Edward R. Murrow’s Most Famous Speech

One of the truths of our age is that marxists always lie. I do not know if Edward R. Murrow was a marxist, but he was at least important to marxists and in consequence the history I learned of him, growing up the 1980s, seems in no small part to be lies.

Edward R. Murrow was, as I learned it, instrumental in destroying the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who ran the House Unamerican Activities Committee and persecuted people without evidence. This culminated in a famous address by Murrow, criticizing McCarthy, on his show See It Now:

There are some problems with this version of history, though. One disclaimer I need to get out of the way: from all reports, Senator Joseph McCarthy was a bad man; he was an unprincipled drunkard who was unkind and was prone to confusing accusation with proof. But one of the things that he was not was in charge of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. You can tell this because McCarthy was a senator, and senators don’t run committees in the House of Representatives. What McCarthy actually was, was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, which included the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The HUAC, which McCarthy had absolutely nothing to do with, looked into communist infiltration in Hollywood and other parts of American society; the Senate Committee on Government Operations only looked into people within the government itself.

Further, a crucial element of something being a witch hunt is that there not actually be any of what they’re looking for, just as during the Salem Witch Trials Salem was not, in fact, plagued by witches tormenting people by spectrally appearing to them. By contrast, there were in fact active communist agents both within society at large and within the US government. McCarthy hunted for them badly, but the people he hunted for were, in fact, real.

Then we come to the actual speech. It begins with Murrow saying, “Earlier, the Senator asked, ‘Upon what meat does this our Caesar feed?'” It’s a line from the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, and Murrow goes on to say, “Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare’s Caesar, which is not altogether inappropriate, ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'” He then closes with quoting that same line:

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Good night, and good luck.

When I looked into it, I cannot actually find out that Senator McCarthy actually quoted that line from the play Julius Caesar. However, I did find more than one source which attributes the quote to George Shuster, president of Hunter College of NYC, about McCarthy. From the first one I cited:

Shuster was the first college president to openly condemn McCarthy and his tactics. He stated that he had not fired Friedman in 1949 [when she was identified by the FBI as a communist] because civil service rules did not allow it, but he had fired her later when she refused to testify before a state committee, contrary to law.  He went farther than that. He said “Senator McCarthy reminds me of the college senior writing a test paper – he can’t distinguish between evidence and surmisal, fact and fiction.” He went on to suggest that Academic institutions should investigate McCarthy and his methods.  “No doubt” he said “the time has come to ask on ‘what meat this our Caesar has fed’ and to review his activities with the utmost objectivity, calm and chilly resolution, so that an authoritative report can be made to the people.”

Now, it is possible that Shuster is himself using a quote that McCarthy used; turning someone’s quote against him is a thing. That said, I couldn’t find any reference, other than Murrow’s, to McCarthy having cited the line from Julius Caesar. I didn’t put a great deal of time into this search, so I can’t put strong faith into my failure to find anything as evidence that it is not there to be found. That said, if McCarthy had actually said it, I would expect it to turn up pretty easily. By contrast, throwing “george shuster meat caesar fed” into google one gets plenty of results.

Leaving this dubious citation aside, we turn to the wisdom of approvingly quoting Cassius in the way Murrow did. Cassius is the villain of Julius Caesar. The quote comes from Act 1, Scene II:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talk’d of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Cassius is trying to talk Brutus into joining their conspiracy to murder Caesar. The line that Murrow cited, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves” means, in context, that they are not as famous as Caesar not because they lack the talent or worthiness, but because they lack the ambition. That is, it is entirely about envy. Cassius, in this line, is telling Brutus that they are just as deserving of fame and glory as Caesar.

At the end of the day, I assume that Murrow had no familiarity with the play and no idea what Cassius meant; I doubt he cared enough to look it up. This sort of casual disregard (which is better than outright quoting a villain approvingly, which is the other alternative) is rather concerning in someone whose trade was supposed to be telling the truth.

Then again, according to Wikipedia, his career suffered later in his life because he objected to audiences being given views other than his own:

Murrow’s reporting brought him into repeated conflicts with CBS, especially its chairman William Paley, which Friendly summarized in his book Due to Circumstances Beyond our ControlSee It Now ended entirely in the summer of 1958 after a clash in Paley’s office. Murrow had complained to Paley he could not continue doing the show if the network repeatedly provided (without consulting Murrow) equal time to subjects who felt wronged by the program.

It also mentions a decline in Murrow’s standing because of the rise of other journalists, such as Walter Cronkite:

Another contributing element to Murrow’s career decline was the rise of a new crop of television journalists. Walter Cronkite’s arrival at CBS in 1950 marked the beginning of a major rivalry which continued until Murrow resigned from the network in 1961. Murrow held a grudge dating back to 1944, when Cronkite turned down his offer to head the CBS Moscow bureau…

Throughout the 1950s the two got into heated arguments stoked in part by their professional rivalry. At a dinner party hosted by Bill Downs at his home in Bethesda, Cronkite and Murrow argued over the role of sponsors, which Cronkite accepted as necessary and said “paid the rent.” Murrow, who had long despised sponsors despite also relying on them, responded angrily.

Hating sponsors despite relying on them is not the mark of an honest man. Still less is it the mark of an honest man to attack someone for being honest about what both men are doing.

As I look into famous journalists, I increasingly find what it is really no great surprise to find—that they were not great men, they have been posthumously given a glow of sanctity by people who found it useful to do when trying to rewrite history.

One reason it’s especially important to be careful of movies “based on a true story”.

3 thoughts on “Edward R. Murrow’s Most Famous Speech

  1. Just before Murrow made this speech, he let Senator McCarthy on his show, to give a rebuttal to the expose Murrow did on his activities a week earlier. It was a recorded message, and McCarthy spoke at length, typically accusing Murrow of secretly being a communist. I think the Shakespeare quote comes from there. Couldn’t find that segment, though.

    McCarthy wasn’t part of HUAC. But he was the loudest voice in the communist witch hunt. He basically built his career on accusing people. That’s why he is most associated with it.

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    1. Thank you for the context about where the Caesar quote may have come from.

      I have grown skeptical that McCarthy became synonymous with the attempts to find communist infiltration (which Soviet records reveal was, in fact, going on at the time) with McCarthy merely because he was loud. Interested parties (who were, I suspect, largely marxists or marxist sympathizers, though I doubt in the main were actual soviet agents) found him a very convenient figurehead for anti-communist activities precisely because his many personal faults made him a discredit to anything he was a part of. I’m not even particularly attributing design to it; people naturally find their most detestable enemies provoke the biggest reaction in them. The HUAC did most, or at least much, of its work before McCarthy got power, and the Hollywood Blacklist long-predated his role on his senate committee, which in any event had nothing to do with Hollywood. I suspect the other psychological effect is the desire to make anti-communism seem like the work of a lone man, rather than a popular movement. Marxists dislike admitting how bad they are, and related to that, how disliked they are. (note: when I say marxists, here, I’m not talking about people on Soviet payrolls, but merely people who ascribe in part or in whole to a marxist worldview.)

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  2. Pingback: Murder, She Wrote: Obituary for a Dead Anchor – Chris Lansdown

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