March 4 1998
Television journalist Fred Friendly died early at his home in New York at the age of 82. He had suffered a series of strokes. His spirited fight for journalist integrity has had a lasting effect on his broadcast colleagues and students. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks about his legacy with two people whose lives were shaped by his work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, remembering broadcast journalist Fred Friendly. Spencer Michels begins our report.
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SPENCER MICHELS: Born in New York, Fred Friendly grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where he started his broadcasting career in 1937 on local radio station WEAN. In the late 40's, Friendly teamed up with the famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow to produce a radio documentary series called, "Hear It Now". In 1951, Friendly and Murrow moved the series to television and called it "See It Now". Perhaps their most famous report was a 1954 documentary taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communism investigations.
Eight years later, "See It Now" became "CBS Reports", a long- running series of award winning news documentaries, including "Harvest of Shame", a documentary about the plight of migrant farm workers.
He became president of CBS News in 1964, but quit two years later, after the network decided to run soap operas and reruns of "I Love Lucy," instead of live coverage of congressional hearings on the Vietnam War. Friendly then joined the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. At the same time, he worked with the Ford Foundation, where he was instrumental in the formation of public broadcasting. In 1984, he returned to television to produce a series of public affairs programs on current issues for public broadcasting. Here he introduces one of the programs in the series: "That Delicate Balance, Our Bill of Rights."
FRED FRIENDLY: Tonight, we begin by examining the relevance of our Bill of Rights on the 20th century dispute over abortion. The conflict of rights versus rights stimulates our thinking process. That thinking process is the central core of the American ethic and as much a symbol of our national destiny as the American eagle and the grand shadow it casts.
He led the fight against lowering the common denominator.
SPENCER MICHELS: In his fifty-year career, he won 10 Peabody awards and influenced many broadcast journalists who are working today. In an interview aired on PBS in 1987, Friendly spoke about his career and the broadcast industry.
FRED FRIENDLY: There is no limit to the money you can make out of television. The only trouble is, as you keep lowering the common denominator, which began with the $64,000 Question, you begin to take all of the integrity and all of the caring out of it, until you reach a point like we're in right now, where the only thing that matters is will it make money. The hallmark of my life my job is to make the agony of decision-making so intensive that you can escape only by thinking. And if I can do that as a senile old man, that's better than walking on the beach or watching soap operas on television.
SPENCER MICHELS: Fred Friendly died last night in New York. He was 82 years old.
Those who worked with Fred Friendly were inspired by his integrity and vision.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: With us now are two people who worked with Fred Friendly. Daniel Schorr was a CBS News correspondent for 25 years and is now the senior news analyst for National Public Radio. Ed Bliss also worked at CBS News for 25 years, including a stint as associate producer for CBS Reports. He is also a former journalism professor and author of Now the News, the Story of Broadcast Journalism. Thank you both for being with us. Daniel Schorr, in your view, what was Fred Friendly's most important contribution to broadcasting?
DANIEL SCHORR, National Public Radio: I thought probably his most important contribution was to invent a documentary called "See It Now," which was not like today's magazine programs. It was based on the power of being able to communicate ideas. He would take, for example, an atomic scientist like Robert Oppenheimer and say, Murrow, one hour of you talking to him. Can you imagine one hour of one great talking head? He was willing to go very far out to present--the Friendly that you saw there a moment ago was the real Friendly. He projected ideas. He had a creative energy, and in his way he almost invented what was then the best of television.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ed Bliss, what, in your view, was his most important contribution?
"A genius with great imagination."
ED BLISS, Former CBS Producer: Well, he set such good standards. He was a genius in what he did. He had the great imagination, a great man--but it was always high standard. He was a fighter but he always fought for the right things: civil rights. He--well, it's hard to stop. He produced the first documentary on the danger of cigarette smoking 20 years before the surgeon general--and, of course, Murrow was the correspondent and Murrow was puffing away, and literally killing himself, but there was the first big documentary on water pollution, the shortages of water. Early this evening you had the scene in India, with the lower tables and everything. But he was the great documentarian--documentary maker of his time. There's no question, I think.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was he like to work with?
DANIEL SCHORR: Well, he was very tough to work with. For one thing, he didn't think anything was impossible. As, for example, when I was in Moscow, he called me up and said, I've got this great idea, Dan. I want you to go to your friend Khruschev, and you tell him that CBS would like to cover live the launching of a space shot from wherever they launch their space shots from. I said, exactly, we don't know where they launch their space--well, you go, and we'll tell him we'll put him on live, we'll put on Khruschev, we'll give him two hours of time. I said, impossible, and it was impossible, but then he called me in Berlin, and he said, I want you--this was 1961--after the wall went up--he said, nobody knows what happens in East Germany--take a camera crew and a producer--I want you to go to East Germany and do a documentary in East Germany as to what really goes on there. I said, impossible. He said, try. And I tried, and they said, yes, so we produced a great piece of documentary work. He was not to be stopped. He was not to be discouraged. He spun out ideas, not all of which were very good and some of which were quite zany, actually. But that one in ten was a great idea, and resulted in a great documentary program.
How Fred Friendly helped expose Senator McCarthy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us about the documentary, about McCarthy. He really filmed McCarthy and used his words with very little narration, right, and why did it have such a strong impact?
ED BLISS: McCarthy hanged himself. McCarthy hanged himself. And he came through looking like what he was--a very bad man--cruel. Of course, that famous scene that wasn't in a Murrow documentary but in the McCarthy hearings--you know--when Joseph--you know, I never knew until this moment what you are, you know--but I'd like to pick up on what Dan said about working with him. When I went to work with him that year, 1961, I told my wife, forget the weekends, forget everything; you've got to give your soul to CBS Reports, and Fred Friendly, and it was true, but he worked himself just as hard. One night he was going to have a good time, and he went to the theater with his wife, and he felt very guilty about it. But she had looked forward to this, and he went with his wife to the theater, and the show began, and he had an idea for the documentary, and he left her, and he never saw any of this play that they had looked forward to, and it came back, and he had the idea for this documentary that was going to make it work.
DANIEL SCHORR: Could I just underline something about it that needs to be underlined.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sure.
"Fred Friendly was really the other half of Ed Murrow."
DANIEL SCHORR: We had here this Ed Murrow; we had this Fred Friendly. Fred Friendly was really the other half of Ed Murrow. It was Fred Friendly who said let's take on this McCarthy, let's show him what he is, let's take all his footage and just show him for what he is. I don't think Murrow would have been Murrow without Fred Friendly, nor would Friendly have been Friendly without Murrow.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's very interesting. He was always worried that the line was being crossed between news and entertainment, right, that's why--is that why he left CBS in 1966?
DANIEL SCHORR: Yes. In 1966, what happened was there was a man named Jim Aubrey running CBS Television who never got along with Friendly very well, and there was a Senate hearing where we were going to have Vietnam up, NBC was covering it live; CBS dumped out of it, saying this is going on too long, and put on, indeed, as he said, a fifth rerun of "I Love Lucy," because it made more money. And when he said--you know, how--how in television can we do our best when television makes so much more money doing its worst?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And he was always concerned about that, as well as the ethics of news gathering. He was opposed to simulations, for example. What else was he opposed to?
"He hated things which were artificial in any way."
ED BLISS: They had that Appalachian Spring theme that you heard earlier this evening, but that's all I remember on one program--somebody said let's have some music in there--he said, there will be no music on anything we do.
DANIEL SCHORR: We have to almost discuss television in terms of the techniques. We have this thing called the cutaway shot, which you film afterwards. He hated things which were artificial in any way. The result of it was that some of his programs were not technically quite as smooth as programs might be because he was much more interested in reality than in technique.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He wouldn't go along with the kind of thing where you--a docudrama, for example, where you kind of--he just hated that. Did he--
DANIEL SCHORR: He would have hated television today. He would hated a news magazine that you see on commercial television today. He would have hated simulation. He would have hated using actors for anything in recreating things. He had this sense that we are in charge of delivering reality, and if reality isn't always interesting, by God, we'll make it interesting.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So much of what he predicted might happen and worried might happen has, in fact, occurred in television.
ED BLISS: He did work to make things interesting. I remember that thing of water--they compared the consumption of water today to ten years ago. He said, now how will we do that, and of course, everybody thought of the bar graph and all of that. He ended up with these great bottles of water and here was one long--and here was, you know, a half longer. And he had this pan, you know, going--there's your difference in the consumption of water. He was always thinking. But he would push things sometimes too far, and this is where Murrow came in. Murrow was the conscience on that thing. Now, I know when I was there and Murrow--Murrow bequeathed me--I had been with Murrow and Murrow went to Washington--why he bequeathed me to Fred, to his gentle care. And the--I forget where I was going with that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Talking about Murrow keeping him from going too far.
ED BLISS: Yes. And he sent me to the U.N. to interview the No. 2 man in the--next to the ambassador from India to the United Nations on the water in India. And I did the interview off-camera but I did the interview, and when it came, lo and behold, in the script it said that he was the Indian water expert. Well, he was the No. 2 man in the delegation at the U.N. and I said, Fred, I said--well, he would not change it because water expert fit it, you see.
DANIEL SCHORR: Do we have 30 seconds--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We have to go, I'm sorry to say, but thank you both very much for being with us.
DANIEL SCHORR: A pleasure.
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