Friday, March 3, 2006


The Academy Awards, the Oscars, will be handed out Sunday night, and one of the films up for awards is George Clooney's production of "Good Night And Good Luck". Clooney co-wrote the script, co-stars in the picture, and directs the movie. "Good Night And Good Luck" is his look at a pivotal piece of Television history: Edward R. Murrow's confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy, played out over the airwaves on 'See It Now'.

David Strathairn has been nominated for Best Actor for his uncanny embodiment of the newsman Murrow. That his portrayal's only quibble could be that even though he nails the modulation in Murrow's voice but not its timbre shows that he really captured the essence of the man.

More than likely he'll lose to an actor playing another real-life figure - Philip Seymour Hoffman as "Capote", a role that is flashier and eye-catching and supposedly a risky one to have taken. Maybe so; I've seen how the Academy gestalt has voted in the past. But for my part, I think Clooney's production has done a better job in bringing an historical period, and the people who lived it, back to life.

Based on the movie, Clooney would seem to have a normal, healthy ego as he's willing to let the others, most notably Strathairn as Murrow, shine in the scenes in which he also appears as producer Fred Friendly. He understands the true meaning of the role he is playing, had he been nominated for this rather than for his work in "Syriana": he is supporting the lead.

But the contributions Friendly made in the battle against McCarthy's demagoguery in real life should not be discounted. His role was just as important as Murrow's. Murrow's face led the charge and was on the front lines on people's TV sets; Friendly marshaled the troops and the resources to back him up. And when the bleep inevitably hit the fan, even though they were successful in their goal, Friendly stood with Murrow to take the heat equally.

I'm bringing this up because today marks the eighth anniversary of Fred Friendly's death. I never met the man, but my brother did in 1988-89, when Bill was going to Columbia for his master's in journalism.

To mark his passing, I'd like to share a few paragraphs from his obituary in the New York Times, written by Eric Pace:

As a CBS News producer, Mr. Friendly and his longtime partner, Edward R. Murrow, virtually invented the news documentary on television, pioneering such techniques as the use of original film clips, live, unrehearsed interviews, and the use of field producers who supervised reporting on location. He won 10 Peabody Awards and numerous other prizes for television journalism.

A big, imposing man who hurled ideas and opinions around like Olympian thunderbolts, Mr. Friendly, as both producer and president of CBS News, stood at the center of some of the most influential and contentious moments in the early history of television journalism. His work included the best-remembered documentary ever produced, Mr. Murrow's dismantling of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his demagogic anti-Communist campaign inside the United States Government.

He also produced Mr. Murrow's other groundbreaking documentaries including ''Harvest of Shame'' in 1960, an expose on the hardships of migrant workers.

Later, as president of CBS News from 1964 to 1966, he clashed frequently with the network's management over his efforts to get more news on the air. His often caustic criticisms of what he maintained was the television networks' lack of commitment to quality news coverage continued through the years.

''TV is bigger than any story it reports,'' he said in a 1966 interview. ''It's the greatest teaching tool since the printing press. It will determine nothing less than what kind of people we are. So if TV exists now only for the sake of a buck, somebody's going to have to change that.''

In his post-CBS career, as a professor at Columbia University and a writer on television affairs, Mr. Friendly was a forceful defender of the First Amendment and argued in favor of fairness and integrity in electronic news coverage. As broadcast consultant to the Ford Foundation on television, he strove to improve news coverage by public television stations.

As "Good Night And Good Luck" heads towards the Oscars ceremony on Sunday night, I just wanted to make sure it wasn't just Murrow that was remembered.


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