8. Enter Ed Murrow, an Innately Elegant Man in an Innately Inelegant Profession
In 1937 a job opened up for a head of CBS European division. It was, in effect, a business job, involving scheduling prominent Europeans for CBS broadcasts. It was not a journalistic job at the start. For a time it appeared likely to go to a young man named Fred Willis, who was charming, sociable, and graceful. A colleague asked Willis about the rumor, since the job was considered something of a plum. No, answered Willis, he had thought it over, but he wanted a real future at the company, and the one thing he was sure of was that you should never be that far from headquarters. So the job went instead to Edward R. Murrow.
Murrow. The right man in the right place in the right era. An innately elegant man in an innately inelegant profession. A rare figure, as good as his legend. His presence was so strong that it still lives. In many ways, because he was what he was, CBS News is today what it is. He was shy and often withdrawn in personal conversation, but totally controlled and brilliant as a communicator. His voice was steeped in civility, intelligence, and compassion. He was a man who, much as Lindberg did, spanned the oceans and shortened distance and heightened time. He helped make radio respectable as a serious journalistic profession, and more than a decade later, simply by going over to television, had a good deal to do with making that journalistically legitimate too. He was, in a way, more an educator than a journalist. His own career and the technological revolution he was part of helped mark America's transformation from a post-Depression isolationist nation to a major international superpower. His very voice bridged the ocean, brought Europe (and thus potentially threatening alien powers) closer, and made its presence more immediate and more complicated. He helped educate the nation in the process of entering the larger world. He also helped inaugurate an era in which the very speed of communication became a form of power.
His was a unique coming. No other broadcast journalist has ever accumulated the prestige that Murrow enjoyed both inside and outside the company. There were many reasons for this. For one thing, radio broadcasting was so embryonic that while Murrow was proving to be so good and the story proving to be so important, his employers had not yet developed the sort of complicated internal checks that might keep him down or limit him. Quite the reverse. As his comet ascended, so did that of CBS. The network was the direct beneficiary of his excellence, so there was little desire to restrain him, or to set narrow limits of objectivity. He was reporting on the survival of the English-speaking peoples, on the democracies versus the Nazis. Britain's finest hour also became his and American radio's finest hour.
In less heroic and more dubious wars (Korea and Vietnam come to mind), where American survival was not at stake, no American commentator made a similar reputation. And, in Vietnam, those correspondents who did make considerable reputations also became controversial, respected by some of the elite and by their peers, but loathed by the government, and often something of an embarrassment to their own companies. Murrow was an ornament to management. His role and the nature of the war allowed him to accumulate enormous capital both within the company and within the profession. His subsequent and hardly hasty decision to expend some of that capital and to be a comparably tough-minded correspondent on the domestic scene created tension and quickly marked the parameters of freedom within broadcasting in the 1950s. He was the same Murrow with the same high standards, but year after year he became less and less of a corporate asset.
Murrow was not a trained journalist, and this was an advantage, because there is a great difference between the words and rhythms of print journalism and the words and rhythms of spoken English. That being the case, he had nothing to unlearn. The spoken word is colloquial; print journalism, when read aloud, is stilted and forced, deprived of its natural balance. Murrow was descended from southerners who had moved to Far West, and his family retained a sense of fashioned High English, an almost poetic language which is fast disappearing from the land. Words were important by themselves. As a young man he had worked as a logger among tough lumbermen of the Northwest, and this rough company not only expedited the changing of his name from Egbert to Edward, but gave him an appreciation the intelligence and shrewdness of ordinary people and how to talk to them. Later he studied drama and voice with some excellent teachers at Washington State University, and this honed his sense of timing and rhythm. One speech teacher in particular, Ida Lou Anderson, had sensed his potential, later, when Murrow was in London, she suggested the pause in his "This. . .is London" trademark. Unlike most correspondents, he knew that pauses and the absence of words could be as important as the words themselves. He had just the right touch, enough drama in his voice to make what he was saying unusually effective, but not so much as to sound like a phony or a ham. His was a natural sense of the drama of his medium. Once, during the Blitz, Murrow held a microphone on the sidewalk during severe German bombing in order to convey the sound of what he was describing—the order and calm with which the British walked to their bomb shelters.
He was not an intellectual; many of the men hired—Sevareid, Kendrick, Smith, Schoenbrun—were far more cerebral than he. But he was an excellent communicator; he had the ability to take something that was happening in one part of the world and make it comprehensible and significant to people living thousands of miles away. His talents were special but were not necessarily those of a brilliant man, for brilliant men often end up talking only to themselves. Rooted as he was the middle class, Murrow could understand the complicated pressures of a shrinking world. Again and again he taught younger reporters at CBS to try to envision their friends back home, try to picture themselves standing at the bar or some other local hangout and, over one or two drinks, explaining what they had seen that day. His passion was not for the scoop but for intelligence, for the audience to understand what was going on in the world. That was the educator in him. A changing map of Europe and Asia had to he explained to the average citizen.
His first job at the network was running its educational service, a job in which, among other things, he helped bring European intellectuals to America. To Murrow, education was a paramount purpose of news reporting. In 1945, after the war was over, he had been impressed with the knowledgeability of a bright young interpreter at Eisenhower's headquarters named David Schoenbrun. Murrow asked Schoenbrun What he planned to do when the war was over. Schoenbrun said he hoped to go back to teaching high school French. Murrow paused for a moment. "Kid," he asked, 'how would you like the biggest classroom in the world?"
Murrow went to Europe as CBS European director in 1937. Early in 1938 came Hitler's Anschluss, the take-over of Austria. CBS sent Murrow as a businessman, not as a broadcaster, but he was quickly caught up in events. The best American journalists were then in Europe—John Gunther, Bill Shirer. H. R. Knickerbocker, Jimmy Shecan, Dorothy Thompson. Murrow was inevitably drawn into their company. When Hitler moved into Austria, Murrow became a journalist overnight. Life itself was speeding up. The speed and totality with which Hitler came to power had been accelerated by science and technology and radio. Even the word for the kind of war Hitler employed, Blitzkrieg, implied an awesome swiftness against which the French Maginot Line could not stand. A man with radio at his disposal could report back with special immediacy to his own country, thousands of miles away: and he could reach a mass audience.
In 1938 America watched and waited on events in Europe, and millions of Americans watched and waited with Ed Murrow. In the first major magazine piece written about Murrow, a perceptive article in Scribners magazine in December, 1938, a young writer named Robert Landsy sensed the coming of a new journalistic order.
He [Murrow] has more influence upon America's reaction to foreign news than a shipful of newspapermen. This influence has not been generally recognized for the reason that newspaper correspondents have tradition on their side, and partly because the networks have played up their commentators rather than their correspondents [like Murrow]. But the influence is there, great and growing—and obvious to anyone who knows both radio and the press. Murrow has three advantages over correspondents for the greatest America newspapers: 1. He beats the newspapers by hours. 2. He reaches millions who otherwise have to depend on provincial newspapers for their foreign news. 3. He writes his own headlines. That is to say he emphasizes what he wishes—whereas the newspaper correspondent writes in cablese—then has his copy edited, maybe rewritten and then published under a bank of headlines in which he has no say.
9. The Murrow Boys at War: What Price Glory?
Murrow set out to hire what quickly became a first-rank team of American foreign correspondents. William L. Shirer had been covering Germany since the rise of Hitler. He was exactly the kind of informed, intelligent journalist that Murrow was seeking. Shirer wrote of their meeting in his diary for August 20, 1937. “I have a job. I am to go to work for the Columbia Broadcasting System. That is, if... I have a job if my voice is all right…who ever heard of an adult with no pretense to being a singer or any other kind of artist being dependent for a good interesting job on his voice. And mine is terrible." Shirer was absolutely right about his voice; it was terrible, and he had no sense of timing in his radio writing. CBS headquarters was much taken with Murrow's first correspondent, and finally Murrow had to cable Klauber asking whether CBS wanted a pretty voice or a great journalist. Murrow carried the day; substance triumphed over style. The CBS men hired by Murrow became what one colleague, not entirely admiringly, called a special kind of philosopher-king-intellectual-statesman-journalist. Other stars soon: followed—Sevareid and Smith and Collingwood—but Shirer was the first. He and Murrow covered the Anschluss together in 1938. As the importance of events mounted, as more points on the map needed coverage and more reporters were hired, the CBS World News Roundup was born. Night after night, as the tension increased and Hitler threatened the peace of the world, the story came to America as Kaltenborn in New York, anchoring the show, came on and began: "Calling Ed Murrow, calling Ed Murrow…”
After Hitler took Poland in 1939, and swept across France in 1940, Murrow moved to London. There his voice became the link between England and America. Most politicians of the generation (with the exception of Hitler and Roosevelt, and later, Churchill) scorned or were slow to understand radio; like most of the intelligentsia, they still thought print the important medium. But the British at every level were acutely aware of' Murrow’s power and influence. Their necks were on the chopping block and they knew exactly what he was saying, for many of his broadcasts were re-played for the British Armed Forces. It was a source of encouragement to the British to know that this was what America was hearing.
Murrow was perfectly cast for the role and for the moment. It was a dark and somber time, and he had a dark and somber vision of mankind and of himself. He had warned his wife, Janet, before their marriage to beware of his depressions and his despair, his black periods. "Ed," Janet Murrow said of him, "is a sufferer." He sometimes seemed anxious to bear all of mankind's burdens. Once, during World War II, Paul White in the CBS office in New York called the London BBC office to locate Murrow. Was he there? "Oh, yes," said the Englishman, "he's somewhere around here wearing his customary crown of thorns." He was the Puritan who was never at ease with his own success. He put himself under terrible pressure. Once, during World War II, his colleague Bill Downs heard so much noise in a French farmhouse where they were staying overnight that he thought German troops were downstairs. It was simply Murrow grinding his teeth.
He was always gracious, but always private. Despite impeccable manners, he kept everyone at a distance. He might reveal, to close friends, his thoughts, but never, if possible, himself. He came from the kind of semi-Calvinist home, said his friend Sevareid, "where there were too many rules and not enough love.” He was always just short of being formal, in tone and dress. The clothes were expensive, the cuff links very fancy. Any other journalist dressing like Murrow would have seemed a fop. He had, Charles Collingwood later learned, almost decided against hiring the young Collingwood because the first time they met, Collingwood, who fancied himself a young man about town, was sporting a pair of very loud argyle socks. Murrow was not entirely sure a man in socks that loud was proper for CBS, Rhodes scholarship or no.
He was acutely aware of his dignity and appearance. He was a fine wing shot and quite willing and eager to hunt with the British on their great estates. But, like many boys of that era who had grown up poor, he could not swim and no one could get him in a bathing suit or near the water. Once, at the height of Murrow's fame, he and Sevareid were about to board a plane at LaGuardia and Sevareid was rather sloppily eating a bag of popcorn. For Murrow it seemed beneath their respective dignities, and he deliberately walked several yards ahead, to be dissociated from popcornism.
The British, of course, loved him for what he could do for them, but also for what he was; he was taken up by the very elite of British society. In a country where, under normal conditions, upper-class doors are opened to few, all doors were open to Murrow. He consciously avoided British mannerisms, British words, a British accent. And his voice in a social, setting was the same as it was on the air, rich and tempered, making what he said sound somehow more serious, more profound. Part of it was his calmness, his assurance, his civility—British qualities. The very manner of his reporting, as well as his words, seemed to embody what was at stake in the war, the values being fought for.
As the best of English society' was open to Murrow, so was it open to his boss, Colonel William S. Paley. Paley took a leave from CBS and went to London in 1943 to serve on Eisenhower's psychological warfare staff. A friendship with Murrow, whom he had barely known before, was immediately forged. They were often joined by Charles Collingwood, and the three strikingly handsome young men were seen at the best places, often with the best-looking women. Paley was close to his young correspondents then. They were heroes, and he was impressed with their intelligence, courage, the risks those boys took in reporting from wartime Europe. And, in no matter what city, they seemed to know just the right people. Those who know Paley believe that during the war in England he sensed for the first time the true social possibilities that his power might generate. By the time he returned to America, after the war, his first marriage was on the rocks. The women he was seeing now were usually from the Social Register. Not that he was frivolous—he was still the relentless, driving businessman—but he was less open, less accessible. His friends were changing, they were more social, more from the upper reaches of the business world. There was a gradually diminishing number of his peers, a gradually diminishing number of people who might argue with him or dispute him.
The Paley-Murrow friendship survived their return home. Paley still liked having Murrow around him, and why not? In the afterglow of the great war, Murrow was the most prestigious journalist in the country. At Paley's urging, Murrow became a vice president of CBS. This was a mistake, since he had neither the talent nor the inclination for administration, and he soon found himself speaking for the company, and having to defend CBS policies with which he did not necessarily agree. But that did not bother either man at the start; Paley offered Murrow a house in Manhasset, Long Island, next to his own (the offer was not accepted). If the relationship was nice for Paley, it was also good for Murrow and the news department. Easy access to the Chairman meant access to air time. It was a built-in protection for correspondents. It seemed to symbolize the strength and importance of the news division within the company, the invulnerability to the pressures outside.
Anyone doubting Murrow's power and influence, or misjudging the priority Paley seemed to place on news, had only to know about the guest list for Paley's second wedding, in 1947, his marriage to Barbara Cushing Mortimer. The wedding was very small and select: her family, not his; her world, not his. Just before the wedding, Paley went to an associate at CBS to ask for camera film and to explain that despite their close professional relationship, no business colleagues or friends of his were being invited. A very small party, jut family, Paley emphasized. The friend understood, and did not mind until after the wedding, when Paley dropped off the film to be developed. The associate looked at some of the shots, and saw, yes, it was small, Bill and Babe, and the family, and Jock Whitney, and there was…Edward R. Murrow. Since the associate who lent the cameras and film, Dr. Frank Stanton, had become the president of CBS a year earlier, and since he had come to resent both Murrow's fame and his personal closeness to Paley, the incident did not soon leave Stanton's mind. Nearly fifteen years later, asked by mutual friends why he could not close the terrible breach with Murrow, since both of them were then ostensibly working toward the same essential goals, Stanton would mention this incident as part of the problem—Murrow was a guest at Bill and Babe Paley's wedding; Stanton was not. The nerve was still that raw.
10. The Importance of Being First
Bill Paley always hated being number two. In 1948, after two decades of rule at CBS, and despite his remarkable success, it bothered Paley that NBC, with its early head start and vast resources, was still number one. He always wanted to be the best. (Once, Mike Dann had arranged for a CBS special on Picasso which required months of delicate negotiations. Dann was justifiably pleased with himself—it was a quality idea, and made better by the fact that Picasso spoke English. Picasso, Dann thought, Paley, prestige. And Paley was somewhat pleased, though he dampened Dann's pleasure by saying yes, Picasso was good, "but I’d rather go after Matisse. Can't we go after Matisse, Mike? You know, on today's market, a Matisse is much more than a Picasso.”) A certain condescension crept into his voice when he talked about General Sarnoff; he felt that Sarnoff had no serious interest in broadcasting, not as Bill Paley envisioned broadcasting. Murrow and the CBS News team had given Paley vast prestige, but the network was nonetheless second to NBC in programming, advertising revenues, and profit, as it always had been. It was a reality that Paley had never accepted, and in 1948 he was ready to move. He knew that the era of television was fast approaching, and he had a strong private belief that only the very best in radio would survive. He also sensed that a dominance in radio might lead to dominance in television. Quietly, through intermediaries, he started sounding out some of NBC's star radio comedians about switching networks. The struggle soon centered around Jack Benny.
The NBC stars were restless, not so much with the network as with the U.S. government, which was taxing many of them at about 90 percent. CBS consulted with MCA, the talent agency, and determined that stars like Benny could be taxed as companies rather than as individuals, and could thus sharply reduce the portion of their salary handed over to the government. Radio was then at its zenith and Benny was its biggest star, the 7 P.M. centerpiece of a star-studded NBC Sunday team. His contract was soon to end, and he was in a position to set a pattern which his colleagues might follow.
Here the difference between Paley and Sarnoff was crucial: Paley loved entertainment. When a star came to CBS for lunch, Paley was at his best—flowers, charm, style. Sarnoff, on the other hand, convinced that the key to NBC's success was its engineering superiority, its clear-channel stations. His was the greatest theater in the world, as he saw it, and could put on whatever he wanted because the sound system was so good and the seats so comfortable that people would keep coming. General Sarnoff was, in his life-style at least, a modest man, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who made a very great fortune from his position (indeed, the disparity between his and Paley’s wealth was something that always grated on him. Paley owned CBS, but Sarnoff was a salaried executive at RCA.) He was a proper man, sensitive about his own simple background and the need to be worthy of his position in America. Dignity was important to him and stars rarely, to his mind, had dignity. A system which built up stars with huge, vulgar salaries was distasteful to him. (Once, at the height of television's success, he found out how much money Jackie Gleason was making. "That's more money than I make," he complained. "But, General," said his aide Pat Weaver, referring to a patented Gleason trademark, a pratfall, “you can’t do the fall.") Not surprisingly, even by 1948 Sarnoff had never met Jack Benny, his number one star. Moreover, he had no intention of competing with Bill Paley in wildcat offers for comedians, ventriloquists, and people of that ilk. Some of his aides told him not to worry, that television was coming, and radio stars like Benny would soon be passé. So while Paley turned on the full charm, letting Jack Benny know how much he cared about talent, and that the key to CBS was going to be entertainers, Sarnoft did relatively little. Benny switched.
The American Tobacco Company was nervous about the change, since NBC's audience for these stars was so huge, so Paley promised to pay them $3000 for every Hooper rating point that Benny lost in the move. The moment Benny left, Sarnoff aaid, All right, we'll put Horace Heidt in his slot at 7 o'clock. Horace Heidt. It was a disaster. Benny had a Hooper rating of 27, 3 points higher than he had had at NBC. Sarnoff, tied into a bad policy, valuing machinery above talent, could not hold his other stars. Benny helped persuade them, and across the DMZ they came: Edgar Bergen, Burns and Allen. Red Skelton; At the last minute Sarnoff switched his policy and paid a small ransom to hold Bob Hope. By the time it was over, Bill Paley had stolen NBC's Sunday night. Benny was bigger than ever. More important, the raid strengthened CBS radio and gave CBS precisely the lead over NBC that Paley had wanted for the move into television.
A few days after the raid an irate David Sarnoff called Bill Paley to ask how he could do it: How could he violate their long-standing unwritten agreement not to steal each other's stars? How could he do it?
There was a long pause, and then Paley said (it was, said someone who was sitting in the room with him, the first time he had ever heard Bill Paley sound sheepish): "Because I needed them."
Indeed he did. Within a year CBS was first in programming, revenues, and profits, and was moving headlong into television. Some CBS newsmen began to sense that Bill Paley's need for Jack Benny and Amos and Andy presaged a diminishing need for reporters. The correspondents became a little less important, secondary to the other operations of CBS, as David Schoenbrun soon found out.
Schoenbrun, CBS's man in Paris, once received a phone call from Bill Paley. Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone would soon be traveling through France on their vacation and Bill would like David to keep an eye on them. Paley knew how influential David was in Paris. The message was that it was important to the company that David show Jack Benny a good time. Sensitive negotiations with Benny were about to start again, and he needed to be reminded what a great organization CBS was, how much influence it had, even in France. Bill Paley did not have to underscore how important Jack was to the company. Besides, David would just love Jack and Mary.
The last, at least, was not true. Very quickly David Schoenbrun came to dislike both Jack and Mary. Jack Benny had been portrayed all those years on radio as a stingy man, and he did not seem eager to dispel his own reputation. Nor did Schoenbrun come to like Mary, who nagged at him constantly. A week passed, and finally Schoenbrun thought the visit was over. But on the night of Friday, July 13, Mary called Schoenbrun to say that she wanted some perfume, the kind that Babe Paley used, which was, of course, the best. They were, she added, leaving Paris early on Monday the sixteenth.
"I need two quarts," she said.
"What kind is it?" asked Schoenbrun.
"I don't know, but it's the best; Babe uses it.'
So Schoenbrun listed all the various great perfumes and finally got to Vent Vert. "That's the one!" said Mary.
When do you need it? he asked. By Sunday night, she said.
"Then you've got troubles, because tomorrow is the fourteenth, which is like the Fourth of July, and this town locks up."
"Well," she said, "Bill Paley said you owned this town and you could do anything you wanted and that when Jack saw what you could do we'd be glad to stay at CBS and not go to another network. So do it." And she hung up.
"Resign," said Mrs. Schoenbrun to her husband.
But Schoenbrun's journalistic pride was challenged, and off he went. He raced to Pierre Balmain's store, for Balmain, who made Vent Vert, was a friend, and perhaps things could be arranged. But all he found was a security guard. Eventually the security guard confided that Balmain was at his horse farm in Normandy, and after more wrangling Schoenbrun got the private number there and reached Balmain. Balmain assured Schoenbrun that he was crazy, that the store was closed, locked up for the holiday weekend. "But it's for Jack Benny," pleaded Schoenbrun.
"Who is Jack Benny?" asked Balmain. After several more calls, Balmain surrendered, called the security guard, and told him the perfume was in the vault with the mink coats. The vault was opened and Schoenbrun stuffed a briefcase full of Vent Vert. Immensely pleased with himself, he called Mary Livingstone to tell her his accomplishment.
"Bill Paley said you could do it," she said by way of thanks.
Schoenbrun wrote Paley relating his triumph. He never received an answer. He suspected that if it had been the other way around, Jack Benny would have received an answer. Sunday-night comedians, it seemed, were more important than journalists, even those who owned France and personally knew Charles de Gaulle.
11. Murrow Discovers the Profit Center: "Dr. Stanton, I Presume?"
The success of the raid on Sarnoff’s comedians, coming as it did right before the move to television, tipped the balance in favor of CBS. It was now bigger than ever in radio, and was soon to be equally big in television. For the television revolution was outstripping even the predictions of broadcast executives. Americans had never bought any new device so quickly, and nothing had ever become in so short a time a major part of the culture. Before 1948 the CBS television network was virtually nonexistent. By 1951 it comprised 62 stations, and 16 million American homes had television sets. By 1952, CBS had 74 stations broadcasting to 21 million homes, and in 1954, the year CBS became the largest advertising medium in the world, its programs were broadcast over 202 stations to 32.5 million homes, or to roughly two thirds of the families in America.
The quality of American social life had changed, all sorts of habits were now tailored to television programs. The commercial possibilities were immense; it was like coining money, and by l958 CBS promotion advertisements suggested precisely that: a full-page ad showed a cigarette vending machine with a television set placed in the glass mirror and labeled "the greatest cigarette sales machine ever invented." The ad ran in the New York Herald Tribune and was supposed to run in the Times, but some of the senior people in the news division prevaiIed upon Frank Stanton to cancel the ad.
When the possibilities for financial success expanded, so did the drive for profit. What might have seemed impossible years earlier had now become possible. There were new norms for profit and for success. At meetings with key officials, Paley kept pushing for that 15 percent annual increase in profits, along with reduced budgets. And the company was diversifying. Stanton began to talk about company "profit centers." CBS was not a profit center.
These vast new profits meant a rise in the visibility of Frank Stanton, and a change in the role of Bill Paley. When both CBS and Paley were young, the Chairman had been fresh, open, innovative, available to everyone, a great salesman. But in postwar years, as CBS became more and successful, he changed, he was less accessible e outside world. In the earlier years he had needed access to others; now they needed access to him. Before the war his prime effort had gone into selling the company; now, particularly after the raid on NBC, more and more effort went into protecting the company. Now, increasingly, people wanted things from him, and he became less and less available to them. He designated Stanton as his representative, asked him to run the errands he disliked, deal with the pressures and lobbyists he wanted to avoid, and be loyal enough to make an unpleasant decision sound like a Stanton decision, rather than, as was often the case, a Paley decision. (“I’ve always had a guy like Stanton for jobs like that,” Paley once told a friend about a particularly disagreeable assignment.)
Frank Stanton was a loyalist, a man who discharged decisions faithfully whether he agreed with them or not. By the time of his retirement in 1973 he was one of the profession's foremost spokesmen for the integrity of the news department, genuinely esteemed by senior working journalists. But in the crucial early years of his career he was the man who set standards and norms of profit which systematically diminished the strength, standing, and influence of the news division. Murrow, whose position in the company was declining precisely as that of programming was rising, blamed Stanton for the changing balance. He detested Stanton; to him, Stanton was "the bookkeeper." Murrow, almost to his death, believed that the force of darkness at CBS was Stanton rather than Paley, that the key to revitalizing the network was to get back to the good old days of World War II, when Bill Paley was one of the boys and his sense of public service was self-evident. Paley did little to dicourage the natural rivalry between Stanton and Murrow, two young, attractive WASPs who had joined the company the same year, and Stanton was not about to contradict the Chairman, for to split openly on any issue with Paley would have meant an end to his career.
Frank Stanton's loyalty was to the greater good of the company. He was the impersonal man for an impersonal job, a man of systems and management, and a lobbyist in the most sophisticated sense.
In the great boardrooms of New York, no one looked better than Frank Stanton; he was probably offered more jobs, good jobs—head of corporations, universities, foundations—than anyone else in America. He turned them all down because he preferred the one job he thought he had been promised, that of operating head of CBS.
Stanton was the one man in all those years whom Paley had never ground down. The two of them, different in style, taste, manner, and values, were like two strong people locked in a terrible marriage, two people who need each other, dislike each other, and yet cannot divorce each other. The tensions grew greater as the calendar moved toward 1966, the year that Paley was supposed to retire and let Stanton, seven years his junior, take control of the company. As that happened, Stanton cast a larger and larger shadow, the shadow of Paley's mortality.
In the mid-sixties Paley irritably turned to one close friend: "What the hell does Frank really want?" he asked.
The friend answered that Stanton wanted to be the chief executive officer of CBS, as he had been promised.
"Why does he want that?" Paley complained. "Why should he want that? Look at all I've done for him! I've made him a millionaire, I've made him a big man in broadcasting—the statesman of broadcasting. Why does be want to be the head of the company?"
In February 1966, all the arrangements for Stanton's succession had been made. But Paley could not go through with it. He could not give up his company and become, overnight, an old man. In retrospect, it seems the most predictable of Paley's decisions, but Stanton was shattered. He told friends he learned of Paley's turnabout only five minutes before the promotion was to become official. Later in the day another CBS executive ran into Stanton and was surprised to find him almost in tears. "This is the worst day of my life," Stanton said. Why? the friend asked. "Because the Chairman has a resolution which someone else will offer asking that his term be extended. I've been promised that I would run the company, and now it's all gone. This is the worst day of my life." Well, said the friend, who knew the CBS profits and knew Stanton's financial position, if you feel that strongly, why don't you quit? "Because I just bought fifty acres on the Big Sur and I'm damned if I'm going to take my stock options to pay for it," he answered.
Except for remarks like these, he remained publicly silent. He told one close friend, a journalist, "I'm never giving a real interview, or writing a book—it violates my contract." But he got a revenge of sorts: he asked Paley for a cost-of-living clause in his retirement pay. Paley, knowing the precise amount of Stanton's wealth, was enraged. Some thought that Paley had an additional reason for his unwillingness to turn the company over to Stanton. In his heart, they felt, Paley did not think that Stanton was tough enough. He believed that Stanton was too concerned with image, that over the years he had begun to believe his own speeches, that his essential views of broadcasting were too much like those of the critics who wrote all those lofty newspaper and magazine articles but did not understand the real world of broadcasting. By the mid-sixties, Stanton's role was so identified with moral and professional purity that he talked as though a network could be run on ideals. His role had been to convey respectability; now he had in some ways become too respectable, too concerned with images.
To Stanton, the way things looked was often as important as what they were. Stanton felt that a news program should never be called a show. Always a "program." He had a doctorate in psychology from Ohio State, and he took it more seriously than do many Ph.D.'s; he liked being called Dr. Stanton. He was a clean man, almost surgically so, the man who arranged for all CBS stationery to have a dot in just the right place so that all CBS letters typed by all CBS secretaries would have the right balance. He had started out with the hucksters in the company, but he was always a little ill at ease with the advertising and manipulative aspects of broadcasting, as if he feared he might be tainted by them, and he could not return to academe.
His career seemed to parallel the growth of the company. First he sought order so as to control the swiftness of corporate growth. Then came corporate expansion, as cash flow generated a need to expand: the acquisition of a television set manufacturing company, an amusement park, a music publishing company, a guitar factory, finally a baseball team (the New York Yankees) and a publishing company (Holt, Rinehart '& Winston). He helped to develop the corporate norm, which was profitability. Then, the third and most important role: Stanton the lobbyist and statesman. As the company became successful and powerful, the immensity of its profits staggering, good relations with Washington became crucial. Stanton would testify before congressional committees, and when he spoke, the facts about violence and mindlessness in programming, and the profits derived therefrom, seemed very distant. He had become by the sixties, the major spokesman for the broadcasting industry—as Murrow had been in an earlier era—but with this crucial difference: Murrow had criticized not just the society at large, but broadcasting as well. Stanton spoke the same lofty thoughts and envisioned the same wondrous future, but he did not speak ill of the corporation. He stood for all the best things in the best of all possible ways—and when it was all over he had made well over $20 million at CBS.
12. So, Who Controls the News?
The possibilities of nationwide advertising on television transformed the nature of American communications. Afternoon newspapers began to atrophy and die. Large-circulation magazines, which up until then had been the main conduit of mass advertising—for razor blades, beer, tires, cars, main household goods—could not compete with television for advertising or audiences. Within a few years many of them were dead. A new mass audience was eager for mass entertainment: along with it came new dimensions in hard-sell mass advertising. It was all bigger, and reached more and more people, and the quality was pitched just a few notches lower. Dramatic changes in the relationship of programs to sponsors marked the trend.
Having raided Sarnoff of his talent, Paley moved to make sure that something like this would never happen again, in particular that it would not happen to him, and that the stars or people representing stars would have less leverage against a network. He moved now to take control of programming. In the past in radio, and even in the early days of television, the networks had not produced their own shows, but rather had bought them from the advertising agencies.
At first there was some resistance to Paley's initiative. Gradually it began to change. In the old days one company had sponsored a show completely, but now it was all too expensive. No single company could afford a show, given soaring production costs on television. No one could sponsor Cronkite news, as for example Pall Mall had by itself sponsored Douglas Edwards. (It now costs about $18 million a year to sponsor the Cronkite news.) First companies alternated sponsorship on different weeks; then gradually they began to share given programs. It was a tense moment. Would the American people accept a program brought to them by both an auto company and a floor wax? Then there were a number of commercials on the same program. And then the cruelest blow of all, back-to-back commercials. All of this because the costs were always going up. CBS was no longer a pipeline for the work of others; now it was producing and scheduling as it chose.
Bill Paley loved programming. He had no wild, adventurous policy; he was not a great innovator. He was content to let others experiment and make mistakes while he studied how to improve it. The ratings were the ultimate measure of success, not taste, nor any sense of balance between commercial harvest and public accountability. That one way no one was responsible. The advertisers wanted the highest ratings because they wanted the biggest numbers. So the networks had to give advertisers what they wanted, which was (they could say to themselves) the same as giving the people what they wanted. A kind of golden prison.
The early CBS reporters loved the simplicity and the freedom of radio. Journalism at its best is a highly personal art, and radio encouraged individualism. The technology of radio was not complicated or expensive; if a correspondent had a story, he simply went on the air. Very little was required of producers or technicians. And there was little bureaucratic interference from the home office. Murrow did not want his radio men to mimic the wire services; he wanted more reflective reporting. He wanted thoughts and ideas, a sense of the issues at play. He also warned against tricks and against hamming it up on the radio. "I want personalities," he said. "If you're a reporter you'll become a personality. Just be intelligent and informed." In the postwar era it was a point of pride with the CBS foreign staff that the CIA's chief intelligence experts began their day with the New York Times and a transcript of the CBS Morning News Roundup.
Murrow returned to America after the war with some misgivings. He told his wife that they were going home "to fight the same kind of things we've been fighting here," an odd and dark remark. Paley's attempt to make Murrow an executive was ill-fated, and he lasted little more than a year. Rather than give Murrow the power to make the news section better, the company used Murrow's name to make decisions, not necessarily his, appear more palatable.
The most delicate problem turned out to be Murrow's old friend Bill Shirer. Shirer was doing a Sunday afternoon radio news show and his sponsor decided to drop him and hire another broadcaster. Murrow reassigned Shirer to another time slot, though without a sponsor and thus at a considerable reduction in income. Shirer was bitter. He had sixteen months to go on his contract. Murrow tried to make him stay, but Shirer was hurt and felt he had been gagged. Since Shirer was the furthest left of the major commentators at the time—he opposed the Truman Doctrine and in general was less of what would come to be known as a Cold Warrior than his colleagues—many thought that CBS, Murrow included, was buckling under to political pressure. (Among those who felt that way was Shirer himself, who later wrote a novel, entitled Stranger Come Home, dealing with the McCarthy Era and singularly unflattering to a character seemingly modeled on Murrow.)
The incident underlined the question of who controlled the news, the network or the sponsors. Did the sponsors for example, have the right to control the tone of the news by deciding whose voice should be heard? Murrow said that a sponsor could select a broadcaster, though it could not control content. It was, he knew, an unsatisfactory answer because a newscaster defined the tone and style of a show; there was no such thing as pure content. In addition, it meant that sponsors, rather than CBS News, had the right to advance or thwart a broadcaster's career, and that very quickly the least offensive journalist, rather than the most talented, might rise and be rewarded.
The corporate role was not one that Murrow relished; the voice he spoke with was not necessarily his own. By 1947, he was back to broadcasting, awaiting the arrival of television, which he regarded with suspicion and ambivalence. But he was a communicator; and whatever else television was, it was clearly a powerful forum for communication.
Murrow was not sure that television was a good conduit for the transmission or translation of ideas, and he was ill at ease with its sheer force. He saw in it a tendency toward overdramatization and away from appreciation of subtleties. In particular he was wary of doing any kind of hard-news broadcasting for television. He had never really been a hard-news man; he was always more interested in interpretation. Some who knew him well thought that Murrow was keenly aware of being Murrow, of being a little different from the rest of the pack. He was by no means eager, they suspected, to let the impersonal mechanics of being a television anchorman dilute that impact. So his moves toward television were slow. When he returned to broadcasting, it was to radio, an evening news show. He did some reporting and commentary for television at the 1948 presidential nominating conventions. But he was wary. Television required so much contrivance. It was a team art, involving producers, cameramen, sound men, levels and levels of technicians, all of whom might distort the effect of the individual journalist.
13. The Dynamic Duo: Murrow and Friendly
If Murrow was to go to television, he needed a producer. He found him while still doing radio. His name was Fred Friendly, and they were brought together by a talent agent named Jap Gude. Their partnership began with a series of albums of radio documentaries, I Can Hear It Now, a collection of memorable broadcasting moments from the past. Murrow's narration and Friendly's technical ability made them successful beyond anyone's expectations. (Collectors of Friendlyisms noticed that as the series of albums progressed, the size of Friendly's byline on the album cover gradually grew larger and finally equaled that of Murrow's). Then they tried some radio documentaries, Hear It Now. In 1951 they turned to sight and sound. Hear it Now became TV's See It Now.
Their alliance was an odd one. It brought together Murrow's broadcasting skills, considerable shyness, and enviable reputation and Friendly’s enormous aspirations and superb technical expertise. Friendly was ambitious, creative, and restless, at once a builder of his own legend and a destroyer of it. (He managed to destroy it for one talented reporter for the Times named Charles Mohr by offering him a job and then, when Mohr turned it down, suggesting that Mohr keep in touch because there would be a time when his wife would want a fur coat.) In the words of one friend, he always came equipped with his own precipice from which to jump. He had a weakness for beginning a sentence by saying that he was just a simple country boy and ending it by implying that he had as a matter of fact invented Edward R. Murrow. Talented, insecure (the name Friendly is an Americanization of the name Freundlich, which was mother's name; his real name was Ferdinand Wachenheimer, a name not likely to help his career take off. Murrow, by contrast, was a name which would help it a great deal), he took strength from Murrow's reputation. He was not in the basic sense a journalist, but rather a talented dramatist ("Watch out for Friendly," Murrow would tell journalistic initiates, “he doesn't know a fact.")
He wanted to do a Life magazine of the air, and this fitted nicely with Murrow's conception of television. Knowing he was going into television, and knowing nothing about film, Friendly set out to master the art, to retool himself. He went to the Museum of Modern Art and studied just about every technically ambitious film in its extensive archives. Then he went to Pathé News, demanding to know who was good in documentary film, and asking the professionals to explain what worked and what did not work. Then he set out to find the best technicians available for his CBS film team, using Murrow's name as the come-on. He was aware of the unique asset of Murrow's prestige that the name could open doors, and he became expert at using it. Ed wants, Ed says, Ed feels—and whether indeed Ed wanted or Ed said or Ed felt was another thing, but it brought marvelous results of which Murrow was as much the beneficiary as Fred Friendly.
Friendly was physically huge, with a powerful and formidable presence. Restless, domineering, excessive, he was not a man to be harnessed in a lesser figure. Part of Friendly's strength was his exuberance. If Fred was interested in the problems of water, then the whole world had to be interested in water. He was excited, not frightened, by big challenges. The bigger the show, the more difficult the assignment, the more he responded, and this quality set him off from most people in broadcasting. Later in his career, when he was at a higher level in the corporation, the smell of corporate success occasionally got him into trouble. But his restlessness was also a positive force.
In 1954 he was at least as determined as Murrow to do a show on Joe McCarthy. When they were preparing the film for that program, an incident occurred which others who were present forgot. The team was watching a BBC broadcast, an announcer reading the Canterbury Tales in Middle English: All very simple. And suddenly Friendly exploded: "That's it, that's it, that's what this fight is all about!" Someone else asked, “What the hell do you mean, Fred? What do Middle English and Chaucer have to do with it?" “Damn it, for the right to do what you want, poetry, art, and freedom of speech, the freedom to put on whatever you want without fear."
Yet he had a show-biz side that preferred effect to substance. Once, years later, when he was running CBS News and he was told he should hire a reporter who had done very well in a difficult assignment, he answered, "Yes, yes, he's good, I know he's good, but is he a star? I only want stars.”
Murrow could control Friendly's excesses, and Friendly could dramatize what Murrow wanted to say and do it with professionalism. He took staid Ed Murrow into the hustling world of television and made the combination, work. Television for better or worse did require a show-biz component, and Friendly provided that, tailoring it to Murrow. The result was that See It Now became a great show—too great, finally, for its own good.
By the late 1940s, what was to become known as McCarthyism had already come to broadcasting (and to Hollywood) in the form of "blacklisting." Actors, announcers, and correspondents were singled out by right-wing critics for having been associated with organizations now considered far left, communist, or communist-oriented, and became the targets of a variety of political and economic pressures. CBS, which had been the most liberal of the networks, became the most sensitive to pressure from the Right. As early as 1948, Murrow was becoming depressed by political reaction at home and the inhibitions on free debate that Cold War tension was producing. He was hardly a figure of the Left. If anything, he was a freedom-of-speech and First Amendment man, a classic political centrist with a certain sympathy for the underdog. But he was becoming uneasy with the increasing timidity of his own profession and his own company. Loyalty was now a political issue and he did not think that broadcasting was doing the job it should in defining freedoms for those accused of disloyalty.
In 1948 he encouraged his old friend David Lilienthal, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, to make a speech attacking the broadcasting industry for not using its influence to create understanding of the new and complicated Nuclear Age. When Lilienthal showed Murrow his projected speech, he was surprised that Murrow urged him to make it even tougher. Murrow, with all his influence in his profession, felt so concerned about the climate and trends within broadcasting, and felt such limits on his own ability to do anything about them, that he had to turn to an outrider to get his own views aired. Later that same year, when Lilienthal was under attack for his political views and under heavy congressional pressure to resign, he met with Murrow again, and Murrow seemed in an unusually dark mood, talking about subtle, growing pressures against him in broadcasting. He told Liljenthaj that he did not think he could continue to broadcast much longer unless he injected more and more anticommunism in his commentaries. Though his contract at CBS was binding for several years to come, he was already talking to Lilienthal about what he was going to do next.
That television arrived simultaneously with the height of McCarthyism probably helped to narrow the parameters of journalistic freedom, but it was bound to happen anyway. Politically, television was simply too powerful a force, too fast, too immediate, with too large an audience, for the kind of easy journalistic freedom that radio and print reporters had enjoyed. Newspapers competed with each other for power and influence, but television was a virtual rival of the government. It was as if an unwritten law of American journalism had evolved, stating that the greater the institutional platform, and the more power it has to influence public opinion, the more carefully it must be used and the less it must wander from the accepted norms of American society. It is better to be a little wrong and a little late on a major sensitive story than it is to be too right too far ahead of the rest of the country. There were two reasons for this sensitivity. The first was timidity, a desire not to offend the audience's sensibilities, not to get too far ahead of the parade, plus an awareness of political pressures that grew in direct proportion to the success and influence of television. The second was more honorable, the perception that the medium was so powerful that personal journalism of any sort bordered on being dangerous, that no one journalist should be too powerful. So television journalism, far more than print or radio journalism, contemplated the political implications of every story it broadcast, considered what the reaction might be. A political figure could be damaged by a piece in a major newspaper, but a television report might destroy him. Television's important figures became prisoners of their power.
"If Walter Cronkite would say on television what he says on the radio," Lyndon Johnson, an inveterate radio listener, once said, "he would be the most powerful man in America." But for precisely that reason, by the time that Cronkite was Cronkite he could not say those things. Television was simply too powerful a force to permit him to do so. It moved people as radio never could, and reached a whole new mass of citizens who had never been readers. Even among those who had been readers it often had an unprecedented emotional impact. The people who controlled the networks knew this and were uneasy, and in some cases, terrified.
Television came into its own when government was just beginning to pressure broadcasting, and when the networks were beginning to sense the problems their news divisions could cause, For reporters, lowly men in a corporate structure, could nonetheless bring the entire network into unwanted confrontation with Washington. So the networks decided, consciously or unconsciously, to limit the autonomy of the network news show. The kind of freedom radio news had enjoyed would now have to be curtailed. A corporation with so much at stake would have to exert greater controls over its parts. At first Murrow escaped that problem because of his unique position within the company; but eventually even he, with his reserves of special status, found out one day that he had expended it and had become a liability to the corporation. How that happened, how the single greatest broadcaster of an age exhausted his welcome while still doing first-rate work, is a parable of the profession.
14. Murrow vs. McCarthy: Fear and Trembling on the 20th Floor
Reporting the war from London was a magnificent time for Murrow. But the war was a story of such drama and urgency that it virtually told itself. Now, in 1951, doing his weekly See It Now documentaries, making people see what they did not necessarily want to see, bringing complicated questions into millions of homes, work was even more challenging. He was at his best, and in some ways the audience sensed that he was special, that he had more than good looks and a rich voice, that this was a man who could not let go, who experienced the pain he projected into their living rooms. He was at the peak of his powers, and if he was not exactly politically touchable, he was certainly less touchable than other mortals. But even Murrow was aware that he had to hold to the center, that he had to limit the number of controversial shows he could do, that he had to ration his powder in order to protect his influence, and that he had to work to make himself palatable to his public.
See It Now exemplified the best of television, restless and adventurous, probing into complicated social and political problems. But soon there appeared another face of Murrow, called Person to Person. His new show was more a part of the world of show business than of news and pubic affairs. It was less a question of technique than of substance, or rather lack of substance. "Higher Murrow" and "Lower Murrow," the critic John Lardner called the two shows. Person to Person was a celebrity hunt into the homes of the famous (and often fatuous; some interviewees were Rose Lee, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jayne Mansfield, Liberace, Lawrence Welk, Eddie Fisher and. Debbie Reynolds). Murrow, who was not necessarily a good interviewer, was matched with people who often had remarkably little to say. Celebrityhood, that status of being well known for being well known, did not always imply intelligence. The See It Now people began referring to the Person to Person people as "the buttonhole makers."
Joe Wershba, one of the most talented men on the See It Now team, remembered how incongruous it all seemed, the same Marrow who did these marvelous documentaries and who was broadcasting's best voice doing silly patter with instant stars. The first time Wershba heard of the new show seemed symbolic: Murrow was doing a show on Berlin and he was standing at the remains of the Reichstag with Howard K. Smith, and Smith was interviewing Ernst Reuter, the mayor of West Berlin. Murrow mentioned casually to Wershba that he was starting a new show with celebrities and that one of the first guests would be Lucille Ball…Wershba, who revered Murrow, looked and thought, the Reichstag, Ernst Keuter, Ed Murrow, Lucille Ball… Murrow was clearly embarrassed at it. His ambivalence never went away. At one point he wanted to put Andrew Heiskell, then the publisher of Life, on Person to Person. Some delicate negotiation ensued, because Heiskell was less than anxious to appear. Finally the public relations people were sure that they had Heiskell aboard, only to find at the last minute that Heiskell was adamant in his refusal. Why had Heiskell changed his mind? Well, it seems he had run into Murrow that night on the street and he had asked how Person to Person was going and Murrow had said, "I hate that damn show—it's so damn demeaning, but it really makes a lot of money."
He would mutter periodic excuses, such as that he had originally intended to bring a wide variety of uncelebrated Americans—blacks, Indians, laborers—to the show, but it had not quite worked out way. From time to time he said that he did it as a way of picking up a little change for Johnny and Jesse (Johnny Aron and Jesse Zousrner, his two writers). The truth was that he picked up a little change of his own. Paley bought the show from him for an estimated $1 million, a gesture that was generous but not entirely altruistic, since it gave Paley an extra hold on Murrow. "I gave Ed the only money he ever made," Paley said later. But Murrow's reason for doing Person to Person was more tactical than financial: it was a deliberate and conscious decision to broaden his base.
Before Person to Person he was a political commentator, increasingly controversial, frequently hitting raw nerves. This made him vulnerable to criticism, for his real constituency was increasingly among the elite at a time when his instrument was a mass instrument. Murrow was now on the defensive. Person to Person gave Murrow a "good guy" incarnation: it was noncontroversial, it built him up as a star and a celebrity, a celebrity who had a lot of friends, none of whom was controversial. Later he told friends that he had been able to withstand the storm that followed his Joe McCarthy broadcast in part because he had enjoyed so much popularity as a result of Person to Person. Naturally the two programs' staffs, bitter in their rivalries, were acutely aware of the contradictory nature of Murrow's broadcasting roles. The See It Now people hated the idea of their great man indulging in something as frivolous as Person to Person, and the Person staff worried about the risks their star took with the controversial See It Now shows. One morning, after the McCarthy show, when the Senator began to pressure Murrow, Johnny Aron charged into Joe Wershba's office and yelled, "See—you get in with shit, and you get shit on your hands."
The Murrow-McCarthy show was significant first because it took so long in coming, second because it loomed so large over what was clearly so low a landscape, and third because it caused such a storm. It would have been unforgivable for television and for a team with the reputation of the Murrow-Friendly group to fail to do a major documentary on McCarthy. It would have rendered television in general, and CBS and Murrow in particular, a joke. From the start, the real question raised by Joe McCarthy was not what he was—that was self-evident—but rather which journalists and networks would have the courage to say what he was. From the start he was reckless and shallow; the only thing real about him was the fear he generated. For he came on the scene at a volatile time, America blown overnight to great power status, the Soviets with atomic weapons. His was an essential challenge to freedom of speech, and an astonishing number of people were cowed, to a greater or lesser extent, into retreating before the demagogic challenge. This was true of print journalism and it was even more true of electronic journalism. If the center did not fold, it did not exactly hold, either. Murrow was a man of the center; he was the best of broadcasting. So it was natural that in 1952 and 1953 friends began to ask Murrow and Friendly when they were going to take on McCarthy. When? It was a very good question.
For a year before the McCarthy broadcast, the See It Now team had been told to start collecting film. No date for broadcasting the show had been set. Murrow's own failure to act was becoming an issue among journalistic colleagues. Yes, he had done some shows which touched on civil liberties, on people being pressured by forms of McCarthyism. But he had not gone after McCarthy himself. When the subject came up he answered yes, the show would be done, but he was searching for the right vehicle. When colleagues and friends were, as they often were, somewhat more insistent, and demanded that he go on and take the extraordinary forum of television and make an attack upon McCarthy, Murrow pulled back. No, he couldn't do that. It wouldn't do any good. He was aware of the problem, he said, and aware of the force of television, but it wouldn't do any good for him to simply go on television and make a speech against McCarthy. His friends were often not satisfied with his answer, and for that matter, neither was he. For he knew, better than most, that what a journalist chooses not to see is often as important as what he chooses to see.
In late February of 1954, Murrow and Friendly began to move ahead on the show. Those who knew him well believe that Murrow knew the Army was also going to attack McCarthy: he realized that he could delay no longer. Reports were circulating that McCarthy might go after Murrow; the Senator was already telling people that he had documents proving that Murrow was a communist. Murrow warned everyone on the staff what might lie ahead and asked if they had anything to hide, anything which might come out later and embarrass them. At the same time CBS's lawyers began to go through every aspect of Murrow's own past, in preparation for McCarthy's expected counterchallenge.
Murrow was uneasy about using television in what would inevitably be so personal a fashion. McCarthy had broken the rules of civilized political behavior; this meant that any journalist portraying him accurately would similarly have to break his own rules and built-in restrictions. When he finally decided on the vehicle for taking on McCarthy, it was a simple one. He would let McCarthy destroy McCarthy; "the terror," Murrow said, after screening some footage of the Senator "is in this room."
Murrow and Friendly kept the idea of their show a secret inside CBS as long as possible, on the assumption that the less the twentieth floor knew, the better. That was fine with the twentieth floor. Paley was not about to order Murrow not to do a McCarthy show, nor was he likely to order him to do one. But he was not eager to be associated with it, and he kept as much institutional distance as possible between the show and CBS. No, CBS would not advertise the program or allow the CBS logo "eye" to be used. So Murrow and Friendly bought their own ad and paid for it of their own pockets and signed it with their own names. No, Paley, when asked, did not want screen the show before it ran. Both Murrow and Paley knew what his reaction would be: Ed do we really have to do this? Paley did suggest that Murrow offer McCarthy equal time. Murrow had been thinking of that too, that it had the advantage when McCarthy demanded equal time, of not looking as if they were backing down. They also asked Sig Mickelson, nominal head of CBS News (in fact Murrow and Friendly were practically running a separate shop, which was known as Tobruck), if he wanted to look at it, but Mickelson declined. He had screened nothing else of theirs. So the most potent and sensitive television show of the decade went on the air without any screening by CBS superiors. A decade later it would be very different.
Just before the McCarthy show was to be broadcast, at 10:30 p.m., March 9, 1954, a call came through to Murrow from Paley: "Ed, I'm with you today, and I'll be with you tomorrow." A nice call. The show was very good. Long overdue and very good. Murrow examined McCarthy in the piercing light of the American tradition of civil liberties: "We will not walk in fear, one of another, we will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. If we dig deep, deep in our history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate with, and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. . . " It was a good show.
On its most important test it passed without a blemish—it caught McCarthy for what he was, not for what he said he was. Twenty years later, in an era when civil liberties were far stronger and there was far greater willingness to defend them, the McCarthy show could be aired without any apology or explanation.
15. The Profit Center vs Murrow: Bad News for the Department
After the show there was a nice phone call from Paley—Babe Paley, that is. She was Bill's proxy. Deniability had to be maintained in case the show or Murrow had to be sacrificed. Viewer reaction was intense, but McCarthy was already overstepping himself, not just against Murrow but against the Army, and finally against fellow Republicans. The tide was turning, and the Murrow show was part of the turning. Not everyone at CBS thought so. Some members of the board were furious, and put pressure on Paley to bring Murrow under control—was he an independent entity, some sovereign state, who could do what he wanted? The next day Friendly ran into Jack Van Volkenburg, president of the television network, and rode up in the elevator with him. He was the first member of management that Friendly had seen since the show, and as they rode up, they talked about the weather and their families, but they did not talk about Joseph R. McCarthy. A few days later Stanton called Friendly into his office, a rare occurrence in the best of circumstances. Stanton said nothing about the quality of the show, just about the problems and pressures it had created.
“A lot of people think you may have cost us the network,” Stanton began. He meant lawyers and people in Washington.
Friendly countered by mentioning the avalanche—about 100,000—of supportive telegrams. Stanton took a sheaf of papers and showed them to Friendly: a special Roper Poll, which he had commissioned on the subject of Murrow and McCarthy. Not surprisingly, it showed that more people believed in McCarthy than in Murrow, and 33 percent of the population felt that Murrow a communist or a communist sympathizer. The parts of the poll which reflected anti-Murrow sentiments were all circled in orange crayon. Stanton asked Friendly what he thought of these statistics.
All the more reason to have done the show, Friendly said. Which ended the conversation. Friendly went away as many others had, wondering whose voice he had just listened to. Was it Stanton speaking for Stanton? Or was it Stanton speaking for Paley, somehow passing the word, as it is often passed in broadcasting, to let Friendly know that there were limits to his power?
Both before and after the McCarthy show, Bill Paley stayed as far away from Murrow as possible. Those working on the programs had a sense of his distance. But years later Bill Paley liked to recall those days, and as they were recreated in his mind. He saw one big trench, and standing alone in it were Bill Paley and Ed Murrow, shoulder to shoulder. Biting the same bullet. As he reminisced like this, he often wondered why people did not give him more credit for his part in the show.
“I’m with you today, and I'll be with you tomorrow." A nice line. A lovely ring of abiding loyalty and sustenance and faith. But the McCarthy show, and several other incidents, proved to Paley that See It Now and Murrow were a potential liability (if not already a liability) to the network. CBS could not grant so much autonomy to so reckless a journalist. (Years later Paley spoke to this reporter about Murrow and journalists. Oh yes, Murrow was a great fellow, a great journalist. No, it was not true that it had ended badly between them. He had letters to prove what good friends they were. Though of course Murrow had a brooding sense of life. Very difficult, dark fellow. Always taking too many risks in the war. Then confronted with evidence of growing separation between the two of them, Paley offered a small lecture on journalists: they were all alike. They claimed to be objective, but none of them really were. They all wanted to make personal comments. He had to fight with even the best of them, like Murrow.)
For the amount of prestige Murrow brought CBS was less important now. CBS was established, there was too much to risk, and there were too many complaints about Murrow and his colleagues from Paley's peers.
Paley was an out-and-out Republican now, an avowed Eisenhower man. (Sig Mickelson had heard from friends how close Paley was to the Eisenhower entourage, but the first tangible evidence came in 1952, when Ike returned home to Abilene to make his presidential announcement. Paley had suggested rather casually to Mickelson that this was something CBS News might want to cover live on television. In those days television facilities were primitive, and a live feed from Abilene would have required running a cable out of Chicago at a cost of thousands of dollars. Mickelson explained to the Chairman that it was much too expensive, but Paley waved aside his doubts—Michelson was to take care of the arrangements, Paley would have AT&T take care of the cable. Cost was never again mentioned, and for the first time Michelson realized how close Paley was to Eisenhower.) His best friends were people like Walter Thayer and Jock Whitney; he badly wanted to become Ambassador to the Court of St. James's; and when his reporters made the Administration angry they were making his closest friends angry.
The problem was not that Murrow's autonomy was growing; indeed, if anything, it was the same or less than it had been. The problem was that television was richer and more powerful, influencing more and more minds. In January, 1950, only 3.2 million Americans owned television sets. A decade later the figure was 50 million. In. January, 1952, for the first time, according to Nielsen, more television sets than radios were being turned on between 9 P.M. and midnight; and in 1954, the same year that Murrow took on McCarthy, television's gross billings, jumped 50 percent over the previous year's, making CBS-TV the biggest single advertising medium in the world. Net income, which for two decades had averaged about $4 or $5 million a year, suddenly was increasingly by 25 and 30 percent to a total of $11.4 million in 1954. The candy store was becoming bigger and bigger.
In exercising his prerogatives, Murrow guaranteed that neither he nor anyone else would ever again have that much freedom or autonomy, that never again would there be a broadcasting personality with a following so great that he could, by walking out, damage the network. The network would henceforth control its reporters, writers, and producers, their shows, programming hours, and, to a considerable degree, their subjects.
Systematically, CBS began to bring Ed Murrow under control. First they limited the number of his shows; then they switched the hour when the shows were aired; then they changed the name of the program; and finally, they took it away from Murrow and separated him from his producer, Fred Friendly. This was all done deftly, perhaps not even consciously. The intrusions were small, never enough to force Murrow to stomp out with a resignation. Within four years of its moment of triumph, See It Now was dead, and in six years Murrow himself was gone from CBS.
In the wake of the McCarthy program Murrow had sponsor problems, and this made him more vulnerable to the corporation. He had long been sponsored by Alcoa, a company at some distance from conventional marketplace pressure. Alcoa had remained loyal, despite grumbling by some of its board members. It had given Murrow complete editorial freedom, which meant that he was not dependent upon the network for license to do as be wished. But the McCarthy show and a program sympathetic to nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer had caused the rumbling to mount become more direct. At the end of the 1955 spring schedule, Alcoa decided not to renew.
At almost the same time, TV quiz shows were rising to popularity. Not the "$64 question" of the old radio days; no, in superrich America in its supercentury, it was time for The $64,000 Question. Murrow, watching the first run of The $64,000 Question, was disturbed. The hucksterism of the network had always frightened him. At the end of the first run, he turned to Friendly and asked "Any bets on how much longer we'll keep this time period?"
Not very long. Soon after the final See It Now show of 1954-1955, Murrow and Friendly were summoned to Paley's office. The Chairman admired their work and was generous in praise of it. He wondered, however, if it wasn't too confining: coming up every week (in a regular segment prime time, something he neglected to mention). Wouldn't eight one-hour shows a year be better? Wouldn't this be more satisfying? Murrow, wise to these games, asked at what hour they would be shown. Paley said at eight. Murrow asked if he couldn't continue the half-hour show. Paley, who has a particular talent for saying no without using the actual word, made it clear that no more regular half hours were available. The schedule was tightening at the expense of public affairs. More important and more profitable programs had to be shown.
The loss of the time slot was not the only setback for Murrow. To go to a full hour would change the balance of the show and would cost Murrow and Friendly heavily in terms spontaneity, and, in subtle ways, of autonomy. For, with an hour-long slot and perhaps without a regular sponsor, Murrow's shows would have to be scheduled far in advance, and decided upon in consultation with others in the company. No more could they just do whatever they wanted and broadcast it at their hour. Management was taking over the show.
The problems mounted. General Motors offered to sponser six of the eight, then reneged when they were told that one of the shows was to be on the vice presidency. GM suspected that this would end up as an attack on then Vice President Richard Nixon. One of the documentaries focused on the farm problem, and it starred the Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson. The Republicans decided that damage had been done to him, and asked for equal time (hardly expecting to be granted it). Murrow protested, but CBS gave the Republicans the time anyway. Murrow came very close to resigning. The 1956-1957 schedule accommodated another eight See It Now shows, but they had been moved to Sunday at 5 o'clock, no longer in good, if fluctuating, evening hours. Shows which Murrow considered important, programs on Tito and Chou En-lai, were followed by panel discussions, an attempt to dilute the effect of what had just been presented. Murrow felt humiliations mounting, his influence waning.
The final indignity for Murrow involved a program which he considered one of the least important of 1958, a minor, presumably noncontroversial show on statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. It was what is known in the business as a "soft show." It balanced spokesman, some for and some against statehood. One of the proponents of statehood, the leader Harry Bridges, was asked about a statement by a congressman from upstate New York, named John Pillion, that Bridges would control the Hawaiian delegation. Bridges answered that Pillion was crazy. Pillion, not that crazy, demanded equal time. CBS caved, in. (One weakness in the whole format of television programming was a lack of flexibility. Television had no equivalent newspaper's Letters to the Editor column, where minor disputes could be aired and then forgotten. The networks were in the position of having to grant a full hour or nothing.)
The decision was straight Paley; Sig Mickelson had argued against it and had mentioned the implication: that it might drive Murrow from the network. Paley was unmoved. The only possible explanation for Paley's adamancy was that he was to see Murrow go. Murrow was shocked. The equal time decision had been made without any consultation with him, and it was clearly a surrender to the most petty kind of political pressure, and would only bring on more political pressure.
Murrow wrote a strong letter to Paley, saying that the decision to put Pillion on without consulting him had undermined his relationship with the company and put the future of See It Now in doubt. It was precisely the letter Paley wanted and expected. A few days later Paley met with Murrow and Friendly. Murrow said that the situation had become untenable and that he or Friendly had to share in the decisions on who was to get equal time to respond to See It Now. "But," said Paley, "I thought you and Fred didn't want to do See It Now anymore."
Murrow argued that he wanted to talk about the equal time regulations — of course he wanted the program to continue.
"I thought we had already decided about See It Now," said Paley. With that both Friendly and Murrow knew: See It Now had closed for the duration.
For Murrow it was his most painful moment at CBS: the end of the TV program about which he cared most deeply.
“Are you really going to destroy all this?" he asked Paley. It was, he pointed out, the most remarkable achievement in electronic journalism.
Paley said yes, he was, he could not stand the constant stomach ache it was giving him; the pain was killing him.
"It goes with the job," Murrow answered. And that was it.
16. The Murrow Era is Being Canceled In Order to Bring You …
For Murrow, this latest in a series of concessions to politicians, was a dark omen, and he became obsessed by the trend. The more CBS gave in to politicians, he told both his superiors and his friends, the more the politicians would demand and the more the pressures against the network would build, at the price of the internal integrity of the news department. Eventually, he predicted, two things would happen: the network would treat fewer and fewer controversial subjects, anticipating in advance the complaints against them; and second, it would gradually deal with public affairs in a way that would not disturb existing authority. In both instincts he was prophetic. What particularly disturbed him was how little say the news department now had in making decisions. Instead of traditional definitions of journalistic fairness being the test, the norms were being set by people sensitive to both the government and the marketplace. The company wanted to keep peace even if in journalistic terms this meant backing down; it was now more sensitive to outside pressures than to its own people. The only hope for survival of television news at its best, he insisted, was a rigid adherence to policies of journalistic fairness and excellence which would, in the long run, build genuine public support, and thus scare off marauding politicians.
The days when Paley might have listened to him, however, were past. Now Murrow watched himself slowly being shunted aside at CBS. He was too proud to complain outright, but gradually he began to change, to become more depressed. Once, around 1958, Charles Collingwood, who was closer to him than anyone else at CBS, told Murrow that he was caught in a dilemma, a choice between doing a show or going on a much needed vacation.
"I'd go on the vacation," Murrow said.
Collingwood mentioned that he rather wanted to do this particular program.
"It doesn't make any difference," Murrow answered. "You're only important around here as long as you're useful to them, and you will be for a time. When they're finished they'll throw you out without another thought." It was a side of him Collingwood had never seen before.
At the 1960 Democratic convention, CBS programmers had reduced Murrow's role to a pitiful degree. At one point during the convention he had a story which they kept scheduling and then canceling; he became more and more morose. Finally he came back to a room which the correspondents used as a base and grabbed two of his colleagues. "Let's go get a drink," he said. "Things have come to a pretty damn point when you can't even get on the air at a convention."
In October, 1958, Murrow went before a meeting of radio and television news directors in Chicago and said: ". . . and if there are any historians a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will find recorded, in black and white or color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from realities of the world in which we live . . . . If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will [catch] up with us." Paley was furious: Murrow had betrayed him, had fouled his own nest. Ed Murrow had betrayed the man who, in Bill Paley's view at least, had made him rich and famous.
The corporation would pay him back. Stanton addressing the same convention a year later, promised, in the wake of the quiz show scandals, tight restrictions on all shows. No more rigging. No newspaper picked up the story. So CBS gave a friendly hint. A PR man called Jack Gould at the Times and deliberately tipped him, all shows. That means Murrow and Person to Person too. So, if Murrow could attack the corporation, then the corporation could slap down Murrow, deliberately diminishing his reputation. Murrow, of course, was furious; he issued a statement to the Times saying that Stanton had finally revealed his ignorance of all news matters. It was quite a day for CBS and its image—two of the foremost figures of the company arguing their disputes out on the front page of the Times. Ralph Cohn went to Murrow with orders from Paley to make Murrow apologize or resign. He would do neither.
The quiz scandals provoked one of those periodic bursts of network good intentions to do more in the public interest. In March 1959, Stanton promised that CBS would sponsor regular one-hour documentaries in prime time once a month. Then biweekly. Then perhaps once a week. He was describing a documentary series suspiciously like See It Now. But without Murrow.
Then the corporate genius showed. In the Murrow-Friendly team it was Murrow’s name that was special, Murrow whom they feared. CBS knew that Friendly was ambitious, delighted to be associated with Murrow but eager for a reputation of his own. Paley and Stanton knew that with everyone in CBS News desperate for air time, it would be impossible for either Murrow or Friendly to say no to any major offer of time. So Paley and Stanton made Friendly an offer he could not refuse. He was called into Sig Mickelson’s office and asked to do a monthly documentary. Friendly was surprised. He wondered whether it had been cleared with the twentieth floor. Mickelson made clear that it had been, that this was what the twentieth floor wanted. Was the offer made to the Murrow-Friendly team? Friendly wondered. No, answered Mickelson, but Murrow was going on sabbatical anyway. Murrow certainly would be the reporter on some shows, but other correspondents would be used. So the predictable happened. Murrow encouraged Friendly to take the job—the offer was simply too good, the time too precious. Friendly had been the best documentary producer at CBS. If someone else took the assignment and failed, it might be bad for television journalism.
See It Now became CBS Reports. (Once Stanton and Paley were searching for a name for the show and asked Murrow what to call it. "How about See It Now With Ed Murrow," he answered sardonically.) With remarkable ease Murrow was split from Friendly, the air time went to Friendly, who seemed in no way a corporate threat, and Murrow was separated from any regular or direct access to television air time. Murrow was now an honored name, but a name without a voice. That was exactly what the corporation wanted.
Murrow returned from his sabbatical with his future at CBS very much in doubt. If he was an ornament to his profession, his superiors deemed him increasingly too risky a one. Sig Mickelson negotiated renewal of his contract, and came up with a figure acceptable to both himself and Murrow, but after months and months of querying, he could never get a response from management. The situation was ominous. Murrow himself had little taste for this fight. He was tired now, eroded physically and spiritually, and depressed about his own profession. He saw it becoming more and more a vehicle for manipulation rather than a vehicle for strengthening the parameters of vision. All those years of smoking, all that nervous energy and tension had taken their toll. Those cigarettes and those late-night drinks were depressants, not stimulants, and now he was worn out.
Fortunately for Murrow, whose contract was still unsettled in 1960, John Kennedy was elected President and Ed Murrow was offered the job of running the USIA. The job offer by Kennedy, said Murrow's wife, Janet, years later, “was a brilliant and timely gift." When the Kennedy offer finally came through, Murrow was ready. A man who just twelve years earlier had been supreme in his profession, who had received an under-the-table offer from NBC asking him to write out whatever figure he wanted, just name the price, was now almost unemployable in broadcasting. The day the news came from Washington, he was taping a radio show called Background. Now Murrow wanted out, totally out, and as quickly as possible. He turned to his colleague Blair Clark and asked if Clark would fill in and anchor the program. Clark said he would, and asked Murrow what he should tell their listeners to explain Murrow's absence. Murrow answered, with cold suppressed fury, "Tell them I've gone to serve my country."
On April 27, 1965, Ed Murrow died of lung cancer. He had suffered a long and painful and exhausting illness. That night CBS, under the direction of the man who was now head of news, Fred Friendly, broadcast a memorial program "to the most distinguished commentator in our history." It was made up of tapes from his television broadcasts, and voice-over from his radio days, accompanied by still photos. It was powerful and moving, not least because those friends of his who happened to narrate it—Sevareid and Collingwood—had the best voices in broadcasting. The afternoon before it was aired, Friendly received a phone call from one of Paley's PR people.
Is anyone going to speak for the company? the PR man inquired.
Friendly answered that he didn't know what that meant. This was a show, he said, about Ed Murrow, who had worked for CBS.
Are you going to be on? the PR man asked.
No, said Friendly, it was going to be very simple. Murrow and some of his boys.
What do you think, said the PR man, of the idea of the Chairman going on for two minutes?
Oh, said Friendly, slightly taken aback, do you think he really wants to?
Yes, said the PR man, I'm very sure he'd like to.
So on the occasion of the death of Edward R. Murrow, William S. Paley, who had done so much to make him and almost as much to break him, and who wanted to be sure that the company got credit for Murrow, went on the air to say that Ed Murrow had symbolized the golden age of broadcasting, and that there would soon be another golden age.
In 1973, as the Watergate scandals unfolded, Janet Murrow watched television news regularly. She often felt frustrated by the lack of commentary. Of the varying commentators, she thought that Bill Moyers most resembled Ed. But he was not on the networks; he was on public television. Her son, Casey Murrow, lived in Vermont and taught school. He did not own a television set.
See the second installment of this article from the February 1976 issue.
*A BBD&O study for a typical year. 1970-1971. NBC in the same study was listed at 2 percent for information and news, and ABC at nothing at all.