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Good Night and Good Luck

February 21st, 2012 · No Comments

Lauren Bowie, Becca Sear, Sam Foster, Nick Farr
Good Night and Good Luck
Producer: George Clooney
22 February 2012

Media Importance

The dialectic between political and commercialized sectors


Produced in 2005 and directed by George Clooney, Good Night and Good Luck, presents an interesting commentary on the world of media during the time of which the film took place.  As a black and white film,  it is easy to associate it with an older media era when televisions were a commodity, and information distributed by newscasters was given to those who held the privilege of owning one.  The film presents the story, or conflict, rather, of Senator McCarthy and Edward Murrow.  Murrow, through his television program, intends to identify the flaws of McCarthy, and his corrupt actions based on anti-communism.  McCarthy, it appears, has inflicted fear in the hearts of the public. Those who do not agree with him are considered communists, or sympathizers of the communist party.  In the end, we see the film intends to inform the audience about media responsibility and the power it holds, while also demonstrating what happens when the media offers a voice of dissent against government opinion (Wikipedia, 2012).

Connections can be drawn between Edward R. Murrow’s 1958 speech to the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and Newton N. Minow’s famous 1961 speech to broadcasters.  In that speech, Minow, the chairman of the FCC, notes,“. . . . I asked the nation’s broadcasters ‘to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book , magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you – and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off.  I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland…’ I asked ‘is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can’t do better?” (Minow, 18 ). Minow further reflects he didn’t want his speech to be remembered in the context of a “vast wasteland, ” stating, “The words we tried to advance were public interest. To me, the public interest meant, and still means, that we should constantly ask: What can television do for our country?  – for the common good? – for the American people?” (Minow 19).

Minow’s speech can be connected to Murrow’s speech both in the context of the film and in real life.  In reality, Minow received a phone call from Murrow saying, “Newt, you gave the same speech I gave two years ago, but nobody listened.  Good for you – you’ll get a lot of heat and criticism, but don’t lose your courage” (Minow 18).  Both in the film and in real life, Murrow noted that during his 1958 RTDNA speech the television could be used as a teaching tool that people could learn from.  Or, the television was “merely wires and lights in a box” (Good Night and Good Luck).

Murrow highlights important points during his speech to the RTDNA.  He forecasts the idea of infotainment noting, “The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs” (Murrow, para. 17).  Murrow knew that the clash between commercial interests and news was coming, if not already there.  At the end of the film, Murrow was moved to a less desirable Sunday time slot and given just five more shows – ratings and commercialism prevailed.

While observing this film, we should also keep in mind the effects that media has on our every day lives, and who it is that continues to shape our cultural and societal values.  Throughout the film, many statements are thrown around to which we can all relate.  Now, for example, conglomerates own newspapers and the news is commercialized because they care more about the bottom line, earning a profit, than the information they distribute to the public.  In the film, Fred states, “There’s no news, boys, so go out there and make some news. Rob a bank, mug an old lady, whatever– just do something.”  This reinforces the idea of not only our gullibility and rejection of agency when it comes to reading information put in front of us, but it also reiterates the idea that at the end of the day, what is important to many news teams is their ability to make money and to produce a story that is intriguing to the targeted audience.  Here, we can delve back into the idea of media responsibility.  All forms of media have captivation techniques, and in this particular film, CBS Studios feels they must take on the responsibility of addressing the untouched information

Also extremely important in the film is the concept of government versus media.  As we discussed in class, it is dialectic.  One cannot be talked about without discussing the other.  Good Night and Good Luck demonstrates how powerful the voice of the media is, not only on the public of which it aims, but also to the government.  The speech Murrow broadcasts brings to light the underlying corruption of Senator McCarthy and his way of governing the people, so much so that in the end, the Senate investigates McCarthy and finally censures him all together.  Yet again, we are given a representation of the power behind the media and it’s ability to censure a powerful government official.

Important Quotes

  1. “There’s no news, boys, so go out there and make some news. Rob a bank, mug an old lady, whatever – just do something” – Fred Friendly
  2. “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” – Murrow
  3. “Go after Joe Kennedy, I’ll pay you for that.” – Sig to Murrow
  4. “We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late” – Murrow
  5. Edward R. Murrow: We’ll split the advertising, Fred and I. He just won’t have any presents for his kids at Christmas.

Sig Mickelson: He’s a Jew.

Edward R. Murrow: Well don’t tell him that. He loves Christmas.

NOTE: This quote is extremely important when discussing cost of editorials and

what it takes to actually produce the news.


Discussion Questions

  1. We have talked greatly about convergence during our class meetings, and it seems we all have noticed the mixing of different forms of media in our daily lives.  In the film, Good Night and Good Luck, we can identify with much of the upheaval that is presented.  How do we see media and government colliding? In what ways do they support or destruct one another?
  2. A very important scene in the movie occurs in a pub-like restaurant, where the news team has gathered after Murrow’s broadcasting.  Shirley is sent to receive the newspapers so they can examine and read through the articles that critique the recently aired television show.  Much criticism came to the man who approved the message of Murrow, and in the end, he commits suicide.  How can we relate this scene to the power of media, and the responsibility it holds over our society?
  3. In the film, it appears that Murrow and the rest of the news team at CBS Studios use their power in the media for good.  They intend to show the public what is truly going on in the government, or at least highlight what people already know, so the issues can be talked about without fear, which has been inflicted on the people by McCarthy.  Do you believe the media today still use their power for good?
  4. During the movie, the news team is anxious to broadcast the statement against McCarthy.  They talk about the difference between the broadcast being ethically sound and the legalities of the episodes production, as some of the team feels they may be leaking information that should not be distributed.  How can we relate these issues of legality and leaking private or confidential information in today’s media?

Works Cited

“Good Night, and Good Luck.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Feb.

2012. <,_and_Good_Luck>.

Murrow, Edward R. “Edward R. Murrow’s Speech.” Radio Television Digital News Association,                     1958.

Minow, Newton N. “Stated Meeting Report: How Vast the Wasteland Now?” Bulletin of the

American Academy of Arts and Sciences 45.5 (1992): 16-30.



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