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The ghost of journalism’s past

Nickey Hernandez

Great as he was, legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow would be a flop in today’s short-attention-span universe.

Back when people read books not blogs, the founding father of CBS news quoted Shakespeare, used words Rita Crosby could never pronounce, and saved his best material to slay corrupt politicians.

The powerful prose and honorable deeds of this long-dead media hero are resurrected in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a sentimental, if slightly dull, flick that reminds us that the media once had balls.

The film, shown in black and white to recreate the feel of the 1950s, plays better as a civics lesson than Sunday afternoon cinema. It’s unlikely that the George Clooney directed film will resonate with anyone raised on MTV and iPods.

Still, there is much to admire here and even more to ponder. Top issue: How can our society, devolved from the intelligence and insight of Murrow, get to the scrotum-sucking ways of Shepard Smith in 50 years?

“Good Night, and Good Luck,’ centers on the high stakes feud between Murrow, then the most respected man in news, and U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a red-baiting bastard, who catapulted his way to power on the nation’s fear of communism. McCarthy, a balding, sweaty faced, lying f— from Wisconsin, slandered and threatened his way into the Senate. He saw pinko commies in every crevice of government. The drunken clown held power until his arrogance and fakery fell to shreds faster than President Bush’s second term.

Murrow melted the crumbling cheese head in 1954, when he exposed the senator’s mendacity to a national audience. The film explains how one rabid politician met his match at the hands of an eloquent news hound.

McCarthy eventually died of disgrace and drink. He became a urine-stained loser, mocked by history and loathed by all but conservative crazies like Ann Coulter.

Parallels between the paranoia of McCarthy and the current administration’s blatant manipulation of news are beyond obvious. What’s more interesting, and a bit frightening, is how unimportant Murrow would be today.

Oxycontin abuser and high-paid propagandist Rush Limbaugh would label Murrow as a “wacko.” Tough-talking, war-loving Sean Hannity would question the man’s sanity and call him a member of the “liberal elite.” Gambling czar and alleged bigot William Bennett would demand Murrow undergo an abortion.

In the end, more people would watch C-Span than Murrow’s famed and highly educational news show, “See it Now.”

Luckily Murrow, who died in 1965, did not outlive his welcome. But before he passed, he predicted the demise of TV news. As far back as 1958, he cautioned that unless journalists use television as a tool for knowledge and change, the glowing box of tubes and wires would only “distract, dilute and isolate the audience.”

I wonder what Murrow would think of “Desperate Housewives?”

Until next time, Nickey Hernandez has left the theater to kill his TV.

Nickey Hernandez is a former private investigator who knows that the fault is not in the brainless newsreaders of today, but in our simple-minded selves.


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