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Murrow, Cronkite, and Public Health

In the middle of the 20th Century, television had become a new invention that had been well received and highly demanded by the American people. With television came new mediums for established expressions. Novels became serial dramas, films could been seen outside a movie theater and inside a living room, and the news was able to be presented directly to its audience with eye contact. Two figures in modern news history took advantage of television and its ability intimately convey a direct message to their American audiences watching in their living rooms. These figure were news anchors Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite. They expressed a message for the protection of public health. However, the dilemma were not the typical dangers seen in most public health issues. Each newsman, in their respective decades, expressed two of the great dangers to society, but were really expressing a greater concern. Edward Murrow was a news anchor who hosted a CBS news show called See It Now during the 1950s. The show presented many controversial issues, but it is best known for criticizing Senator Joseph McCarthy and the tactics of the Red Scare. In 1954, Murrow and his producers began a special report on McCarthy. The report was designed to tackle the senator’s rhetoric and the notion of McCarthyism—a term that came to be from the senator’s anti-communism speeches, and his promotion of witch-hunt behavior. In a time a racial segregation before the social movements that would take place in the next decade, Murrow was presenting a demographic that was actually representative of every American. Even though the likelihood of people watching were white families. The victims of the McCarthyism were generally minorities of different kinds. During this time, those that were persecuted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had a tendency to be black, foreign, or artistic. McCarthy grew in popularity exploiting a notion that left-wingers and liberals were in on some major plot for a communist takeover of the United States. Being the earlier years of the Cold War, many found this to be very probable. However, McCarthy and the HUAC were only exploiting the people’s fear to stigmatize their enemies.   Murrow championed the use of television to criticize McCarthy and his tactics. Understanding that his show was seen by so many with television sets, he knew he could convey an intimate message to the American people, and do so with direct contact. The American people were facing a public health issue on fear. It is a broad term, but it is one that was damaging societal relations. He indicated that there was an immediate danger to the practices of McCarthyism. How he did it was as simple as it could possibly be. He simply spoke into the camera. Murrow was doubtlessly responded by McCarthy. The senator accused him of being a communist and presented allegations that Murrow supported and was a member of an American communist organization. McCarthy would never appear on Murrow’s show, but Murrow would continue to report on the matter. Murrow countered McCarthy allegation by quoting him directly and presenting his truth. All of McCarthy’s allegation were generally false. Murrow’s report was in the thematic frame. The Red Scare was episodic with different news reports presenting stories of famous and average individuals being blacklisted and deported. Standing against the Red Scare was something else entirely. It began with the report and Murrow’s critique of the Senator. From there it set a general tone to further critiques to McCarthyism and the Red Scare as a whole. No interviews between the two constituents were ever conducted. It was an opinion of one news show, but one that could advocate directly their audience. More than a decade after Murrow’s report on McCarthy, television news began accepting such methods, and news anchors following the Murrow’s passing would make a name for themselves using his methods. A timelier and lasting figure was Walter Cronkite.
Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
Cronkite has become accepted as that trusted voice and face Americans would listen and watch for decades. On the CBS Evening News, he was acclaimed for his reporting of the Kennedy assassination. He reported major events like the moon landing and the Watergate scandal. Like Murrow, he was able to influence the American people more intimately and personally than presidents. The Vietnam War was heavily reported on throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Like many journalists, Cronkite reported on location in Vietnam. The Johnson administration and the military was very vocal and supportive towards their claims of victory. However, in the infamous year of 1968, Cronkite reported otherwise. On February 27, 1968, just a few weeks after the horrendous Tet Offensive, Cronkite closed this program with an editorial report he wrote while in Vietnam. After realizing the grim reality of the conflict in Southeast Asia, Cronkite presented a far less victorious solution. Cronkite’s report was his own general analysis of current situation in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive proved that all the years of harsh fight against the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces were fruitless. It was that offensive which hit the nail on Cronkite’s decision towards the war.   Cronkite’s report advocated towards a very unique kind of public health issue, an unwinnable war. Unlike Murrow’s advocacy against fear. Cronkite advocated for the many lives that were being killed day after day in Vietnam. The war was killing too many. It was not just the thousands of American soldiers, but also the millions of Vietnamese civilians. The war was damaging societal relations, and the shook the ground hard enough to cause turbulence stateside. Cronkite was speaking generally to the entire American population, but President Johnson understood that his view would heavily impact the influence of the American Midwest. The report supported the demographics of those who opposed the war, but was now targeting a more suburban American demographic. It was so influential towards the opinions on Vietnam that Johnson would refuse to seek re-election, and both sides would run campaigns to end the war. Cronkite’s report was presented as the finale to a years’ long episodic report on Vietnam. Before this report, news on the war was centered on major battles, stories on the troops, and political decisions, as is most wars. After Cronkite’s report, a new season began in Vietnam as the reports shifted to how the war was going to end, and the withdrawal of troops. Cronkite’s report was the climatic episodic and plot twist to the American tragedy in Vietnam. Each report tackled its own specific public health issue. However, both of these issues were literary in nature. Murrow did want Americans to aware of the fear mongering that McCarthy was exploiting, and Cronkite wanted Americans to understand the war in Vietnam was not going to be won the way the government had been promoting. At first it may seem that each report is tackling its own different issue, but in reality, they are tackling the same issue. Both reports exemplify the public health issue of an overreaching government and what it does to society. In Murrow’s case, members of the legislative branch were humiliating and persecuting citizens while promoting that Americans do the same. It was the governments overreaching power to instigate fear, and a senator’s talents to exploits those manufactured fears. This was more of a mental health dilemma with psychological aspects. People were being poisoned through their ears and not physically, but it was a direct dilemma in public and societal health, for it had the potential to cause civil decline. In Cronkite’s case, in a more traditional fashion, Cronkite focused on the executive branch and its large amount of power. Johnson had sent so many soldiers to fight a war that had not been declared by congress, and the government gave Johnson full authority of how he wanted to handle this war. In its effect, the government forced so many men to fight in a losing war. The war was killing American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. It was a public health for both America and Vietnam. This was more physical than Murrow’s. People were actually dying from dangers of senseless conflict made by an overpowered executive. This is the most orthodox example of the threat to public health from an overreaching government. The overreaching government created an undeclared war, used tax payer money to fight this war, then forced men to fight and die in this war, promote the war as victorious, and then ultimately lose this war at the expensive of the lives of the defenders and those they defended. Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite utilized television as a new medium to advocate some of the broadest and largest public health issues. The two understood the abilities of this new medium, and used it to its phenomenal extent. The messages they had were successful in reaching their audience as well as persuading them. From here, television continued to incorporate this methods to express each channels’ and each show’s message. Murrow was not as lasting as Cronkite both in career and vitality, but his style and method continued on with Cronkite as he created the personal face of television news. Today, journalists are allowed to become public celebrities through the possibilities of the visual medium, but most importantly, they have the ability to visually express and inform the public health issues, of any kind, in a very personal and direct fashion. The role of the fourth estate did not drastically change from the invention of television and the pioneering of television news. It was simply made by an honest man, through a screen in one’s living room, personally telling them “good night, and good luck.”
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