American Portraits

Edward R. Murrow: In His Own Words

In this lesson, students will analyze their own identity and how it relates to how others perceive them by reading and discussing a narrative about Edward R. Murrow and McCarthyism.

Founding Principles

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Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

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Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

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Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

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Limited Government

Citizens are best able to pursue happiness when government is confined to those powers which protect their life, liberty, and property.

Narrative

“Good evening. Tonight, See It Now devotes its entire half hour to a report on Senator Joseph McCarthy told mainly in his own words and pictures.” Veteran journalist and television host Edward R. Murrow looked serious and composed. It was March 9, 1954. The Cold War was at its height, and Americans were concerned about communist influences at home and abroad. Controversy swirled around Senator McCarthy’s accusations and actions….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you protect and uphold your own identity as well as the identities of others?

Virtue Defined

Identity answers the question, “Who am I?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will analyze their own identity and how it relates to how others perceive them by reading and discussing a narrative about Edward R. Murrow and McCarthyism.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze and interpret Edward R. Murrow’s identity during the McCarthyism era.
  • Students will evaluate perceived versus actual identities and their effects.
  • Students will determine how their own identities affect their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Background

In 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy had begun to tap into Americans’ growing fears about communism. He claimed that the State Department was “riddled with communists,” and professed to have a list of 205 names. As time went on, his finger-pointing continued. At every opportunity, he blamed what he saw as the deteriorating morality of America on suspected communists.

Journalist Edward R. Murrow, a veteran combat reporter, was among those who thought that McCarthy should neither have an unchallenged platform nor be able to intimidate the American people. Murrow rose to fame with his riveting radio reports from Europe during World War II. His catchphrase, “This is London,” could be heard over the sounds of bombs and air raid sirens. His report from Nazi concentration camps at the end of the war had moved many to tears. The public trusted his reporting.

After the war, Murrow returned to the United States, received two promotions, and, while covering the Korean War, began presenting weekly digests of news on the radio called Hear It Now. Television gained popularity in the early fifties, and he moved his show to CBS TV, re-naming it See It Now.

As a journalist, Murrow fervently believed that the press ought to seek and uncover the truth. He thought it was the responsibility of a free press to consider all points of view. He also believed that communist threats abroad could best be countered by free and open expression at home.

In October 1953, Murrow aired the report that would signal the beginning of a public conflict with McCarthy—and the end of the senator’s grip on the nation. Murrow learned that the Air Force Reserve had dismissed a young lieutenant, Milo Radulovich, because his father and sister were thought to hold “un-American views.” While no one accused Radulovich of having the same views, authorities recommended that he condemn his father and sister in order to save his position. Radulovich refused, declaring that such an action was not what it meant to be an American.

When Murrow aired the story on See It Now, he openly questioned the evidence for the charges, stating, “was it hearsay, rumor, gossip, slander, or was it hard ascertainable fact that could be backed by creditable witnesses? We do not know.” A public outcry followed, and Radulovich’s commission was re-instated.

Vocabulary

  • Communism
  • Deteriorating
  • Morality
  • Concentration camps
  • Fervently
  • Ascertainable
  • Riveting
  • Cold War
  • Condemn
  • Slandering
  • Dissent
  • Reels
  • Integrity
  • Doctrine
  • Rebuttal
  • Censured
  • Conspiracy
  • Medium

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • How did Edward R. Murrow fight for freedom during McCarthy’s unproven accusations that a communist conspiracy was to blame for America’s problems?
  • What was Murrow’s purpose in broadcasting the 1954 See It Now show about McCarthy?
  • Why was it important for Murrow to do the 1954 television broadcast about McCarthy?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Cloud, Stanley, and Lynne Olson. The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
  • Murrow, Edward R. Edward Bliss, Jr., ed. In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938–1961. New York: Da Capo, 1997.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. “Edward R. Murrow.” Ed. May 1, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-R-Murrow
  • Persico, Joseph E. Edward R. Murrow: An American Original. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.
  • Sperber, A.M. Murrow, His Life and Times. Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 1998.

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