2006 Murrow Award Recipient
July 27, 2006
Thank you, Cheryl Halpern and the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for this distinguished award. I accept with pleasure on behalf of all of us at NPR. Although you have made the award to me, an individual, it is my privilege to consider this Edward R. Murrow Award to be recognition of the achievements of everyone at NPR.
I want to thank the NPR Board of Directors and the great staff at NPR who work so hard and with such dedication to fulfill our public service mission.
I also want to thank all the stations, many of which have representatives here today, for your diligent, focused determination to serve your communities with the authentic voices and perspectives of the American community. You are full partners in the recognition embodied in this award.
In this vein, I want to mention as well the independent producers, distributors, consultants and other specialists who work so hard and effectively to help us improve our service to listeners, our public service. Bill Kling, a leader in public radio as head of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media; Alyssa Miller and Public Radio International, and consultants such as Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford, Mark Fuerst and many, many others.
The special role of independent producers is symbolized for me by the coincidence that NPR and Member stations now are presenting to listeners the second edition of Edward R. Murrow's signature series from the 1950s, "This I Believe," brief personal essays by Americans from all walks of life, who tell us what they believe as citizens and why they came to these beliefs. This second edition is produced by Jay Allison, one of the many outstanding independent producers in public radio. We are the better for his work, and the creativity and originality of all our "indie" colleagues.
I'd like now to turn to Edward R. Murrow himself, and to describe briefly some of his broadcast history. It began when CBS launched the "European News Roundup" on March 13, 1938 -- the day before Hitler's triumphant entry into Vienna to proclaim Anschluss, the forced joining of Austria to Germany, the gravest step toward eventual war in Europe yet taken by the Nazis. It was a 35-minute international radio roundtable transmitted to America by shortwave reports direct from European capitals. It featured Murrow in Vienna; William L. Shirer in London; Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a reporter of the Chicago Daily News, in Paris; reporter Pierre J. Huss of the International News Service in Berlin, and, anchoring in New York at CBS headquarters, Robert Trout. The show aired at 8pm Eastern -- Americans had never heard anything like it before. This was the culmination of a year of pioneering work by Murrow, Shirer and their bosses in New York.
Within weeks, Murrow was reporting from London, opening his broadcasts with "Hello America, this is London calling." On September 22, 1938, according to a chronicle assembled by the late Ed Bliss of CBS, Murrow shortened that opening to a simple declarative three-word opener which became the hallmark of his career: "This is London." Throughout the tragic drama of World War II, Murrow's calm, detailed reporting established for American broadcasters the standard by which we are even today justifiably measured.
Murrow flew on 25 bombing raids over occupied Europe, and scored many news coups -- perhaps most hauntingly, his December 13, 1942 broadcast reporting to millions of listeners the Nazi campaign of extermination against the Jews of Europe. Few Americans had heard of this systematic campaign; Murrow's report brought this grim news to millions across the country for the first time. "It seems that the Germans hope to escape retribution by the sheer magnitude of their crimes," he reported. "They are exterminating the Jews and the potential leaders of the subject people with ruthless efficiency. That is why newspapers, individuals and spokesmen of the church in this country (England) are demanding that the government make a solemn statement that retribution will be dealt out to those responsible for the cold-blooded massacre of Jews in Poland."
Murrow never turned away from this story. In a broadcast as the war was winding down, on April 15, 1945, Murrow reported in harrowing detail his arrival with the U.S. Third Army at Buchenwald. "It is on a small hill about four miles outside Weimar and it was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany," he reported. "And it was built to last." He then took listeners on a careful, detailed tour of the place where so many innocent people had been put to death. As he finished, he said, "I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words." Later, he told others at CBS that he felt he had failed in this story because he had not conveyed all the terrible details.
Those reports may seem distant from us today. But they reported events that are part of who we are as Americans. You can meander along the RiverWalk (in New Orleans) as I did this morning, quiet, peaceful. And you come upon the Holocaust Memorial, just a few hundred yards from where we are right now in this hotel, and you can spend a moment of reflection on the meaning of those dispatches from Europe. Murrow's reporting from 61 years ago is as real and cautionary today as it ever was in 1945.
Many years later, in 1958, as his broadcast career was ending, Murrow gave a talk to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in Chicago. He mused about the shallowness, narrowness and coarseness of commercial broadcasts, expressing deep concern about what was happening in our media in its service to our country. Said Murrow: "To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost…This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon could be useful."
Why talk about Murrow in 2006 to a conference of the development and marketing pragmatists of non-commercial, educational public radio? Because we are the heirs and descendants of this gifted person. All of us in this room, and our thousands of colleagues in public radio across our nation, are keeping the light of non-polemic, non-partisan, contextual broadcast journalism shining brightly coast-to-coast, border to border.
From Baghdad, Beirut, Jerusalem. From Moscow, Beijing, Mexico City. From 17 foreign bureaus and from NPR reporters in the U.S. -- strengthened and made uniquely authentic by the hundreds of station voices; well-known, revered, supported in communities everywhere -- you, we, all of us together -- carry this mission forward.
I want to speak about two aspects of our future together: system collaboration and audience relationship. Is there more we can and should be thinking about -- ideas of cooperation and collaboration -- that we can explore together and reach for together, to provide greater growth and sustainability of public radio as we face the daunting challenges of the digital age? How can we best use this irreversible new age of technology to tie ourselves closer together and our mission closer to individual listeners, viewers, visitors online and offline, wired and wireless?
That is our challenge. I am certain that were he alive, Edward R. Murrow would have found the high road to further this work of ours. We can and must go forward and make that high road a reality. Thank you.