I avoided George Clooney’s film “Good Night And Good Luck” when it was released, because I knew it had been designed as an anti-Bush administration allegory, weaponizing Edward R. Murrow’s battle with Senator Joe McCarthy as progressive propaganda. See the courageous and principled journalists stand up against ruthless Republican bullies! See the dangerous power-abusers strike back with guilt by association allegations and by attacking the messenger! See the objective, non-partisan journalists help bring down the threat to democracy!
I finally watched the film this week, and was struck by several things. First of all, the movie, which Clooney directed as well as co-starred in (as Fred Friendly) was much better and fairer than I expected: let that be a lesson to me.
Second, David Strathairn as Murrow once again showed what an excellent and under-appreciated actor he is, although his voice is an inadequate substitute for Murrow’s rich baritone. Third, Senator McCarthy really was a sinister creep, and it radiates from the screen. Those who still defend him, like Ann Coulter, are allying themselves with the Prince of Darkness. The man claimed that the ACLU was a Communist front organization!
Most of all, however, I was struck by how ironic and convoluted the film’s analogies had become in just 14 years, and found myself wondering who Murrow would regard as the bad guys today. For example, Murrow, speaking of McCarthy’s hearings on Communists in the Army and elsewhere, tells his audience that while Congressional hearings are an important part of the body’s oversight function, the line between legitimate hearings and “persecution” is thin. What would he think about today’s Democrats’ endless fishing expeditions designed to find some justification for impeaching the President?
Murrow went on television to condemn McCarthy’s repeated accusations based on assertions of facts, evidence and documents that didn’t exist. Would he have done the same today, but with his target being Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca) or Gerald Nadler (D-NY), both of whom have repeatedly, McCarthy-like, claimed to have “proof” of President Trump’s collusion that didn’t exist?
What would Murrow have said about today’s broadcast news, when in the Fifties he was bemoaning TV’s tendency to tell Americans what they wanted to hear in order to maximize profits, rather than revealing uncomfortable truths? Who would Murrow regard as the 2019 equivalent of Joe McCarthy? Would it be the President, for his penchant for attacking journalists as “enemies of the people”? Would it be Democrats who have used guilt by association and false accusations of conspiring with Russia for cynical their political gain? Or would it be mainstream media darlings like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates organizations as “hate groups” just as falsely and irresponsibly as McCarthy declared organizations to be “Communist fronts”?
Finally, how would Murrow square 2019 news media with the vision he and his CBS news colleagues share in the film (and apparently shared in real life) of broadcast journalism’s duty to be a courageous, non-partisan watch-dog on government and politics, whose only stakeholder is the public and whose only mission is to reveal the truth?
I recommend the film highly. I think George Clooney might want to watch it again.