Monday, November 18, 2013

The Ethics in Good Night, and Good Luck

Paola Santiago

Good Night, and Good Luck depicts the rise to ultimate broadcasting fame and pride through Edward R. Murrow’s efforts to uncover the realities surrounding Senator Joseph McCarthy – a highly volatile political figure who helped spread the fear of communists during the Red Scare in the 1950s.

In the first part of this film, we see the birth of basic ethical issues that the Columbia Broadcasting System, or CBS, must grapple with during the course of the events involving Murrow’s newscasts and McCarthy’s fear mongering. Some of these issues include the stakeholders, conflicts of interest and objectivity.
                                                         Photo Credit: Neural Pop

We can easily tell that CBS is the biggest stakeholder. As they are the employer of Murrow and they supply his team, anything he does reflects on them. Of course, Murrow is also a stakeholder. He could lose his job, reputation and respect from the public. We can visibly see Murrow struggle with this reality at the close of each of his casts.

The public is also as stakeholder in this scenario as Murrow’s words incited a social upheaval since surely some of his listeners might have also been supporters of McCarthy. Finally, and most importantly, the senator himself was the most important stakeholder as Murrow was driving a blow of doubt through the scares that McCarthy promoted.

Conflicts of Interest

Though not directly related to the issues concerning McCarthy, is the relationship between Shirley and Joe Wershba. They are compelled to keep their relationship a secret because of workplace rules forbidding romantic relationships between coworkers, a rule that is still held in most workplaces today. These two manage to aid efforts against McCarthy despite having to keep their marriage a secret to their employer and their team. This demonstrates perhaps one of the greatest acts of journalism – the ability to put aside personal interest for the sake of truth and obligation to the public and their goals as journalists.


Keeping in mind the political and social issues of the time, it was difficult for Murrow and his team to keep an objective eye throughout the process of the McCarthy newscasts. At the start of Murrow’s first newscast, he explains that in no way does the newscast reflect the views of CBS nor are the intentions of the newscast to accuse the senator – that they were merely a demonstration of investigative journalism and truth telling. Murrow even offers McCarthy a chance to speak for himself during the newscasts, furthering his knowledge of who his obligations were to and who he knew the stakeholders were.

This film is an outstanding example of the ethical issues and dilemmas journalists faced back then and will continue to face for as long as our goal is one of truth. The first half of the film shows only the tip of an ethical iceberg that the journalism world scratches away at every day.  

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