posted on Jan, 18 2010 @ 06:41 AM
The whole notion of unbiased journalism is a fairly recent concept and in reality it is doubtful there ever really was truly a period where unbiased
journalism existed. Even today, iconic news journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Woodward and Bernstein are held up as gold
standards of hard hitting unbiased journalistic integrity, but is this true?
For his part in journalism history Murrow rose to prominence as a radio broadcaster during World War II. Of course, it goes without saying that his
broadcasts were reporting from the allied forces and not the axis forces, and there was no doubt a particular and distinct bias towards the allies.
Even so, for anyone of his listeners, who could blame him? He had become prominent before Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and was reporting from
London, bringing to the United States reports of the German blitzes and raids that happened regularly.
However biased his reports may have been they were undoubtedly consistent and what could be relied upon was a remarkable clarity of description of
what he witnessed. His eyewitness account, for example, of the liberation of the concentration camp in Buchenwald, described the emaciated and
exhausted state of the prisoners being freed, describing the corpses as:
"...rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood."
and offered these description without apology, uncompromising in his tone and description:
"I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no
words. If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry."
However, Murrow while famous in some ways for embracing controversy and having as many enemies as he did friends, was not a pristine unbiased
broadcaster of journalistic integrity, even if he was iconic and well respected. His long time relationship with another respected journalist and
broadcaster William Shrier came to an abrupt end in 1947 when Shrier was fired from CBS in what is considered to be one of the great confrontations of
The problem arose from the withdraw of sponsorship by J.B. Williams a shaving soap manufacturer after Shrirer did a report highly critical of the
Truman Doctrine. The actual accounts of the decision by Murrow to let Shirer were not made fully public until Shrier's own account was finally told
in 1990. In fairness to Murrow, there are accounts that many besides Murrow had felt prior to this incident that Shrirer had lost some of his
integrity and was not working hard enough to research his analysis of what he reported.
It should also be noted that Murrow actually hosted a program in the early '50's which was a radio documentary called The Case for Flying
Saucers. This documentary is considered to be a balanced reporting because he interviewed two experts, one being a journalist Kenneth Arnold,
whose own reporting in 1947 was in a large part what begin the current U.F.O. interest, and Dr. Donald Menzel who took the opposing view that
U.F.O.'s could be explained away as "misidentified prosaic phenomenon".
His radio program was known as Hear it Now and in 1951 Murrow made the move to television with a news program called See it Now and it
was on this program where his own bias brought him perhaps his most famous broadcasts with his highly critical accounts of The McCarthy Hearings of
HUAC. These broadcasts are considered to be a primary factor in the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
While HUAC and McCarthy made several blunders, and possibly the attempt to purge Hollywood of communist infiltration was one of them, that Senator
McCarthy and the HUAC era was simply a paranoid extreme right wing attempt to silence innocent and apolitical Americans, as Murrow tended to present
the story, indeed as Hollywood has consistently presented that time frame in its films regarding it, is far from the truth.
What the actual truth is or was may never fully be known, and as to that time frame, much of the events center around the figure of Alger Hiss who was
accused of being a Soviet spy and eventually convicted of perjury. Hiss was a lawyer, civil servant and businessman who was involved in the
establishment of the United Nations, both as a U.S. State Department and U.N. official.
Based upon the testimony of a former communist party member, Whitaker Chambers, under subpoena from the House Committee of Un-American Activities
known as HUAC, Hiss was named as a spy while working for the State Department. This testimony seemed to directly conflict with a previous testimony
where Whitakers claimed that Hiss had never been a part of the communist party.
When Hiss was called before the Committee he categorically denied all the charges against him and later filed a defamation suit against the
government. In a later trial, during pretrial discovery Chambers apparently provided new evidence that implicating both he and Hiss as spies, even
though both had testified under oath in the HUAC hearings that neither one had ever engaged in espionage. Chambers had gained immunity from charges
based on this and a federal grand jury indicted Hiss of perjury. Because of the statutes of limitations he could not be charged for espionage.
The first trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial and in 1950 a second trial finally found Hiss convicted of perjury of which he served 44 months in
prison. Since his conviction a myriad and variance of "proof" has only added to the controversy as to his actual guilt or innocence. However,
since the fall of communist Russia several KGB files have been released that while they may or may not implicate Hiss as a spy, that Soviet espionage
was actually going on in the United States, there is little doubt.
As to the charges that the Soviet Union was using Hollywood to generate popular support from the masses is also of little doubt today, and indeed, one
only need look at many a film and story line to recognize that capitalism has long been a reviled economic theory in films made by the Hollywood
manufacturers while socialist populism has long been hailed as the preferred moral method of economy through subtle and sometimes not so subtle story
As for Murrow's own self righteous indignation to HUAC's audacity for demanding certain individuals testify and give account for their communist
activity during a time of cold war antics where no doubt both the U.S. and Soviet Union were engaging in acts of espionage, reveals Murrow's own
bias, and whether that should be criticized as unreliable journalism or simply respected as one mans opinion and willingness to embrace controversy
with tenacity and conviction is up to each individual but this controversy has long been a part of Edward R. Murrow's legacy.
Walter Cronkite long considered to be "the most trusted man in America" was a new anchor for CBS for 19 years. He began as a reporter in 1937 and
covered such historical events as many bombings in World War II, the Nuremberg trials, combat in the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F.
Kennedy, Watergate and the Iranian hostage crisis, as well as the moon landings and much coverage of the space program in general.
It was, however, his news analysis of the Vietnam conflict and particularly his reporting of the Tet offensive of January 31st, 1968, that revealed
his own particular bias and in no small part, this most trusted man in America, contributed greatly to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam when he
declared the war all but lost after the Tet offensive, which militarily speaking was not at all a loss for the U.S. military even though they were
taken by surprise and ill prepared for the attack. It was a huge loss for the Viet-Cong in spite of their ability to surprise the U.S., even so,
Cronkite declared it a loss for America and this declaration helped to cement that American conflict fate.