October 28th, 2006
Edward R. Murrow: This Reporter
Procedures for Teachers


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM and/or Macintosh computer running System 8.1 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM

Bookmarked sites:

Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com. Preview all of the Web sites, listed below, and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students.

Edward R. Murrow’s 1958 speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association:

How television ratings work:

Tips for evaluating Web sites:

Wide Angle: Exclusive to al-Jazeera? – Al-Jazeera’s uncensored coverage of the Middle East.

POV: War Feels Like War — Embedded journalism during the war in Iraq, 2003-2004

Reporting America at War — The role of reporters and how they have shaped the ways that wars have been remembered and understood.


Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • chalkboard or whiteboard
  • pen and pencil
  • computer with Internet access

Introductory Activity

Goal: In 1958, after leaving CBS, Edward R. Murrow delivered a speech to the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation at their convention in Chicago. More than 50 years later, some of his comments might make us think Murrow had the ability to see into the future. This is a guided reading activity in which students will read Murrow’s speech and answer questions on information directly from the text, analyze the style and structure of the speech, and draw inferences about the media based on the speech.

1. Before starting this activity, review the RTNDA Speech and RTNDA Speech Questions found in the Student Organizers section. Because the speech and the questions are so long, you may want to revise or edit them before printing them out for your students.

2. Activate students’ background knowledge by reviewing the situation of the United States and the world after World War II: the Cold War and all its fearsome ramifications — Communist China, the Korean War, the arms race, Vietnam, the Middle East conflict. Students’ comments may include references to the arms buildup: the atom bomb, hydrogen bomb, etc. They may also include references to fears regarding the spread of communism after the creation of the Iron Curtain and communism’s influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, and Vietnam.

3. Show the following clips from the AMERICAN MASTERS presentation EDWARD R. MURROW: THIS REPORTER:

Part I — 32:30 to end — shows political climate of the day
Part II — 25:00 to 32:00 — Murrow’s resignation from CBS

There is also a portrayal of this speech in the following segments of the 2005 Warner Brothers dramatic film, GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, about the life of Edward R. Murrow: 2:50 to 5:21 and 1:25:32 to 1:27:20.

4. Hand out copies of the RTNDA (Radio-Television News Directors Association) Speech from the Student Organizer. The text of the article can be found on the RTNDA Web site at http://www.rtnda.org/resources/speeches/murrow.html. The article is long and will require two days’ advance notice if it’s given as a homework assignment or two to three class periods if it is done in class. Or select a student or group of students who have a talent for performance to deliver the speech to the class in an engaging manner. If you do not have enough time for the class to hear the entire speech, you may want to select relevant passages for the students to perform.

5. Hand out the RTNDA Speech Questions found in the Student Organizers section. Explain to the students that the questions are labeled with the number of the paragraph to which they refer (Paragraph 1, 2, 3, etc.) and that the answers are to be found in the text of the reading. Also explain that the questions they should answer will require them to use information from the text to draw inferences and formulate their own opinions on the ideas presented by Murrow in his speech.

6. Use the questions in Section II of the RTNDA Speech Questions as the basis for a classroom discussion to debrief students’ understanding of the speech.

Learning Activity

Goal: Edward R. Murrow prided himself on his unflagging commitment to presenting accurate information even at the risk of opposing popular opinion. At a time when it was considered unpatriotic to question efforts to expose communists in America, Murrow exposed the excesses of Joseph McCarthy’s congressional committee’s controversial program. In this activity students will research the roots of a current topic by looking at the history of the issue, examining all who have an interest in the outcome, and examining the issue from all possible perspectives.

1. Show the following clips from the AMERICAN MASTERS program, EDWARD R. MURROW: THIS REPORTER:

  • Part I — 6:25 — 8:30 Murrow’s Boys
  • Part I — 14:30 — 16:45 reactions to Buchenwald
  • Part II — beginning to 15:15 — Murrow and McCarthy
  • Part II — 45:00 to end — Harvest of Shame and the role of the media

2. Write the following quotations on poster paper and place them around the classroom. Explain to the students that these quotations reflect different views about the role the media should play in world events and issues.

  • “I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is — an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.” – Edward R. Murrow
  • “The journalist has two responsibilities: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” — H. L. Mencken
  • “The first responsibility of the press is to use its freedom to protect the rights and liberties of all individuals. The press must speak out, and, if the occasion arises, raise bloody hell.” — Herblock (Herbert Block)
  • “I’ve always felt… that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” – Studs Terkel
  • “I respect very much the role of the media in our society; I think they can be very, very helpful. They serve as a very useful check, sort of a watchdog over the actions of the government, and I respect that.” — Alberto Gonzales
  • “If you observe a potentially terrible situation developing, keep writing and writing about it and don’t stop it until preventive action is taken.” — Kofi Annan

3. Have the students go stand next to the quotation that most closely reflects their own beliefs. Process the quotations using the following questions:

  • What viewpoints are not represented here?
  • How would you change any of these quotations to reflect your own beliefs more exactly?
  • The Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press.” What freedoms does the American press have? What is the press prohibited from printing? Should this freedom apply to all the forms of media that the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen?
  • Should all media be neutral?
  • Is it possible to have a value-free media?
  • Whose values are most often reflected in the media?

4. Explain to the students that they will now engage in an extensive research project to help them clarify their views on the role of the media and to increase their ability to access, analyze, interpret, and comprehend media messages. The following are topics that lend themselves to the type of scrutiny required by this activity. However, you may also use topics that fit with your curriculum:

  • the war in Iraq
  • terrorism
  • the environment
  • Decision 2008
  • immigration
  • the Middle East

5. These topics are all very broad. Therefore, the students will need to work in groups. They will all conduct background research by reading and taking notes from different sources on the topic. Once they have an understanding of the issues and elements involved, they can divide more specific subtopics among themselves.

6. Be sure that the students keep in mind that within these topics, they will be looking for how the media has portrayed the elements involved in each issue and how public opinion has been shaped by this portrayal.

7. The students will research their topic thoroughly using the template provided in the Organizers for Students section. Hand out copies of the Template for Research and go over it in class to give the students a preview of how they are to approach their topic.

NOTE: The MLA citation format has been used throughout these lessons. Please make any necessary adjustments if you use a different citation format.

8. Students will compare, contrast and analyze the media messages connected to a current controversial issue. They will search a variety of media sources looking for bias by examining what information is included and what information is left out. Students should examine a representative sampling of media including on-air and print news, magazine features and articles, online video and blogs.

9. Hand out the Summary Questions Student Organizer. Give the students another day of research to fill in any gaps they have discovered, meet with their groups, and prepare responses to the questions on the organizer.

  • How many viewpoints were you able to gather on your topic?
  • How did these viewpoints differ from one another?
  • Did the facts of the situation seem to be obscured by rhetoric at any point during your research? Under what circumstances did this occur?
  • What sources did you feel provided you the most substantial facts?
  • Did the media sources you used merely record what they were told or did they question the information?
  • Should the media merely report what they are told or what they observe?
  • If a reporter was suspicious about “facts” presented by governmental or other sources, how would he or she go about digging deeper into the story?
  • Does the above scenario go beyond the role of the media?

10. Debrief student research using the questions in Step 9.

Culminating Activity

Goal: Edward R. Murrow’s career came to a head on March 9, 1954 when he and Fred Friendly ran a program on SEE IT NOW that was overtly critical of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s congressional committee that was investigating the presence of communists in the American government. In this activity, the students will use the information they have gathered to prepare a script for a SEE IT NOW segment that takes a stand on the issue they have researched.

1. Show the following clip from EDWARD R. MURROW: THIS REPORTER:

Part II — 3:00 -TO 14:30 — SEE IT NOW segment on Joseph McCarthy’s congressional committee and McCarthy’s response
The 2005 Warner Brothers dramatic film GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, about the life of Edward R. Murrow, also has portrayals in the following segments:
18:46 to 22:47 — the Milo Radulovich story
39:27 to 45:46 — Murrow’s program on Senator Joseph McCarthy
1:03:10 to 1:07:30 — Senator McCarthy’s response (actual footage)

2. Explain to the students that they will use the information they gathered on the issues in the Learning Activity to write a script for a SEE IT NOW segment about an aspect of their issue they feel the American public needs to know.

3. Hand out copies of Guidelines for Scriptwriting from the Organizers for Students section.

4. Use these guidelines to assess student work.

5. After assessing the scripts, hand them back to the students and give them a couple of days to revise and prepare to present their script as a simulated SEE IT NOW segment. Instruct them to make their presentations as authentic as possible (excluding the cigarette), using the following suggestions:

  • Dress in business attire.
  • Do not read the script. Look at the “camera” and glance down at script for reference.
  • Pretend to be looking at Camera 1, then Camera 2, etc.
  • Speak in a clear “newsman’s” voice.
  • Speak dispassionately but with conviction.

Extension Activities:

  • Have the students read the articles contained in the PBS program FLASHPOINTS, USA on “The Media Today — Truth or Lies?” to demonstrate the level of concern regarding the media.
  • Refer the students to the PBS program FREE SPEECH, in which Jim Lehrer interviews Ben Bradlee, the WASHINGTON POST editor during Watergate. There are excellent segments on using anonymous sources, the ethics of journalism, and how the media should present issues related to national security.
  • Have the students expand their media literacy skills by using the Five Key Questions of Media Literacy and the Five Core Concepts of Media Literacy while viewing selected television programs, advertising, and movies. Have them identify what techniques of movie-making and advertising have been incorporated into news reporting. The Key Questions and Core Concepts can be found at http://www.medialit.org.


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