Engelman, Ralph. Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly & The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. 424 pp. $34.50.
Published in Journalism History, Vol. 35 (no. 3), Fall 2009
Fred W. Friendly made headlines in February 1966 when he abruptly and dramatically resigned as president of CBS News after his employer opted to air a re- run of “I Love Lucy” instead of carrying live, daytime coverage of George Kennan’s testimony before Congress about the Viet- nam War. His departure was reported as a courageous and journalistically principled stand. However, as Ralph Engelman writes in Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly & The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism, it may have been less about Lucy and more about Fred. An organizational change under way at CBS had severely weakened his standing in the corporation and cut off his access to chairman William S. Paley.
As is now known, the story of Friendly’s famous departure is not simple; it still is not clear, for example, whether he really quit or was pushed out. Neither is it a simple matter to characterize him. He was known as a “brilliant monster” at CBS: a volatile, impulsive, manipulative, and abrasive taskmaster with an enormous ego and a violent temper. Yet, he also was a talented, visionary, and charismatic producer, educator, and policy- maker, capable of inspiring great loyalty from those who worked for him. “You either had to love him or hate him,” said film editor Mili Lerner. “There was no in-between with Fred.” Drawing from archival documents, including Friendly’s papers, as well as dozens of interviews, Engelman provides a balanced, nuanced, and scholarly portrait of one of the most significant figures in the history of television.
Friendly’s life, Engelman writes, “could be viewed as a Friendly production.” Ferdinand Friendly Wachenheimer was born in New York City; raised in Providence, Rhode Island; and overcame his father’s untimely death, as well as the challenges of dyslexia, color blindness, and stuttering, to become a radio broadcaster. He served in the Army during World War II, rising to the rank of master sergeant in the China-Burma-India Theater, where he wrote newspaper articles and produced radio broadcasts and orienta- tion programs. This experience, which he called his “Rhodes Scholarship,” gave him the organizational skills that he would later draw upon as a broadcast producer and executive.
After the war, Friendly moved to New York City, hoping to find work. His break came when he met John G. “Jap” Gude, the leading talent agent for broadcasters, includ- ing Edward R. Murrow. Gude introduced Friendly to Murrow, and this led to their collaboration on the 1948 recording “I Can Hear It Now,” which became “an instantaneous critical and commercial success.” Eventually, he landed a job with CBS News, where he and Murrow worked together so famously on the groundbreaking television program See It Now.
Engelman covers the See It Now period in ample detail. In fact, it may be easy for a reader to momentarily forget that this is Friendly’s biography, not Murrow’s, which is evidence, perhaps, of how inexorably connected the two men are and how important and defining the relationship was to Friendly’s career. For him, the relationship “had a possessive quality” in which he regarded Murrow as “his Murrow.” For his part, Murrow had reservations about his partner’s willingness to take dramatic license with the truth, and he thought that Friendly was completely ill suited to be president of CBS News. After Murrow’s death, Friendly continued to wear the Murrow mantle (much to the annoyance of Murrow’s wife, Janet) and to promote their shared vision of television as an educational device (what was characterized in 1960s press coverage as “Friendlyvision”).
Friendlyvision’s strongest contribu- tion comes from its treatment of Friendly’s post-CBS life. Serving on the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and as a television advisor to the Ford Foundation, he was an influential figure in the development of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Engelman, an expert on the history of public broadcasting, masterfully positions his contributions into the broader context of educational and public service broadcast policy development. Friendly’s other major achievement during this period was the development of a series of seminars in which politicians, judges, and journalists were subjected to unrehearsed Socratic questioning. The sessions were ulti- mately televised, partially fullfilling his hope of using television to educate the American public. As Engelman demonstrates, his work in these areas was intellectually informed by the ideas of his friend and mentor, Walter Lippmann. In fact, writes Engelman, “[t]he essence of Friendlyvision was the application of Lippmann’s ideas to television.”
Friendly is hardly an unknown figure. Yet, Friendlyvision fills a void in the literature by focusing on what Engelman unabashedly calls “the greatest innovator and producer in the history of television journalism.”
Edwards, B. (2004). Edward R. Murrow and the birth of broadcast journalism. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 174 pages.
Published in Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, Vol 50 (No. 1), March 2006
Forty years after his death, Edward R. Murrow is back on the public stage, thanks to a Hollywood movie (George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck), the summer 2005 rerelease of The Edward R. Murrow Collection on DVD (distributed by New Video), and now a brief biography by former NPR Morning Edition host Bob Edwards. The renewed attention comes at a precipitous time: Large numbers of Americans hold journalism in low esteem even while abiding and contributing to a highly partisan media environment. Meanwhile, most young journalists know little about the man who is revered as the patron saint of broadcast journalism.
Murrow’s life has already been thoroughly covered. However, full-length biogra- phies—particularly A. M. Sperber’s excellent 1986 work of nearly 800 pages—may seem overwhelmingly comprehensive to today’s young readers. Conversely, Edwards’s account is exceptionally brief. Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism is a sort of broadcast version of Murrow’s life story, complete with sound bites and written in the conversational style that evokes for the reader Edwards’s fa- miliar baritone. Edwards writes with the authority of someone who knew Murrow. He did not, of course, but perhaps is able to convey such an impression because he was a student of one of Murrow’s writers, Ed Bliss.
Edwards touches on all the familiar points of Murrow’s story: Assembling the “boys” in Europe, covering the war, giving birth to radio’s “roundup” format for break- ing news, taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy on See It Now, and the ugliness of ulti- mately losing the program and leaving CBS. While giving Murrow credit and his fair share of hero worship, Edwards provides some human glimpses of the iconic broad- caster, including his frequent melancholic episodes and nervous twitches. Then, there is the matter of Murrow lying on his job application. Edwards writes that Murrow was so insecure when he went to work at CBS that he added 5 years to his age, changed his academic major from speech to political science and international relations, and claimed to have a master’s degree from Stanford. Murrow came clean 2 years later, when the network sent him to Europe and he thought it wise to buy life insurance. It was not the only time the young Murrow had done it, according to Edwards, who points out the obvious irony of Murrow lying to CBS “where he would establish a rep- utation for integrity and would become a champion of truth” (p. 24).
Murrow’s fierce rivalry with CBS news director Paul White provides some of the book’s lighter points. White resented Murrow immediately, accurately recognizing him as a rival. The relationship is detailed in other works, but Edwards gives a delight- fully mischievous description of White needling Murrow about his good looks and at- tempting to sabotage his work, and Murrow responding by seemingly going out of his way to annoy White with his hires: “The fact that Paul White hated [Thomas] Grandin’s voice made him the perfect Murrow hire,” and “Eric [Sevareid], too, had the gold credential of having Paul White hate his voice” (p. 45). The rivalry lasted un- til the end of the war, when Murrow returned to New York as a CBS vice president. As Edwards notes, “the two could not share the newsroom for long” (p. 93) and parted ways. Ironically, both remain linked as the namesakes of the two top awards given by the Radio–Television News Directors Association.
Edwards is particularly fascinated with Murrow’s writing style, offering lengthy ex- amples of scripts—one, “D is for Dog,” Murrow’s famous Peabody-winning account of a bomber’s run over Berlin during World War II, runs 10 pages in length. Murrow did not write his own scripts—he dictated them, as he saw BBC reporters in London do during the war. As a result, Edwards notes, the scripts looked “awkward on the page” but sounded “stunning when spoken by Murrow” (p. 53). Murrow and his col- leagues did not have the advantage during World War II of using recorded sound. The happy result, according to Edwards, is a more vivid script. For example, Edwards writes, “newsreel footage of the Blitz is in black and white; Ed’s radio reports were in color” (p. 53).
While crediting Murrow with being “absolutely fearless” (p. 155), a good manager, and “near-flawless judge of talent” (p. 154), Edwards notes that the broadcaster was capable of holding a grudge (not forgiving Walter Cronkite for rejecting Murrow’s job offer during the war) and erring in judgment (particularly in his assessment of CBS President Frank Stanton). Edwards finds it “difficult to imagine Murrow lasting very long in broadcast journalism” (p. 161) in today’s environment but concludes “we had Murrow when we needed him the most” (pp. 165–166)—at the birth of broadcast journalism.
Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism does not break new ground, nor does it include bibliographic notes. It does, however, provide Murrow’s story to those who are less likely to read a full-length biography, and it does so in an enjoyable fashion.
The Great Silent Majority: Nixon’s 1969 Speech on Vietnamization. By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. 144 pp.
Published in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol 45 (no. 3), September 2015
Nearly a year to the day after winning the presidency, Richard M. Nixon sat before televi- sion cameras in the Oval Office to deliver what he considered the most important speech of his career. His goal was to persuade war-weary Americans to support his Vietnam War policy. Following months of massive antiwar rallies, the president, who had campaigned on a plan to end the war, was under pressure to convince Americans that he truly wanted peace. At the same time, he needed to persuade the Vietminh and Vietcong that the United States was serious about its commitment to support an independent South Vietnam. Nixon wrote the speech himself—spending days in solitude, scribbling his thoughts on yellow legal pads. No advance copies were provided, so expectations were high when the White House scheduled time on the three television networks for 9:30 p.m. on November 3, 1969. Reciting the speech from memory, Nixon appealed to his base, what he called “the great silent majority of my fellow Americans” (p. 13) for their support.
In hindsight, this pivotal speech in American history continues to incite mixed reac- tions. In his memoirs, Nixon wrote that he was proud of the address. “Very few speeches actually influence the course of history,” he wrote. “The November 3 speech was one of them” (The Memoirs of Richard Nixon [New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978], p. 409). Biographer Stephen Ambrose, in contrast, thought that such a claim was “nonsense” (Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989], p. 310).
Now, nearly a half-century after Nixon’s address, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s The Great Silent Majority concludes that it was “a persuasive masterpiece” (pp. 21, 64) that successfully persuaded Americans to buy into a false narrative—the need to support South Vietnam’s heroic resistance to communism. After presenting a concise history of the Vietnam conflict itself, Campbell expertly dissects each phrase in the president’s mas- terful speech, revealing his intent, rhetorical techniques, and verbal sleights of hand.
According to Campbell, Nixon’s speech followed a familiar pattern by claiming that his policy of Vietnamization—supporting the South Vietnamese effort to defend themselves—was the result of thoughtful deliberation, was justified, required the audi- ence to be unified, and legitimized the authority of the commander in chief. In this regard, Nixon told the nation that he had done all that was possible, leaving the North Vietnamese to blame. Furthermore, he claimed that he wanted peace but that he would do what was necessary to protect U.S. troops and America’s prestige.
Typical of war rhetoric, Nixon also employed “strategic misrepresentations” (p. 43). For example, he characterized South Vietnam as an independent country, not the territorial result of a temporary partition. Furthermore, he implied the war could not only be won, but could be won only by continuing to fight (even though he privately doubted that a military success was possible). As Campbell suggests, Nixon skillfully presented his policy options in either-or terms. He said that he could take the “popular and easy course” (p. 2) of immediately withdrawing troops from Vietnam and placing the blame for the war on his predecessor. However, he continued, that option would result in disaster for Vietnam and for U.S. credibility. Instead, Nixon suggested the country had only one choice: to support his policy—and the more support that he received from the American people, the sooner he could fulfill his pledge for peace.
The question, Nixon said, was “not whether some Americans are for peace and some Americans are against peace,” but “how can we win America’s peace” (p. 2). He added that the situation demanded national unity, “for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris” (p. 13). Ironically, however, Nixon him- self was dividing the country between those who saw themselves as “the great silent majority” (p. 13) that supported America’s role in Vietnam and what amounted to “a repulsive alter ego of loathsome Others—druggies, hippies, and gays from that Sodom of the West Coast, San Francisco” (p. 60). As the president concluded, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that” (p. 13). Protestors and others who disagreed with the president, he implied, were contributing to the chance that the United States might lose a war for the first time.
The appeal was effective for many Americans. A Gallup poll of those who heard the speech suggested that 77% supported the president. Telegrams and letters, most of which were positive and many that were drummed up by the White House in advance, piled on Nixon’s desk for days afterward. Yet television news commentators were less impressed. There was “no new initiative, no new proposal, no announcement of any new troop with- drawals,” Frank Reynolds told the ABC audience (Richard Reeves, President Nixon: Alone in the White House [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001], p. 147). Predictably angered by the media reaction, Nixon likely did not need Pat Buchanan’s urgings to unleash Vice President Spiro Agnew to give a series of speeches attacking the news media.
Important aspects of the resulting turmoil live on, Campbell suggests, because Americans are in many ways still fighting the Vietnam War. The continuing struggle is evident in history books that either convey or refute the false narrative that emerged from Nixon’s powerful speech. Fortunately, The Great Silent Majority has now provided an accessible analysis of the rhetoric that created that narrative.
Marylu Walters. CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002.
Published in Journal of Radio Studies, Vol. 11 (no. 2), 2004.
Canadian radio station CKUA started the way many others did in the 1920s: on "a shoestring" (p, 15), Like educational broadcasters in the United States, the University of Alberta's CKUA sought to provide educational content, with lim- ited funding, for isolated rural listeners, hungry for a friendly voice or two. It even had to fight its way into existence over the objections of commercial broadcasters and federal regulators. However, many of the similarities to other educational broadcasters end there. As Marylu Walters describes in CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For, the station evolved into an important cultural insti- tution known for its "eclecticism and intellectual playfulness" (p, 131), Yet, it was nearly snuffed out by endless political battles, near-permanent penury, and executive greed. The fact that Canada's oldest public broadcast survived at all is a testament to the fierce loyalty of its listeners and the dedication of its spirited staff.
CKUA was created when educators at the University of Alberta saw radio as a more efficient way to "carry the university to the people" (p, 9) than by car or mule. After initially obtaining broadcast time on a commercial station, the university purchased a license and began providing a diverse mix of live mu- sical performances, educational programs, football games, and farm reports, A series of financial crises and prolonged political wrangling between the prov- ince and the federal government led to Alberta Government Telephones taking over the station in 1944, Although the station found itself "owned by a frus- trated government that did not know what to do with it" (p, 109), CKUA continued to embrace its educational mission. Meanwhile, programmers and announcers flourished in the station's "workshop atmosphere" (p. 138), where they created a unique blend of programs that cut across musical genres and national borders. Not only did the station attract a loyal following of listeners, but also of countless Alberta musicians, whose careers were boosted by CKUA's attention to local talent.
For nearly 50 years Alberta politicians struggled with the radio station's role and its finances, Walter's account of these struggles leaves readers nearly as exhausted as they might have been had they lived through the turmoil them- selves. In 1970, the station was folded into a government-owned communica- tions consortium designed to integrate radio, television, and time-sharing com- puter networks for educational use. In the 1990s, the province's politics turned conservative. Anxious to privatize CKUA, yet unwilling to face the wrath of its listeners, the Alberta government agreed to sell the station to a foundation run by members of CKUA's existing board. It was in these circumstances—even while conducting successful, province-wide fund-raising efforts and evolving into a hybrid public-commercial radio station—that CKUA found itself in its greatest peril.
Under the foundation's leadership, staff members were laid off and those remaining were forced to take pay cuts. Nevertheless, board members extracted lucrative consulting fees and travel expenses, draining CKUA's finances. The most dramatic moments in the station's history—and Walter's account of i t - came when the station was shut down in 1997, Announcers were not told until the final show was to be aired. As the station broadcast off-air tone, fired staff members banded together with dedicated listeners and supporters to sue the foundation board chairman for mismanagement and to take the station back, reopening it under a new board. The resurrected station's slogan, "Radio Worth Fighting For," (p, 325) illustrates the passion with which the station's fans regard CKUA, It is this passion —"on the verge of religiosity" (p, 362), Walters writes—that "makes CKUA tick" (p. 361),
Walters' account is detailed and compelling. She provides readers with a solid background of the development of Canadian broadcasting policy and CKUA's growth within that context, CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For draws on primary documentary sources and interviews, providing researchers with a potentially strong starting point in a rich vein of Canadian broadcast history research, yet is hindered by the absence of footnotes. Nevertheless, CKUA's unique past and the passion with which Walters tells the story makes it a worthwhile read.
Shayon, Robert Lewis, Odyssey in Prime Time. Philadelphia: Waymark Press, 2001. 339 pp. $14.95.
Published in Journalism History, Vol 27 (no. 4), Winter 2002.
Odyssey in Prime Time takes readers on a lightly traveled road in radio history, back to a time when radio documentaries were ambitious, complicated, and idealistic affairs, requiring actors to recreate dialogue and engineers to precisely cue sixteen-inch glass disc recordings on the fly. It is the story of a radio pioneer who believed the "Red Scare" interrupted his career, yet he continued to be a player in broadcasting for the next forty years. Robert Shayon is largely unknown to today's media history students, but his story provides an important overview of American broadcasting.
Shayon wanted to work in the theater but instead found success at New York radio station WOR in the late 1930s. It was a time when writers and producers still had plenty of room to experiment with the young medium. He directed everything from soap operas to documentaries. Later, at CBS, he wrote and directed "Operation Crossroads," in which he tackled concerns raised by the dawning nuclear age. Program participants included government officials and scientists. In persuading Albert Einstein to participate, he spoke uninterrupted for twenty-five minutes about the program, after which an astonished Einstein asked, "You carry all this in your head?" Following the broadcast, Shayon's boss, Edward R. Murrow, called to say, "Tonight radio came of age."
After producing "CBS Is There," a series of dramatized historical events, Shayon was at the height of his success. Nevertheless, CBS fired him in 1949 as a "cost-cutting measure." But, as he struggled to find work, he became convinced that he had been blacklisted. Although listed in Red Channels in the following year, he was never able to confirm that he had been fired for being falser suspected of being a communist. He believes the affair destroyed his radio career and "prevented my early entry into network television."
He eventually worked on a few television programs, including "The Whole Town is Talking," a highly acclaimed town hall broadcast in Iowa that addressed a controversial school consolidation then under consideration. But it was in his long-time role as a media cretic for Saturday Review where Shayon became best known outside academic circles.
As a critic, he attacked broadcasters for being overly commercial and lacking the "deep moral and political commitment" of previous generations of broadcasters. After a third career, as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School, he continues to believe that the "tyranny of the commercial spirit of television" fails the public. He holds out some hope for the Internet but remains skeptical. "I have seen Satan overturn Paradaise too many times," he writes.
Shayon provides a rich and unique account, particularly useful for scholars interested in early attempts to use commercial stations for educational programs. However, little bibliographic documentation accompanies the memoir, and the narrative is largely dull, bogged down by frequent and lengthy excerpts from the author's previous writings and broadcasts. Nevertheless, it is those excerpts which historians may find most useful.