A Broadcaster’s Legacy

Journalists visiting Tufts’ Edward R. Murrow archives reflect on his commitment to responsible media

Casey Murrow with CNN commentator David Gregory

The papers of pioneering journalist Edward R. Murrow are among the most sought-after archival collections at Tufts. This week they drew three visitors who share a personal connection to the CBS newsman and believe that his work in the early days of television is still a pertinent lens through which to interpret our times.

CNN political analyst David Gregory, a professor of the practice at the Tisch College of Civic Life; Murrow’s son, Casey; and Terence Burke, son of the late David Burke, A57, H09, the former vice president of news at ABC and CBS who helped establish the Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism at Tufts, met at the university archives in Tisch Library on Nov. 14 to examine the work of a journalist whose career spanned the radio broadcasts of the battles of World War II to the emergence of TV network news in the 1950s. 

Murrow was “a commanding figure of authority in American culture,” Gregory said, noting that the broadcaster’s papers provide a better understanding of the thinking that informed Murrow’s work. The Tufts collection, for instance, includes a working copy of his famous 1958 speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in which he spoke out against “using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive.”

Looking at that speech and his other papers, Gregory said, “helps you get more steeped in the current events.” For example, Murrow spoke eloquently about what he saw as a troubling trend—abandoning substantive news reporting in favor of catering to commercial interests.

“He was a person who put television on the map,” Gregory said, “and then he goes on to be critical of it.” Gregory is teaching an undergraduate seminar at Tufts this fall, “Race for the White House in a Modern Media Environment.”

The 1958 speech was one of several items that Dan Santamaria, director of the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives (DCA), and archivist Pam Hopkins selected as examples of the breadth of the Murrow collection and its relevance to current events. They also brought out a script of Murrow’s 1954 attack against Sen. Joe McCarthy; a transcript of an interview from his popular TV show Person to Person, in which he pioneered the celebrity interview; and the palm-sized address book he kept while based in London during World War II.

Santamaria and Hopkins have had a positive response to their efforts to encourage faculty to incorporate the DCA’s archival collections into their courses—15 faculty did so this fall.

That was welcome news to Casey Murrow, who sees the collection not only as a “phenomenal resource” about his father’s life, but also as a way of understanding the early days of radio and television.

“I would hope [students] would see here just where radio and television journalism started,” said Murrow, who lives in Vermont. “That could be fascinating.”

The collection, which spans the decades from 1934 to 1965, contains 160 boxes of documents, more than 300 photographs and 1,700 books, as well as memorabilia, phonograph records, film reels and audiotapes.

The Murrow collection has “great value to journalists today,” said Burke. “More and more the value of journalism and of ethics in journalism” is being underscored today. Murrow, he said, viewed journalism as a civic duty and championed that idea. Whatever people may believe in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Burke said, “I believe [Murrow’s] sense of ethical reporting has not gone away.”

Contact Laura Ferguson at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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