Good night and good luck

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Good night and good luck, a movie by George Clooney

Jenny Haines

“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home” — Edward R. Murrow

It is obvious why George Clooney made this movie. He wanted to make a film that was a tribute to his father who worked as a journalist with Edward Murrow in the campaign against the McCarthy witchhunts. But anyone who doesn’t get the message of the movie for the current times just isn’t watching.

Freedom of association, freedom of expression and civil liberties in a social democracy under threat are not defended by tyranny, oppression, fear, terror and witchunts. They are defended by the truth, and the role of the media is to bring to the people the truth when politicians can’t get past their own shortsightedness.

George Clooney and Grant Heslov have made a masterpiece. Winner of several awards at the Venice and New York film festivals, the film is beautifully shot in black and white, which gives it a soft 1950s authenticity. This is the post-swing era, when life was changing after the terrors of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

The velvety feel of the movie belies the big issues that the characters are dealing with — the new terrors of the McCarthy witchhunts, that sought to root “communists” out of government and the army. Ed Murrow and his team didn’t lose their heads and buckle to fear, even though it was clear they were fearful and swallowing hard at several points.

They took McCarthy on, and exposed his methods of smear and innuendo. They made it clear to their audience that McCarthy had no understanding of fair process. The team had some success in having an air force officer reinstated after McCarthy had him dismissed because his father was an alleged communist.

The team celebrated its successes in a jazz bar, the jazz riffs adding to the authenticity and ambience of the movie. The team was ably assisted in its campaign by the solidarity of other journalists, although someone called O’Brien fingered one of Ed Murrow’s supporters at CBS as a communist. Dan was a self-confessed communist, and the pressure mounted on him, leading to his eventual suicide. Whether Murrow could have done more to help him face the demons is left an open question in the movie.

Joseph McCarthy accepts Murrow’s invitation to appear on his show but instead of using the occasion the accusations of Murrow and his tem, McCarthy attacks Murrow personally, claiming that his actions are motivated by Murrow’s one-time membership of the Industrial Workers of the World. Ed Murrow makes a dignified and momentous reply.

Through Murrow’s speeches, George Clooney delivers a dissertation on the state of the modern media, particularly in the face of the threat of terrorism. The executives of Fox Television, Rupert Murdoch included, should be tied to a chair made to watch this movie and hear its message.

McCarthy’s influence declined, partly as a result of Ed Murrow and his team, partly as a result of the solidarity of the campaign against McCarthy, and because McCarthy started looking for communists in the US army, which had him finished off through a senate investigation. Ed Murrow and his team were the tough men and women of their time needed to defend freedom of association, freedom of expression and civil liberties. It’s a pity there are not more people like them now.

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