A panel discussion among his friends and colleagues, “Edward R. Murrow: Uniqueness in Retrospect,” concluded a month-long study of the broadcast journalism of the CBS newsman and innovator. Presented under the auspices of the Poynter Fellowship Committee of the Changing American Culture, the survey began with public showings of eight of Murrow’s telecasts—two showings in Skinner Hall on September 19, September 24, October 3 and October 10. Among the telecasts were Murrow’s indictment of Senator Joseph McCarthy, “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,” broadcast on “See It Now” on March 9, 1954, and the “See It Now” program he introduced a week later as “a little picture about a little woman,” the study of McCarthy’s merciless and, for him, disastrous browbeating before his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of Pentagon communications clerk Annie Lee Moss, an African American widow whom McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn mistakenly branded a Communist. The series concluded with repeat showings of the first McCarthy program and the Annie Moss program and Murrow’s “The Incredible Career of Grandma Moses” (1955), “Clinton and the Law: A Study in Desegregation” (1957) and “Harvest of Shame” (1960) a film about the mistreatment of migrant workers.
Paricipants on the panel included,broadcast included: Vassar trustee Donald Wilson, former Time correspondent and Murrow’s deputy director at the United States Information Agency (USIA); CBS broadcast journalist and educator Edward Bliss, Jr., head of broadcast journalism at American University, news editor of the program “Edward R. Murrow and the News” and editor of In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow 1938-1961 (1967); Wallace Carroll, former foreign correspondent and editor of The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel—a colleague of Murrow since the 1930s; Reed Harris from Freedoms Foundation, a non-profit sponsor of Radio Free Europe, and one of Senator McCarthy’s State Department targets, whom Murrow defended and later hired for the USIA; and Richard C. Hottelet, a longtime CBS News correspondent and Murrow’s colleague in CBS News in London, Moscow, Berlin and Bonn in 1944-56
Moderated by Mr. Wilson, the panel began with Richard Hottelet’s observation that Murrow would be the first to laugh at their “sitting down to venerate famous men,” adding that his friend “was immune to the self hynosis of the microphone.” Wallace Carroll, according to The Miscellany News, “recalled the difference between Murrow and the other resident journalists covering the League of Nations in Geneva, 1936: ’he always looked at things with a fresh eye, rather than running to the more established reporters for the last word on what was happening.’”
Acknowledging Murrow’s role in his vindication against McCarthy’s charges, Reed Harris observed that, once vindicated, he didn’t re-enter government service until Murrow accepted John F. Kennedy’s invitation to head the USIA in 1961. “I’ve been criticizing bureaucrats all my adult life,” Harris said Murrow told him, “it’s my turn to try.” Harris said that Murrow recognized Kennedy’s “intelligence and purpose,” and that Murrow’s career as a “professional doubter” suited him for the job.
Introduced by Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow spoke at Vassar on the notion that “American is an Island” in October 1949, and he interviewed President Sarah Gibson Blanding on his interview program “Person to Person” in March 1959. Edward R. Murrow died in 1965.
Marion Knauss Poynter ’46 was the wife of Nelson Poynter, the publisher of The St. Petersburg Times and co-founder of The Congressional Quarterly. In 1975 he founded the Modern Media Institute, a school and center for the study of journalism in St. Petersburg. The institute became The Poynter Institute of Media Studies in 1984.