Modern-Day Post-9/11 McCarthyism in Media

Panelists at the fifth annual Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism last night compared media censorship in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to McCarthy−era blacklists.

“Did blacklisting really end with Joe McCarthy?” Director of the Communications and Media Studies (CMS) Program Julie Dobrow, who facilitated the panel, asked at the event’s opening.

The panelists cited examples of post−9/11 media censorship as possible instances of modern day McCarthyism, including Clearwater’s refusal to play the Dixie Chicks’ music on any of its radio stations after band members criticized the Iraqi war and the cancellation of Bill Maher’s show “Politically Incorrect” (1993−2002) following his dissenting political statements.

“They couldn’t get work, they couldn’t get airplay, so yes, it is happening, and it’s happening in some form or another always,” filmmaker Arnie Reisman, director of documentary “Hollywood on Trial” (1976), said.

The Hollywood Blacklists during the late 1940s and 1950s prevented people from working in the entertainment industry based on real or suspected political beliefs. Reisman said the blacklist expanded to include journalists as well.

The late Edward R. Murrow, in honor of whom the forum was established, was a journalist for CBS television who stood up against Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin by criticizing him publicly on his television show “See It Now” (1951−58).

Murrow was championed for his bravery and willingness to speak out at a time when fear had a paralyzing effect on those in the media industry.

His son, Executive Director of Synergy Learning International Casey Murrow, who was on the panel, described the fear under which the family lived at the time.

“I certainly had kids in my class in New York City come up to me and say, ‘Your dad’s a Commie!’” Murrow said. “I remember going home and asking my mom not whether dad was a Commie, but what a Commie was.”

This year’s forum entitled “Dixie Chicking: Murrow, McCarthy, and the Blacklist — History Lesson or Current Event?” was sponsored by the CMS Program, the Edward R. Murrow Center at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

The panelists drew parallels between Edward Murrow’s debates with McCarthy and what they deemed to be poor reporting and coverage by the news media in the lead−up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“We, in this country, walked into Iraq without the media doing its job,” Program Director of the Murrow Center Crocker Snow said.

Journalist Lynne Olson, author of “The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism” (1997), said that leading up to the invasion, journalists failed to ask the tough questions that should have been asked.

“One of those things that would drive Ed Murrow mad was the tendency to be timid,” Olson said.

According to Olson, part of the problem was networks’ growing shift away from news to entertainment, with news programs today being more entertaining but less informative than before.

“One of his favorite things was education,” Olson said. “I think he would be disappointed today at the lack of analysis and education [in media].”

Articles by: Brent Yarnell

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