Saturday, January 03, 2009

Merely wires and lights in a box

Following that last post -- about what passes for informational content on cable news channels these days -- I thought it might be appropriate to post a couple of the 7,231.459,295 reasons we all should be profoundly sorry that Edward R. Murrow is dead.

Above is a link to the first of those reasons, the famed CBS newsman's 1945 report from the Nazis' just-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. What follows is a story from WREG television in Memphis about another of the countless reasons we should mourn that there are no men -- or women -- like Murrow on the American airwaves today.

IN HIS FAMOUS SPEECH to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Murrow pretty much said it all. He warned, in concluding:
I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small traction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure would grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure--exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely 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.

Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.
"If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us."

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