Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Good Night and Good Luck

IMDB (2005)

No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices. (1954)

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. (1954 on See it Now)

Good Night and Good Luck was about Ed Murrow, a broadcast journalist with CBS in the 1940s and 1950s. His fame was based on his broadcasts from England during the London Blitz, which is where his catch phrases "This . . . is London" and "Good night, and Good luck" originated. This movie describes his conflict with Senator Eugene McCarthy during the Red Scare.

What we see is a newsroom as you would hope for it, in the early days of broadcast television. Producers getting stories, and trying to determine what is known and not known, and to pitch a story, as hard as the facts may warrant it, but no more.

And you see the pressure that was put on the journalists for doing this. Senator McCarthy used intimidation, secret evidence, guilt by association, and near blackmail to further his cause. And in it all, there was almost no proof.

Ed Murrow also pushes the point, that Senator McCarthy's primary tactic was to paint people as guilty by association. The mere association with people who were communists was enough to be a target of McCarthy. But unless you live a sheltered life, outside the streams of human suffering and existence, and outside the stream of history, you cannot avoid associating with people with unsavory pasts. Murrow responds to McCarthy's accusation that a socialist author dedicated a book to Murrow by stating that author belonged to a time and tradition that allowed people to be friends with people they disagreed with. And the book dedication that McCarthy gave as evidence of communist leanings acknowledged that Murrow disagreed with the author on principles. McCarthy's argument was pure innuendo, with no substance beneath the surface.

The movie does have a 'just the facts' aura to it. Events and decisions are made bluntly, purely business. There is rejoicing after the job is done, but the actual work is deliberate. The many subplots makes the whole thing almost inhuman. Except for the McCarthy emphasis on character assassination. As the CBS crew reports it, and is a target of it, you see the cost of character assassination in careers ruined, lives ruined, people driven to suicide. All of which steels the CBS crew in their determination to resist the pressure and present the news in an manner beyond reproach.

A very good movie. The antagonist use of character assassination by association is something that has been used many times throughout history, and Good Night and Good Luck does a good job of showing the cost, foreshadowing what kind of world would result if it left unchecked, and showing what resistance to that kind of world looks like.
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