I work in the Tufts University Archives, the home of the Edward R. Murrow Collection. Murrow was the greatest journalist to ever have a primary career on television, someone who understand the importance of knowing what you were talking about, having all the facts, presenting people with everything so they can make informed decisions about the world.

I didn’t talk about Good Night and Good Luck in my recent article about 2005. It was my number four film of that year, behind Munich, Brokeback and King Kong. But it was an amazing film that can remind us all of a time when it was important what a journalist said on the air because people listened. Murrow knew the influence he carried and his integrity was above reproach and so he took on the lies and distortions of Joseph McCarthy at a time when most people stayed frightened.

I bring up Murrow tonight for two reasons. The first is that Tim Russert died today. Russert was the best television journalist of my lifetime, probably the best since Murrow. Unlike the big three of my youth and early adulthood (Brokaw, Jennings, Rather), his job was not to find a way to present the news of the world with a handsome smile in a half hour segment, but rather to know as much as possible about what was going on, to talk to the people who made the news and ask them important questions. You don’t have to be commercially succesful to host Meet the Press. You have to be smart. Russert knew everything he needed to know for that job and a lot more, often knowing far more than the people he was talking to. He came from the tradition that understand you don’t become a good reporter by packaging the news, but rather by digging deeper to find the truth in it.

The other reason Murrow is on my mind tonight is Keith Olbermann. Olbermann on his show Countdown, has taken to signing off with Murrow’s signature phrase: “good night and good luck.” Last night I finally understood why.

Murrow’s signature moment was taking on McCarthy. He took him on because McCarthy was a bully and a liar who threatened and manipulated his way into power. Murrow was offended by his sense of dishonesty and lack of a moral view and presented the facts of the situation. He did not back down.

For a long time now, Olbermann has ended the night by noting how many days it has been since Mission Accomplished. And last night he went a much farther step. He showed John McCain’s clip from the Today Show, where McCain commented that it wasn’t important when the troops in Iraq come home, but rather that there are no more casualties. Then, he put the statement in context. A full context. He showed McCain’s statements before the war, noting that Hussein had weapons and he needed to be taken out. He showed McCain’s comments just before the war that it would not last long and that we would be quickly victorious. He blasted McCain for encouraging a war that was being fought over false presumptions, inaccurate evidence and numerous misconceptions and pointed out that that was the real context. Olbermann understands that not all journalism is objective (just look at Fox) and that sometimes it is important to take a stand on an issue and point out all the facts. It was a litany of reasons why not to vote for McCain.

One could defend McCain and say that he was treated to the same lies and false evidence the country was fed. But I never believed it. I knew Hussein didn’t have any weapons because Seymour Hersh had been writing as much in the New Yorker leading up to the war. If Hersh knew it, if I could know it, McCain should sure as hell as known the truth of the matter. Olbermann pointed out how McCain confuses the Shia and the Sunni, how he claims that Iran is training fighters, and then when he is corrected, does it again. He points out all the reasons we should never have had troops in harm’s way in Iraq and that the timing of their withdrawal does matter. Olbermann did Murrow proud.

below is the link to the text of Olbermann’s statements and the video from last night

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25126582/

Advertisements