Blogs > Cliopatria > Jesse Lemisch: Murrow in the Blitz

Oct 17, 2005 9:16 pm

Jesse Lemisch: Murrow in the Blitz

To the Editor:

Early in World War II, Edward R. Murrow was deeply and emotionally committed to American support of the embattled British. This influenced his dramatic CBS rooftop broadcasts from London during the Nazi bombing. As Neal Gabler writes ["Good Night, and the Good Fight," Op-Ed, October 9], Murrow "[held] out his microphone so that listeners could hear the explosions during the London Blitz."

There is more to this than Gabler reports. In his landmark study, Documentary Expression and Thirties America [Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press, 1986 (1973), p 89], William Stott writes of Murrow:

"He told his wife in a later note that he had broken network rules and run the transcribed sound of a bomb falling nearly on mike, because he wanted 'pretty strong meat' to 'take the heart out of a few people' listening; he wanted to shake his audience, wake them up."

This hardly detracts from Murrow's heroism in standing up to McCarthy. But it does raise important questions about journalistic ethics and the limits of advocacy journalism.

Jesse Lemisch
Professor Emeritus of History, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Lorraine Paul - 10/21/2005


Alonzo Hamby - 10/21/2005

Lemisch is absolutely right. Murrow practiced "advocacy journalism" during the Blitz. So did a number of other American journalists in London.
Let's take it a step farther. He practiced advocacy journalism throughout World War II. No even-handed neutrality. As what we might now call an "embedded" war correspondent, he never betrayed a semblance of doubt that the U.S. was on the right side, never referred in some neutral way to "the Americans," but rather always said "we."
Terribly unprofessional. Right? How could such a man get a job at CBS today?