Murrow at CBS, USA, 1946-1961

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A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy

An issue of The Reporter covering McCarthyism, July 1953 The 2005 movie, Good Night and Good Luck, tells the story of the See it Now special for which Edward R. Murrow is perhaps best known. It is the broadcast on the Junior Senator of Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, from March 9, 1954. On the air and in print, numerous reporters and journalists had long attacked the senator for his undemocratic persecution of alleged Communists. In fact, Eric Sevareid, one of the Murrow Boys, and others had criticized Murrow over the years for not using his prominence to report on Senator McCarthy.

One exception to Murrow's silence on the topic was his 1951 Thanksgiving evening radio broadcast in which he stated: 'This is a day when it is customary to list reasons for thankfulness. ... We should, I think, be grateful to Senator Joe McCarthy. He has become a symbol of accusation without proof. We shall have to decide - we are in the process of deciding, - whether as a people, we are prepared to proceed upon that premise.' Murrow, in fact, had lost a personal friend to an early campaign of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948. HUAC and one of its more famous members, Richard Nixon, turned the accidental death of Laurence Duggan, director of International Institute of Education, into an admission of guilt in 1948. Laurence, Stephen Duggan's son and a friend of Murrow's from the 1930s, had been interviewed in connection with the Hiss investigation a few days of his accident. Upon Laurence's death, rumors about his ties to the Soviet Union were spread by HUAC without providing any evidence for those claims.2 In response, Murrow did a scathing radio broadcast about the accident and HUAC's allegations.

Against a backdrop of rising opposition to McCarthy in 1953, Edward R. Murrow and his See it Now producer Fred Friendly finally found an interesting angle to address McCarthy's tactics. In October 1953, they aired a See it Now program regarding the case of Milo Radulovich (1926-2007). Radulovich, a second-generation U.S. citizen, was discharged as reserve Air Force lieutenant due to his family's alleged Communist contacts. After Murrow's program and the ensuing publicity, Radulovic received a hearing and was reinstated in the Air Force.

Joseph McCarthy's telegram in response to Edward R. Murrow's broadcast from March 15th, 1954
Murrow and Friendly followed this up with their March 1954 See it Now Special on the Senator from Wisconsin himself, paying for the program's advertisement out of their own pockets. Consisting largely of excerpts from McCarthy's television appearances, this broadcast and McCarthy's televised response did much to reveal the senator's illogical, crude, and undemocratic crusade to a general public. Murrow's stature and analysis did the rest. Murrow's broadcast came right in the middle of the Army - McCarthy dispute over preferential treatment for a former McCarthy aide, Gerard David Shine. Starting in late April 1964, the 36 days of televised Army - McCarthy hearings were key to three developments: McCarthy's eventual censure by the Senate in December 1954, his loss of political power, and the public's disenchantment with the senator after his behavior was exposed on ABC over seven weeks.

Sponsors and Program Content

July 1943 telegram regarding radio program sponsorship by American Oil Murrow always appeared reluctant to have sponsors for his programs or, rather, to have sponsors involved in his programs. Of course: he made excellent money with his sponsoring contracts, the most famous of which was with ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America) during the 1950s. His first sponsorship, during the war, appears to have been with Silver Industries soon followed in 1943 by the American Oil Company (AMOCO) and the Campbell's Soup Company.

Murrow's first public comments regarding his sponsors in April 1943 are typical for his journalistic skills. He managed to allude to his reservations, praise his first sponsor International Silver for their non-intervention, and at the same time do some publicity work for International Silver in the contemporary context of war:

"It is customary, I believe, for broadcasters to say something about their sponsors when they begin a new series. I refrained from doing so when this series began a year ago tonight [Sunday Broadcast Series], for I didn't know how the thing would work out. But it seems to me fair now to say that at no time has International Silver told me what to say or what not to say; there nave never been any suggestions that these reports should be weighted or coloured in any way. As I understand it, International Silver is now engaged in war work exclusively. The craftsmen who once made fine silver are now making rifle parts, incendiary bombs, surgical instruments, cartridge clips, bomber parts and all kinds of military equipment. I saw some of their products being used in North Africa, with the realisation that men whose work gave pleasure in peacetime are now producing the weapons necessary for survival. It is no mean achievement."
Murrow broadcast from London about the campaign in North Africa, April 25, 1943

Murrow was critical of the potential editorial role of sponsors, the role sponsors played in making or unmaking radio or television programs, and he was opposed to their advertisements infringing on or interrupting his reports and analyses. When he began Edward R. Murrow with the News, for instance, he successfully insisted that Campbell's Soup Company was not allowed to break into the middle of his program with a commercial. Edward R. Murrow with Harry S. Truman in the background while CBS crew is setting up for an interview in Islamorada, Florida, 1957At the height of his fame and stature, Murrow was long cushioned from usual commercial pressures on program content. However, with radio news and, later on, television maturing, corporate sponsors gained in power over the U.S. media industry. At the same time, the media industry itself was turning increasingly corporate and was thus ever more sensitive to corporate pressures. Over time, the broadcasting industry increasingly passed over news and education broadcasts in favor of more lucrative entertainment programs. This further weakened Murrow's position.

As long as ALCOA produced aluminum goods for industry, it stood behind Murrow's programs - and as long as it needed to reinvent its corporate image, which had been partially tarnished by a 1937 antitrust lawsuit. In sponsoring See it Now in the early 1950s, which usually cost ALCOA about $50,000 per week, ALCOA relished the positive image that Murrow's programs gave to its company. Given little notice and no indication of what was about to be aired, ALCOA also sponsored Murrow's McCarthy special. It stood by Murrow after the show had aired and refused to pay the production cost of McCarthy's filmed reply, as the senator had demanded. Instead, CBS picked up the bill. However, the more the company moved into producing household goods, such as aluminum foil, the less enchanted it became with Murrow's provocative broadcasts. The final straw was a See It Now program called The Power of the Press regarding a land grant scandal involving Texan state officials and veterans in May 1955. Pictured with Eleanor Roosevelt and Edward R. Murrow, the opera singer Marian Anderson receives an award for a See It Now special, 1958.ALCOA was trying to expand its production in Texas at the time and in response to the show it cancelled its sponsorship with the end of the season. This killed the weekly See It Now program.

While the See it Now series had never been a big crowd pleaser, it had brought CBS numerous awards, industry leadership in the making of news documentaries, and public acclaim. During the Harris Congressional subcommittee hearings over the quiz scandal in 1959, Frank Stanton opportunistically pointed to CBS's continuing, albeit lukewarm support for See it Now Specials to escape more trenchant criticism and action given the network's rigging of quiz shows.

Some of the hundreds of Murrow's awards and certificates are on display in the Edward R. Murrow Room at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, Medford. All others are part of the Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985 at the Digitical Collections and Archives, Tufts University.

Billboard Award for Outstanding 
Achievement in Television Programming - presented to Edward R. Murrow, voted by the television 
industry as the 'Best Network Commentator' for the 1956-1957 season Annual Freedom Award presented to 
Edward R. Murrow in 1954

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2 Only five decades later, records were made available that indicated that Laurence Duggan, indeed, had provided information to the Soviet Union; see here Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America - the Stalin Era (Random House: New York 1999). For an edited version of Murrow's broadcast regarding Laurence Duggan's death on December 21, 1948, 7:45pm, see Laurence Duggan 1905-1948: In Memoriam (1949).


Text and Selection of Illustration Susanne Belovari, PhD, M.S., M.A., Archivist for Reference and Collections, DCA
Digitization Michelle Romero, M.A., Murrow Digitization Project Archivist
Images All images: Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA, Tufts University, used with permission of copyright owner, and Joseph E. Persico Papers, DCA.

Partial Bibliography

For a full bibliography please see the exhibit bibliography section.

Books consulted include Sperber (1986); also Persico (1988) and Kendrick (1969).

The Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA

Laurence Duggan 1905-1948: In Memoriam (The Overbrook Press: Stamford Conn. 1949).

Filardo, Meyer Peter. "The Counterattack research files on American Communism, Tamiment Institute Library, New York University - weekly anti-Communism newsletter published by American Business Consultants, Inc., 1947-1968," Labor History, May, 1998.

See it Now, edited by Murrow, Edward R. and Fred W. Friendly (Simon and Schuster: New York 1955).

Wersheba, Joseph. The Senator and the Broadcaster: An intimate history of the most famous program in television history: Edward R. Murrow's 'See it Now' documentary on Joe McCarthy, November 1953 - March 1954.