Good Night, and Good Luck

Last night we watched Good Night, and Good Luck. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the 2005 film, we went to it in the theaters, but it caught our eye on the shelf at the library and we decided to watch it again.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of Edward R. Murrow reporting on Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, when McCarthy was using his bully pulpit as the junior senator from Wisconsin to go after communists. Murrow pushes his bosses at CBS and directly confronts the hysteria on his news program. It’s an extremely well done film, starring David Strathairn as Murrow and directed by George Clooney and the cast is filled with familiar faces, all great actors. And it is an extremely appropriate movie for the times we live in.

The movie opens and closes at an event honoring Murrow in 1958 where he’s giving a speech which came to be known as the “Wires and Lights in a Box” speech. And watching the end of the movie as Murrow is wrapping up the speech I was struck by this paragraph,

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

And ever since I’ve been thinking about it. About how that same statement could be applied to the internet, about how we could use the internet for good, but, as we’ve seen over the past several years, that’s not how it’s turning out. And I think about journalists today, many of whom are standing in Murrow’s tradition, investigating the corruption and the horror of the current US administration to keep a spotlight on it. And in many ways I’m sad. I’m sad that we’re still so caught up in greed and growth, which I would argue TV at Murrow’s time was as well, people wanted entertainment so execs pushed that over news, that we can’t see how much damage is being done by not using the “instrument” to teach, inspire, and fight the battles against “ignorance, intolerance and indifference.”