Good Night, and Good Luck: The Story of a Nationwide Backlash Against McCarthy

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)                                                              Director: George Clooney                                                             
Starring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, and Jeff Daniels

By Rebecca Doser and Yoshifumi Kobayashi

good night, and good luck part 1
Fig. 1: Good Night, and Good Luck directed by George Clooney appeared theaters in 2005.

Good Night, and Good Luck (Fig.1) is a historical drama based on the true story of  Edward R. Murrow‘s criticism of  the  Red Scare and Senator Joseph McCarthy through the television show See It Now. Murrow’s show contributed to the ultimate downfall of McCarthy himself. The title of the film as”Good Night, and Good Luck” was the ritualistic comment that Murrow used to close his show.  This movie focuses on media responsibility and a voice of dissent from government policy led by Murrow. Murrow was a television journalist and previous radio personality but then became a television host for the program See It Now. He led the resistance of McCarthyism by defying corporate and sponsorship pressures and pushing people to not let the fear of the Red Scare take over their freedom of thought and expression.

This film is framed by the 1958 speech given by Murrow to the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), which appears both as the beginning of the film and the end. Through this speech, Murrow reprimands his audience not to delve deep into a reliance on the current television entertainment and its perceived ability to educate the majority because it is simply becoming “wires and lights in a box.” In his speech, Murrow is saying that the structure of the news networks is in danger because “those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late…” This picture is that few members in the press are willing to stand up against McCarthy for fear that they too, will be targeted. Murrow feels as though he is the only one who is relaying that it is his “desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.” Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, America is so overwhelmed with concern about the threat of communism that no one is willing to overcome self-regulation and actually seek out that “this instrument” aka the television can indeed be used to “illuminate and even inspire.” Murrow  relays that corporations are abusing their freedom of speech granted by the First Amendment by using television to “distract, delude, amuse and insulted us” with a “built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.” Take for example, the fact that Senator McCarthy made a public accusation that more than 200 “card-carrying” communists had infiltrated the United States government. This imposes self-regulation on the majority of the audience watching television as they are fearful of actual news, and an actual “importance of ideas and information.”

Television took the “safe path” and in turn, the industry itself “caved in” (Baran, 2015, p. 188). Television turned into an instrument good for nothing but “to entertain, amuse and insulate,” according to Murrow. No one exerts his or her freedom of speech freely during the Red Scare because “the networks employed security checkers to look into people’s backgrounds, refused to hire suspect talent and demanded loyalty oaths from performers”(Baran, 2015, p. 188). Media corporations are thus abusing their freedom of speech and Murrow’s ultimate goal is to portray that television is nothing but “wires and lights in a box” if no one is determined, like he is, to actually relay the importance of exposing the senator’s lies and hypocrisy (Baran, 2015, p. 188). In analyzing Murrow’s speech, one can connect the concept of technological determinism in that technology’s influence is ultimately determined by how much power it is given by the people and the cultures that use it.  Baran argues that if these technologies, such as television, are indeed neutral and their power resides in how we choose to use them, then we can utilize them responsibility in order to construct and maintain whatever type of culture we desire (Baran, 2015, p. 17). Similarly, Murrow argues that the complacent, indifferent and uninterested individuals watching television for simply entertainment are being manipulated by the power given to the producers, reporters and television industry to control what is and is not relayed to an audience.  For once, Murrow expresses that he would actually like to see the importance of ideas and information extended to the audience in place of Ed Sullivan on a Sunday night or other means of simply using television as a source of uninformative entertainment.

Fig.2: Edward R. Murrow produced multiple reports that ultimately led to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Clearly, See It Now is one of the most significant TV shows in history because of its achievement and development of journalism in the television industry. The See it Now special titled, “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy” contributed to the nationwide backlash against McCarthy and stands as one of the largest turning points in television history (Fig. 2). As we saw in Guilty By Suspicion, members of the film industry were too afraid of getting caught as communists or in opposition of the Red Scare and McCarthyism.  The people who were in the film and television industries could not stand against McCarthyism, even if they wanted to, for the sake of business and keeping their jobs. In other words, directors and producers were too afraid of losing their sponsors, which ultimately bring money into their company/business in order to survive.

As a matter of fact, the Red Scare encouraged advertisers “to avoid buying time from broadcasters who employed these ‘Red sympathizers'” (Baran, 2015, p.188). Without sponsors, companies serving those industries would soon collapse if they could not collect enough money to keep on producing. This is exactly how the ad-pull policy works. The ad-pull policy is an example of self-regulation during the 1980’s when producers imposed their own regulation in order to maintain their sponsors and furthermore, maintain their job status and income. For instance, in this movie the one and only sponsor of See It Now, Alcoa, rejected to provide commercials for the show after CBS broadcasted the corruption of the Air Force towards a suspected communist man Milo Radulovich on See It Now. In this case, however, CBS did not suspend the show but rather decided to ignore the advertisers bullying them. Murrow made his show a clear example of the courage and recklessness necessary to expose McCarthy’s perverse political practices and abuses of civil rights. In fact, Murrow pursued the truth by referring to McCarthy directly in during the McCarthy era by using excerpt from McCarthy’s own speeches to not only criticize him, but also to point out areas in which he contradicted himself.

See It Now became a symbol of the power of “democracy and freedom.” As a result, “television had given the people eyes and ears -and power-” (Baran, 2015, p.188) for people technically saw how they could express their own opinions through television even during the darkest era when most people hesitated to do so. Of course, this brought disagreement over the role of journalism between Murrow and his boss William Paley, the chief executive who built CBS from a small network to one of the most renowned radio and television network operations in the U.S.. The conflict created a proverbial wall between the editorial and corporate interests of both men. After one colleague sent a report about Murrow’s suspicion of being a communist,  Paley asked Murrow, “Are you on safe ground?” Paley needed to make sure Murrow had never been associated with the communist party so that he, and his network, would not be accused of a communist association as he was “responsible for a hell of a lot of goddamn reporters.” Murrow insisted that, “you told me that corporate would not interfere with editorial-the news is to be left,” indicating that reporters should not simply surrender to the greater power (McCarthy)  and make accusations of subversion or treason without proper evidence . Paley answered saying, “but editorial will not jeopardize the hundreds of employees of the Columbia Broadcasting system.” On the other side of the coin, Paley was maintaining that corporate did have the power to jeopardize his majority of employees, therefore, he had to obey corporate at some point as the person in charge. Later, however, he also said that, “We don’t make the news. We report the news.” He did not intend to stage the news, but he attempted to limit, that is, to regulate, what was reported due to the self regulation imposed by the Red Scare. Murrow opposed Paley’s belief that CBS needed to adhere to the people imposing regulation on themselves by stating: “We would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants.” He knew that it was not McCarthy who created that “situation of fear,” but that it was the people themselves. Paley concluded that, “I would argue that everyone censors, including you (Murrow).”

The two men also discussed how they can deal with the rejection of Alcoa to pay for asking to air advertisement during the program. Paley stated, “’The $64-thousand Dollar Question brings in over $80 thousand in sponsors and it costs one-third of what you do…. people want to enjoy themselves. They don’t want a civics lesson… I don’t want to get a stomachache every time you take on a controversial subject.”

$64,000 question show
Fig.3: Before the quiz show scandal of the late 1950s, The $64,000 Question was a high-stakes, nail-biting, ratings-topping game show phenomenon.

The $64,000 Question was the quiz show that aired in the 1950s (Fig. 3). It led to the discovery that it “had been fixed by advertisers and producers to ensure the desired outcomes” in 1959, which is now known as the quiz show scandal (Baran, 2015, p.187). At that time, it was a trend to envelope “interdependently produced, single-advertiser-sponsored programs” (Baran, 2015, p.187) thus, it cost less by employing one sponsor and led to more revenue in broadcasting entertainment such as the quiz show. Paley claimed that the quiz show did well in regards to business because it provided people with what they wanted, which was entertainment. So, what Paley was trying to say was that See It Now needed to not only find a new sponsor but also shift its focus to entertaining news, often called soft news, in order to attract the sponsor so the sponsor would invest in the show’s time. Paley was commenting on the fact that Murrow’s intense investment in digging deep into McCarthy’s claims and proclamations was too controversial and intense for viewers. Viewers preferred entertainment and enjoying themselves as opposed to the controversial claims and intense investigation that Murrow was seeking out, which ultimately did lead to the censorship of McCarthy and stands today as one of television’s finest moments.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 8.” Television, Cable, Mobile Video. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

Media & Democracy in Guilty by Suspicion

Guilty by Suspicion (1991)
Irwin Winkler
Robert De Niro
Annette Bening
George Wendt
Sam Wanamaker
Martin Scorsese

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Fig. 1: Guilty by Suspicion features actor Robert De Niro as David Merrill.

Guilty by Suspicion (Fig. 1) is an American film based on the Hollywood blacklist in association with McCarthysim, the Red Scare and the House Un-American Activities Committee. When David Merrill, played by Robert De Niro, returns home after being abroad, he finds that he is continuously being pushed to implicate his own colleagues/ best friends as Communist agents. In order to be allowed to work in films again he must decide whether he wants to turn in his friends or stay loyal to them and his family.

the second red scare
Fig.2: A poster recommending people to turn in others associated with the Communist party during  the McCarthy era.

The story recounts when the Second Red Scare intimidated people  in the United States in 1947 right after the Cold War broke out.  The U.S. was afraid of communism coming from their opponent, the  Soviet Union, and decided to ban it. As a result, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led the movement now called the Red Scare. ‘Red’ refers to communists and their sympathizers. Additionally, because Republican senator from Wisconsin Joseph McCarthy became the symbol of the Red Scare, the time was well known as the McCarthy era and we regard the anticommunism movement as McCarthyism (Baran, 2015, p.133). The HUAC scared “Reds” by demanding them to name acquaintances who were potentially communists. The committee felt threatened by those associated with the communist party and their potential influence on the majority through mass communication in regards to film specifically (Fig.2).

This affected the Hollywood industry significantly because the HUAC feared that “communist, socialist, and leftist propaganda was being secretly inserted into entertainment films by ‘Reds'” (Baran, 2015, p.133).  Consequently, the HUAC created the Hollywood Blacklist composed of the people working in Hollywood whom  they removed in order to prevent spreading communism through film. About 325 people involved in the film industry were expelled from their Hollywood job, including Charlie ChaplinOrson Welles and many others.  As a result of the threat produced by the blacklist, “the film industry abandoned those who were even mildly critical of the ‘Red Scare'” and “movies became increasingly tame for fear of being too controversial” (Baran, 2015, p.133). But why? Why did film industry need to cut its own throat by excluding its top directors and producers and therefore reducing its business?

The answer lies in the fact that the film industry’s success is highly dependent on audience.  People become engaged by buying film tickets, similar to buying books, which means “the audience is in fact the true consumer” (Baran, 2015, p.134). This points to the book burning and censorship seen at the very beginning of the movie when Larry burns his books after the investigation. He is not only told that his involvement in films is a threat because of his previous communist affiliation, but he further sees almost any medium involving personal opinion and audience engagement as a threat to what the HUAC will allow. Movies involve personal interaction just as much as books do. Film is thus a “culturally special medium” (Baran, 2015, p.134). Hollywood still needed to sell its movies to an audience. When the HUAC intimidated people so much that they avoided almost anything related to communism; Hollywood was forced to continue following the social structure shaped by McCarthyism. After all, McCarthyism itself was in control of the film industry as if it had regal authority to do so, similar to Edison who was in control of making movies by setting rules by himself in 1900 (Baran, 2015, p.129).

Media and democracy is also  the largest concept revolving the plot of the movie. Larry Nolan’s interrogation by the HUAC at the very beginning of the movie (1:30) is a clear indication of the chain of events that proceed throughout the movie. Many people, including Merrill and his best friend Bunny, are questioned and pushed throughout the movie to reveal their friends who were formerly associated with the communist party.  Regulation, a term discussed in class, is the study of this social phenomenon in which someone or a group of people regulates actions that are legislated at a federal government level.  In the case of this movie, usually a set of rules approved at any level of the government and imposed on the media industry, limit the way the industry performs.

Fig. 3: The House Un-American Activities Committee was largely involved in the associated activities stemming from McCarthyism.

The first scene in which this level of regulation is evident is one involving Graff, an HUAC lawyer Ray Karlin and Merrill. It is during this meeting that Merrill clearly sees what he is up against in terms of the HUAC’s attempt to censor language in films, themes in films and individuals working on films that are associated in any way to communism. For example, Sam Wanamaker, an American film director in the movie, was put on the hollywood blacklist in the early 1950s as a result of this regulation of films. Darryl Zannuck was not just going to let his favorite film directors be destroyed, however, he knew that the HUAC (Fig. 3) was compiling a list of people to be called by HUAC as communists to keep out of the film industry. Intertwined with McCarthyism was the regulation that the HUAC perpetuated of intense levels of regulation and censorship. This is an element that we first viewed in the banning of books in Fahrenheit 451 and see yet again at the beginning of this movie when Larry Nolan burns books as previously mentioned. The  influence of McCarthyism and the Red Scare acted as “cultural repositories and agents of social change” that pushed films to be targeted for censorship, similar to books in Fahrenheit 451 (Baran, 2015, p. 53).

As evident through class discussion revolving the role of the U.S. national media as a “Defender of Democracy” it is easy to analyze the media prior to the Iraq War and it’s effect on how news broadcasters alike all complied with the media’s policies, similar to this movie. In Guilty by Suspicion it is easy to see how the three components of the movie industry-production, distribution, and exhibition (Baran, 2015, p. 138)  are all significant in the media environment and how the regulation of film is skewing even the production of movies because of filmmakers such as Merrill and their association with communism. Exhibition became a huge concern for authorities during McCarthyism and still remains a large concern today. The HUAC attempted to prevent communist-associated directors and writers in relaying their political mentalities through their screenwriting and productions that would reach millions. Similarly in today’s world, a film will simply not be produced or sell if it does not follow the political, social and cultural mentalities of the masses.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 6.” Film. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print

The Dilemma Between Telling the Truth & Making Money

shattedred glass
Fig.1: Shattered Glass (2003)

Shattered Glass (2003)
Director: Billy Ray
Hayden Christensen
Peter Sarsgaard
Chloë Sevigny
Hank Azaria
Melanie Lynskey
Steve Zahn

By Yoshifumi Kobayashi and Rebecca Doser

Shattered Glass (Fig. 1) is based off of the September 1998 Vanity Fair article by H.G. Bissinger in which he chronicles the rise in popularity during the 1990’s of Stephen Glass‘ journalistic career at The New Republic. It is not until a significant and widespread journalistic fraud is exposed to the world that Glass’s success and moral reliability is questioned and his fabrication of 27 articles is revealed.

shattered-glass 2
Fig.2: His colleagues are  listening to his fascinating “story.” No one even bothers to doubt whether it is true or not. It’s worth listening and publishing as long as it attracts people to buy into it and further build circulation.

In the opening scene of this movie, Stephen narrates that, “journalism is the art of capturing behavior,” so “it’s the people you find” not political content that “makes a story memorable.” This is how Stephen worked and further, how he sold hundreds of thousands of issues throughout his career of The New Republic, which was established in 1914. In other words, he drew a story in the same process as one would create a piece of art so that it could fascinate readers and increase circulation, the total number of issues of a magazine/publication that are sold (Baran, 2015, p. 108). This made him feel innocent about what he was doing as he insisted “l didn’t do anything wrong” in the movie, meanwhile, he purposely fabricated all or parts of the information in his articles.  People found his stories entertaining (Fig.2), so they were published, bought and read. Stephen knew who his audience was, and everyone admired his young, shining talent.

Stephen Glass’ work ethic as a trustworthy reporter along with his manipulation of facts in order to attract the masses are both clear examples of an attempt to take advantage of readers’ ease in investing in magazines that solely embody topics of interest to them because, “the power of magazines is a personal experience” (Baran, 2015, p.104). Glass knew how to intrigue, sensationalize and exaggerate news in order for it to be read by many people. He embedded yellow journalism, early 20th-century journalism emphasizing sensational sex, crime and disaster news (Baran, 2015, p. 77), into his writing for a significant amount of time resulting in his news stories being unlike “boring policy stories.” People were becoming increasingly platform agnostic, having no preference for where they access media content (Baran, 2015, p. 41), which further led people to  fail to question the sources of their news more and more.

It was not until David Keene, the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, questioned Glass’ depiction of Republicans at a convention, that the social construction of reality was questioned in what the majority was reading from Glass’ news writing. We found this similar to The Truman Show in Truman’s realization that his life is being socially constructed for him by the powerful Christof at the beginning of the movie. Truman is born into an agency in which Christof holds the power to interpret and shape his culture and habits but Truman eventually realized this, broke away and interpreted the world for himself.  In a way, Glass was a ‘news genius,’ which is actually the Japanese title for this movie. He fabricated stories and facts and as a result, he had no sources of information to validate the accusations put against him in the movie. Glass became so powerful in his ability to intrigue the majority in his falsified stories without anyone (like Truman) realizing that the fundamental elements of media literacy, the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use any form of mediated communication (Baran, 2015, p.21), was being falsified right before their eyes. With this said, Steven Glass obtained his powerful position at The New Republic at a very young  age because news media thrives off of excitement, exaggerated detail and intrigue, no matter if it is fully true or not.

Glass was the youngest reporter at The New Republic (1990’s). In fact, the median age of working at the company at that time was 26-year-old, which is just a few years after undergraduate seniors graduate from their universities.  Glass mentioned in the movie, “You are underpaid, your hours are brutal, but what you write gets read by people who matter?” Companies hire youth because they can pay them less and use them more. Those who are young workers do not get paid a lot because they are generally inexperienced and at the bottom of the professional position pyramid in a news industry; however, they are expected to work even harder than elders because they are expected to have more stamina and are members of a generation of the youth that make up the majority of our current readers.

Fig. 3: United Airline’s ‘Hemispheres’ had very high circulation in 2011. ‘Three Perfect Days’ series is its signature.

Thus, Glass was easily hired to work for The New Republic, an in-flight magazine, which fits the criteria of controlled circulation, meaning that the airline company is providing a magazine at no cost to readers who meet some specific set of advertiser-attractive standards (Baran, 2015, p.108). As a successful example of inflight magazines and controlled circulation, Hemispheres (Fig.3) abroad the United Airline, scored as the best-selling magazine among airline in-flight magazines, according to Cision research in 2011. This magazine covers the latest news in business, travel, fashion, and culture. Its coverage is dominated by entertainment that is related to the readers’ interest, thus these in-flight magazines are custom publishing magazines, publications specifically desgined for an individual company seeking to reach a narrowly defined audience (Baran, 2015, G-3).

Generally speaking, while The New Republic was established as an in-flight magazine by Ernest Hemingway, its ability to intrigue people to read what matters was also an element of its classification as a brand magazine that is “complete with a variety of general interest articles and features” for “readers having demographic characteristics similar to those of customers with whom it typically does business” (Baran, 2015, p.112). Therefore,  inflight magazines and brand magazines alike are entertainment for businessmen and businesswomen. Glass also reported that, “what you write gets read  by people who matter.” For him, the “people who matter” are the businessmen who are interested in in-flight magazines as entertainment. As a young, inexperienced reporter, the ability to publish content for a specific demographic of businessmen and woman abroad flights to start off his career would have triggered his fabrication of events just to make his stories appealing and attractive to many.

Apparently, Stephen Glass put his greatest respect to his audience. Is this wrong to have an allegiance with his audience? If journalists have an allegiance to their publishers, they must sell more magazines in order to maintain their relationship with the publishers. In order to sell more magazines, journalists need to make magazines interesting enough so that people are willing to pay for their magazines.  So, journalists eventually need to be loyal to their readers to continue this bond or else skepticism will arise when concrete evidence can not be found and fabrication is brought to the forefront by publishers. On the other hand, readers expect journalists to provide us with the truth, but would not buy a magazine if it did not interest them. Thus, when journalists put their readers as their priority, they are faced with the dilemma between telling the truth and making money through entertainment and attraction.  The truth is not always entertaining.  Fabrication should not be an option yet, journalists constantly face the hardship of allegiance to the truth and making money and a name for the publication. It be hard to capture an “attractive” truth for every news issue, thus fabrication becomes a prospective option. The New Republic ended up  being honest about their fabricated articles and apologized to their readers; they finally told the truth. The truth… must have been very interesting to readers.

Baran, Stanley J. “Chapter 4.” Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2015. Print