratic Party and had even considered running for political office several times. Given his family background, though, he never overlooked the poor, the so-called forgotten, the African Americans, or the 'everyday person' and included them and their points of view in innumerous broadcasts. His broadcasts were more interesting and lively for it. This focus was also rooted in his conviction that everyone deserved attention and equal chances, and that a democracy that foregoes the lives and fates of those people does so at its own peril. And so Murrow produced or presented memorable broadcasts on poverty; on the school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court in 1954; on the link between lung cancer and smoking; Edward R. Murrow's program proposals, 1956the See It Now special Harvest of Shame tracking the lives of migrant agricultural workers (produced and filmed by David Lowe and Marty Barnett); the documentary The Lost Class of '59 for which he and Fred Friendly won a Peabody Special Public Service Award; or the Christmas in Korea special in 1952, among many others.

Many of Murrow's program suggestions did not come to fruition such as As Others See Us, Who Made This Country, and A Thirty Day Diary, all ideas which Murrow mentioned to William S. Paley, then Chair of CBS Board and former owner of the network, in 1956.

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1 Counterattack was a weekly newsletter published by American Business Consultants, Inc. A number of former FBI agents founded ABC Inc. and began publishing Counterattack in May 1947. In 1950, they published 'Red Channels,' a book listing possible subversives in radio and television, all of whom were consequently blacklisted from any employment in the entertainment industry.