Somewhere, we’d like to think, Ed Murrow and Jay McMullen are smiling.
From a celestial perch, we hope those legendary practitioners of broadcast journalism have been following the recent take-down of “Green Jobs” czar Vann Jones, and the current expose of ACORN, that criminal enterprise masquerading as a community service organization.
As they watched, Murrow and McMullen understood that the bedrock principles of American journalism–built around fearless reporting–are alive and well. But they have become the domain of the new media, not the traditional news organizations they worked for.
Mr. Murrow, who literally invented broadcast news, clearly recognized the technique used to depose Mr. Jones. Wading through mountains of audio and videotape, talk show host Glenn Beck and his associates unearthed damning quotes and documents from Jones that highlighted his Marxist ideology and kook-fringe ideas on the attacks of 9-11–views that clearly made him unfit to serve as a presidential advisor.
In the end, it wasn’t wild-eyed charges from the talk radio crowd that sealed Jones’s fate. It was the recorded comments and written thoughts from the man himself. If that approach sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Find a copy of Murrow’s legendary See It Now documentary on Senator Joseph McCarthy, and you’ll see the same technique at work.
McMullen is less well-known outside broadcasting circles, but he was one of the finest documentary producers of the 1960s and 70s, a period when he worked for CBS News. Known for his deliberate nature–McMullen sometimes took a year to pick his next subject–the producer was also renowned for his determination and innovation. In 1961, McMullen produced Biography of a Bookie Joint, the first network documentary produced using undercover cameras. For a year, McMullen and his associates filmed the workings of a Boston bookie joint, using hidden 8mm cameras.
Almost 50 years later, conservative film maker James O’Keefe is following in McMullen’s footsteps, using undercover techniques to expose corruption at ACORN. It’s a story the mainsteam media dismissed–until it became impossible to ignore. Predictably, some reporters went after O’Keefe and his associate, 20-year-old Hannah Giles. In a reported aired on CNN, correspondent Jessica Yellin warned that journalists must use “extreme care” when working undercover. Translation: O’Keefe’s ACORN segments are hit pieces, aimed at advancing the “right-wing agenda.”
We doubt if Ms. Yellin would say the same thing about Murrow’s See It Now broadcasts, or McMullen’s pioneering documentaries. After all, they attacked a favorite target of the left (Joe McCarthy) or enterprises (like a bookie joint) that were indefensible in those days. The fact that some talking heads have offered a tepid defense of ACORN speaks volumes about the cultural plunge of our society, and the further decline of American media.
True, no one would ever accuse Ed Murrow or Jay McMullen of being conservative. But they were honest practitioners of their craft and for that reason, we think they’d be heartened by the work of Glenn Beck and James O’Keefe–and saddened that “professional” journalists weren’t up to the task.