Ed Murrow at the microphone

Edward (Egburt) Roscoe Murrow

He was born into a Quaker family of farmers in Polecat Creek, North Carolina. According to his biographical script, he wrote:

“Edward R. Murrow, born near Greensboro, North Carolina, April 25, 1908. The third of three sons born to Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Murrow, farmers. About 40 acres of poor cotton land, water melons and tobacco."

The family moved to Washington State when he was six and where he was raised, but would leave his parents life behind him when he enrolled in Washington State University. His upbringing was both in a strict Quaker as well as a working class, agrarian family. He never forgot these roots as he grew older with his sympathy for the working class and poor. At the University he majored in speech, but also participated in debating, dramatics, Class President his Junior year, Cadet Colonel of the Student Army in last year, and President of Student Council. Upon graduation worked for several organizations for whom he developed student conferences. He also continued to study speech under Ida Lou Anderson, about whom Murrow wrote:

"She took a raw kid and gave him goals in life. ... She taught me to love good books, good music, gave me the only sense of values I have ... She knows me better than any person in the world. The part of me that is decent, that wants to do something, to be something, is the part she created. I owe the ability to live to her."1

Because of his positions he traveled to Europe several times which allowed him to make contacts. Eventually, he was hired by CBS in 1935. While working in New York for CBS, he did his first news broadcast, under the tutelage of Robert Trout, an established new broadcaster. On Christmas Eve 1936, he read the news using Trout's script. At age 27 sent overseas by CBS Vice-President, Ed Klauber to be CBS' "European Director of Talks" to provide speakers and acts for the newly burgeoning radio medium.

The Rise of Radio News

Murrow had a sense of idealism and believed in the underdog; possibly character he formed from his Quaker upbringing. He was tall, lean, but had a darker look to his appearance. He was very bright and as the drama was unfolding in the European stage, Murrow saw an opportunity for radio to bring events right into America's homes. He communicated his ideas to his boss, Paul White, but much of them fell on deaf ears.

NBC European Correspondent, Max Jordan, was already doing various news reporting along with organizing print reporters and others for topical "talks." In fact, in late 1936, Jordan participated in the first-ever simultaneous multiple-remote-pickup broadcast, a stunt which brought together an array of European broadcasting officials in separate airplanes over the Atlantic coast.2

When Germany annexed Austria in a peaceful Anchluss, Jordan again swept CBS when he reported on the assassination of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. But when the actual event of Nazi Germany marching into Austria in 1938 occurred, CBS Continental Director, William L. Shirer notified Murrow of this and CBS moved swiftly to allow both Murrow and Shirer to actually report and comment on the air.

Eventually, CBS came to realize that they had a good thing by having personal reports from their own reporters, who could offer as much an eyewitness view on the events unfolding as the others who appeared on the air. Murrow's reports and analysis along with those from the reporters he hired set the trend for broadcast journalism for many years to follow.

Reporting from London

Murrow is not only known for his cogent point-of-view, but also for his clipped, slow but deliberate style of speaking. Gerald Nachman in his Raised on Radio says Murrow "picked up his basic speech patterns from his Quaker mother, who often spoke in inverted phrases like 'This I believe.'"3 Murrow never considered himself a writer and though not like Kaltenborn's extemporaneous speaking, often dictated his broadcasts to his secretary, who would transcribe them in preparation for his reports. This added to the seemingly casual form of broadcast that made Murrow's broadcasts notable. One of his reports from London came on August 28th, 1939, three days before the Invasion of Poland. Another was during a London blitz as he reported late at night from a London rooftop on September 20th, 1940 [Click for Sound]. Listeners felt he was speaking directly to them and not just reading something. Once he took the microphone outside to Trafalgar Square to report on an actual air raid. [Click for Sound]

Though he preferred radio, Murrow's reports provided us with strong visual images:

"Tonight, as on every other night, the rooftop watchers are peering out across the fantastic forest of London's chimney pots. The anti-aircraft gunners stand ready."
"I have been walking tonight - there is a full moon, and the dirty-gray buildings appear white. The stars, the empty windows, are hidden. It's a beautiful and lonesome city where men and women and children are trying to snatch a few hours sleep underground."

Thomas Granden, Ed Murrow and William Shirer at a French Cafe.Murrow and his "boys," the CBS European broadcast team represented the conscience of the American people as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini grabbed more and more territory in their quest to dominant the world. Their reports helped this country understand a need to enter the war. Murrow was America abroad, and we could not believe our ears of the suffering and fear the European people were experiencing. For listeners, Murrow was the common man. We wanted to listen to him and believe.

For most of the war, Murrow reported from London and rarely got a chance to go elsewhere. He relied on his reporters to do that for him. However, occasionally, he would (sometimes without the blessing of CBS Executives, who valued him as an important property) report from other venues. Once he went on a bombing run with a British team of airmen, which resulted in his report he called Orchestrated Hell.

And just as his influence swayed Americans to believe in a war they were reluctant to want, his reports on the Holocaust were equally spellbinding. When he visited one of the camps at Buchenwald on April 15, 1945, despite his attempt to tone down what he saw, he still presented a powerful picture of a darker side of our humanity.

Post War Years

After the war, Murrow, at first reluctantly, moved into the television medium. Radio was his first love and he continued broadcasting in that medium. But he began to see the power of television, as he saw with radio, and set new standards for what the broadcast news media could accomplish. William Paley, CBS President, wanted Murrow to take over as head of news broadcasting worldwide. And so, he returned from Europe as Vice President of CBS, Director for News and Public Affairs. Though he and Paley were soulmates during the war, fighting a common enemy, that closeness over time became strained. Paley felt he had to compromise with the government, the sponsors. Murrow felt, at first, that broadcast news could not suffer, should not be compromised. It would eventually take its toll on Murrow as he tried to straddle both worlds. As head, he continued to also broadcast with such programs as See It Now, Person to Person, and Years of Crisis.

As a television journalist, Murrow used his position to challenge the "situations of fear" he saw confronting American society. Possibly his most famous encounter was with the junior Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. Murrow pointed out that the line between investigation and persecution is a fine one. The junior Senator, he felt had crossed that line. Some say Murrow was partially responsible for McCarthy's downfall. What was certain is that he helped allay some of the fear created by the McCarthy investigations.

Over time, his years with CBS began to take its toll on his health and psyche. He began to consider other employment opportunities. In 1961, that opportunity arose when he accepted a position as Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA). In February 1961, he left CBS for good.

in the fall of 1963, Murrow fell seriously ill. On October 6, 1963, his left lung was removed due to cancer. While Murrow was still recuperating, Kennedy was assassinated, on November 22, 1963. Murrow returned to work in December. Given his deteriorating health, he offered his resignation to the new president Lyndon B. Johnson, on December 19, 1963. Johnson at first refused to accept his resignation because he wanted to ensure administrative continuity with Kennedy's administration, but in early January 1964, he finally accepted the resignation and announced Carl Rowan as the next director of USIA.4

Murrow died of brain cancer on April 25, 1965.