Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow was a pioneer in radio and television journalism in the mid-twentieth century.
Murrow helped to rescue more than 300 European scholars from persecution by the Nazi regime.
During Germany’s air raids (known as “the Blitz”) Murrow transmitted his reports live to the United States from the rooftops of London.
Murrow broadcast the first eyewitness account of the liberation of Buchenwald.
Early Life and Career
Born to Quaker farmers in 1908 in North Carolina, Egbert Roscoe Murrow grew up in the state of Washington and attended Washington State University. There, Murrow was elected the president of the National Student Federation of America, which sought to promote the interest of American students in international affairs.
In 1931, Murrow became the assistant director of the International Institute of Education (IIE) in New York. Financed by the Rockefeller Foundation, the IIE arranged exchanges between international and American students and professors. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, the IIE’s network of scholars and academic institutions provided a foundation for the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German (later, Foreign) Scholars (ECADFS). Founded in 1933, the Emergency Committee facilitated the employment of refugee scholars in the United States, many of whom were Jews who had been barred from their positions under Nazi racial laws. The ECADFS made grants-in-aid directly to colleges, universities, and research centers, enabling them to offer endangered refugee scholars the financial means required by the US government to be admitted to the country. Over its 12 years of existence, the ECADFS provided grants for 335 applicants totaling $1.5 million.
Murrow oversaw the IIE’s programs until he joined CBS Radio in 1935, moving to London to coordinate many of the network’s broadcasts to the United States. Two years later, Murrow was promoted to head CBS’s operations in Europe. He was deeply committed to informing Americans about the threat of Nazism in Europe, and he hoped to impress upon his fellow citizens the urgency of a response. He could not be “objective” about the rise of fascism, he said. A “thousand years of history and civilization,” Murrow wrote, were “being smashed while America remained on the sidelines.”1 He convinced CBS to let him hire a small group of talented young journalists, among them William L. Shirer, to cover the mounting crisis.
Reports from Europe
Murrow did not report the news on air himself until after Nazi Germany annexed Austria (Anschluss) in March 1938. Over the subsequent years, Murrow became well known especially for his live reports from the rooftops of London in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, or “the Blitz.” He opened his nightly transmissions to the United States with the words, “This is London.” American listeners were riveted by his reports and by the sound of bombs exploding in the background.
Reports about the mass murder of Europe’s Jews became available to American radio networks in early 1942. Unable to confirm the facts independently, the networks were hesitant to transmit them. At the end of June 1942, a CBS radio newscaster read an excerpt from a confirmed World Jewish Congress report that more than one million Jews had been killed. Few other details were offered until December 13, 1942, when Murrow broadcast this commentary his listeners: “What is happening is this: millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered.” The phrase “concentration camp,” he continued, “is obsolete . . . It is now possible to speak only of "extermination camps."2
Perhaps Murrow’s most memorable broadcast to America, however, came when he transmitted his wrenching eyewitness account of the liberation of the Buchenwald camp in April 1945, the first radio report from a concentration camp by an American journalist.
After World War II
After the war, Murrow returned to New York to become vice president of CBS. Murrow left CBS in 1961 to direct the US Information Agency. He resigned in 1964 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Edward R. Murrow died in Dutchess County, New York, in April 1965.
Critical Thinking Questions
- How does the media, in any form, impact public understanding and/or will to action?
- Why did Murrow become an icon and model for correspondents and journalists?
- Investigate important events in Murrow’s career at CBS after the war.
- What are the positives and the negatives of following and trusting one individual as a source for news?
Lynne Olson, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour. New York: Random House, 2010, p. 51.
Edward J. Bliss, In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, 1938–1961. New York: Knopf, 1967, p. 57.