The TV News Continuum from Edward Murrow to Jon Stewart

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 28, 2005 | Go to article overview

The TV News Continuum from Edward Murrow to Jon Stewart


Byline: Ted Cox

How journalism has changed in the 50 years since TV became an American institution. If anyone needs any proof of the dramatic shift, may I suggest comparing a couple of newly released DVDs.

"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" releases its first DVD today. Truth be told, it's a little disappointing, with a lot of coverage viewers have already seen. The three discs cover "The Daily Show's" work at last year's Democratic and Republican conventions, then the "Prelude to a Recount" election-night program. There's a lot of the show as is - or rather as it was, as it originally ran - and not enough of an effort to distill the best routines from its "Indecision 2004" coverage of the campaign, start to finish.

In any case, take that as an admittedly comical depiction of TV journalism today, and compare it with "The Edward R. Murrow Collection," a four-disc DVD recently released by CBS News.

All right, I can hear the hoots already - loudest of all from Stewart himself, who has repeatedly disavowed any responsibility as a serious journalist, most prominently in his infamous appearance on "Crossfire" last year. Stewart's show doesn't represent the state of journalism, but it says a lot about our attitudes toward journalism today. So stick with me while I point out what has changed - and the surprising thing the two seem to share.

"The Edward R. Murrow Collection" shows that CBS' great journalist was more than just a radio and TV legend - or rather that his legend was fully deserved. The first disc includes the 1990 PBS "American Masters" profile of Murrow - excellent for filling in the background and compiling his best World War II radio reports from London - but the next three get to the really good stuff. There's "The Best of 'See it Now,'" Murrow's groundbreaking TV newsmagazine, then "The McCarthy Years," showing his counterattacks on Sen. Joe McCarthy's red scare, and finally "Harvest of Shame," a no-holds-barred documentary on migrant farm workers, first broadcast on the day after Thanksgiving in 1960.

The amazing thing about Murrow is the way - both in radio and TV - he'd drop the facade of mystique the medium tended to build up, and use it instead to communicate directly to the listener or viewer. Look at this dispatch from London during the blitz:

"This is London. There are no words to describe the thing that is happening - the courage of the people, the flash and roar of the guns rolling down the streets, the stench of the air-raid shelter."

Notice how he sets the stage for the first report from the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp: "Permit me to tell you what you would have seen and heard had you been with me on Thursday. It will not be pleasant listening. …

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