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DVD Review: The Edward R. Murrow Collection

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Older newsman such as Dan Rather and Ted Koppel still talk about Edward R. Murrow with a dewy eyed sense of admiration when asked to discuss the current state of television news. A clip of Murrow is often shown when historians are seeking to show journalists at their intense best.

The Edward R. Murrow Collection consists of a series of shows put together in the 1990s to commemorate the legacy of a man largely credited with inventing the concept of television news. The four disc set gives the viewer a thorough overview of Murrow’s life and an extensive look at his career from start to finish.

The first disc, This Reporter, shows Murrow’s childhood and early career before becoming a European radio correspondent for CBS. Murrow gained a following for his serious on-the-spot coverage of the German takeover of Austria in 1939.

Murrow showed his mettle in 1940 London, during the blitz. He set up a microphone on the roof on the BBC building and gave a running account of what it was like during the nightly air raid bombardments. Murrow even reported from aboard a bomber plane mission to Berlin.

Adding authenticity to the documentary are interviews with various people who knew and admired Murrow. They paint a picture of a man who was committed to his craft and inspired loyalty from the people who worked with him. However, the style of reporting that was making him a star would later lead to a serious rift with CBS, as the network looked to bring less controversy to its news programming.

After the war, Murrow spent two unhappy years as a CBS executive, but then jumped back into broadcasting just as television was being born. This Reporter provides a look at Murrow’s major television work and ends with his eventual fall from grace at the network. It is interesting to hear Murrow’s comments about the sponsors who began to take control over the content of his broadcasts.

The second disc, See It Now shows the birth of television as a new medium. Murrow openly admits that he’s learning as he goes. Here in 2006, it seems archaic yet fascinating to see Murrow directing cameras set up in New York and San Francisco, so the audience could look at the oceans on both coasts at the same time! Shortly thereafter, Murrow was giving reports from Korea, making the conflict the first televised war. Other clips from See It Now include the reactions of various southerners to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Education decision and an interview with elderly but spunky painter, Grandma Moses.

The third disc, The McCarthy Years contains one of the most talked about media showdowns of the twentieth century. This collection of broadcasts allows the viewer to see what Senator McCarthy was like and how he operated. After watching McCarthy engage in character assassination, Murrow used his television pulpit to question McCarthy’s charges. Of course, this brings up a great topic for debate — when should journalists stop reporting the news and engage in personal commentary? Should they ever?

Whether you agree with Murrow’s actions or not, The McCarthy Years is a wonderful historical document containing footage of the period of time now known as McCarthyism.

The fourth disc, Harvest of Shame contains the entire CBS Reports show from Murrow’s last years as a broadcaster. By the time Harvest of Shame aired the during Thanksgiving weekend of 1960, Murrow had been stripped of much of his power and only appeared occasionally on the network. Harvest of Shame raised national awareness about the plight of migrant workers and is still considered by many to be one of the finest documentaries on the subject.

The Edward R. Murrow Collection is well mastered and the original kinescopes and 16mm sources look as good as they can. Each disc has a biography and timeline of Murrow’s life. This set is a must for television history and journalism classes. The collection is also great entertainment for any media and/or history buff.

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