Edward Roscoe Murrow (1908-1965), American radio and television news broadcaster, pioneered in developing journalism and political and social commentary for the mass media.
Edward R. Murrow was born Egbert R. Murrow on Polecat Creek near Greensboro, N.C., on April 25, 1908. The family moved in 1913, and Murrow grew up in Washington state. He worked in logging camps during vacations from Washington State College, changing his first name in the process.
Murrow began his career in international student exchange, but after his marriage to Janet Huntington Brewster he joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1935 as director of talks. In 1937 he went to London to arrange speeches and concerts for the American radio network. However, in 1938, he was plunged into news broadcasting when Adolf Hitler annexed Austria to Germany, and he continued to broadcast throughout World War II. The German "blitz" against London in 1940 made Murrow's the best-known American radio voice from overseas, identified by his incisive personal reporting from rooftops and airfields and his social and political probing behind the wartime headlines. After America entered the war, Murrow won renown for his broadcasts describing a bombing raid against Berlin, the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, and the American capture of Leipzig.
Returning to the United States after the war, Murrow inaugurated television journalism-in-depth in 1951 with the weekly program "See It Now." It examined political and social issues and in 1954 challenged the nation's most feared demagogue at that time, Senator Joseph McCarthy. "See It Now" stirred controversy as it explored various national concerns, and Murrow ranged the world to film news and interview political figures. With his good looks and forceful personality, he became a well-known public figure in his own right, especially after starting another television program, "Person to Person," which brought him electronically into the homes of celebrities.
But the widening mass nature of television with its increasing commercialism and costs put the emphasis on entertainment programs that won audience ratings. Murrow's brand of purposeful news broadcasting found less and less time on the air. A notable speech to the broadcasting industry in 1958 appealling for better programs found little response. Murrow left broadcasting in 1961 to become director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). He restored the USIA's morale and effectiveness, damaged in the McCarthy years, but found conflict between his role as government propagandist and his independent journalistic past. Ill health compelled his resignation, and he died on April 27, 1965.
A collection of Murrow's wartime broadcasts is his This Is London (1941). A much wider range of his radio and television broadcasts is provided by Edward Bliss, Jr., ed., In Search of Light (1967). Murrow's associate Fred W. Friendly wrote about him in Due to Circumstances beyond Our Control (1967). Alexander Kendrick, Prime Time (1969), is a full biography. □