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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Wires and lights in a box

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(8/2015) Edward R. Murrow’s address to the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation is, in part, showcased in the 2005 movie "Good Night and Good Luck." His full speech, given in 1958, serves as a warning to anyone either involved in television and anyone who is merely a consumer of anything on television, which would be most of the population.

In 2005, when the movie that uses Murrow’s speech as a framing device was released, the industry had come a long way in the means of technology and appearance, but still faced a lot of the same problems that Murrow had concerns about in ’58.

There was one particular part of Murrow’s speech that struck a chord with me and I believe is still, with a little editing, relevant today. It reads:

"…But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage."

By "these two instruments," Murrow is referencing radio and television, which would have been the two major sources moving information during that time. Today, I do not think much has changed in regards to what our attitude towards these instruments should be. For one, they truly are "instruments." They can move and manipulate information to all of America in a way nothing else can. Also, they have a massive influence on our lives and I can only imagine they had a similar influence during Murrow’s time. Today we are surrounded by news in almost everything we do.

I wake up every morning and, if I wake up before my alarm goes off, I check my phone. After checking my messages I often go straight to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I know, probably not the most productive start to my day, but once I get to these sites I see not only news about friends’ lives, but world news and local happenings. I first learned about the recent terrorist attack in Paris through a hashtag on Twitter. I searched a reliable news site after seeing this, but social media offered me the news first.

After I get out of bed, I have about half an hour where I am news free until I drive to the gym and once there, I hear about all the things everybody else has read or seen recently. Here the news is travelling, almost like an old game of telephone, but I am still surrounded by news whether it be news that one of the gym owners had her baby or the new governor is proposing something about taxes, it is news.

Then I make my way to work, where I stand behind the counter and hear news from nearly every customer that walks through the door. This news is a little different, since it is normally more geared towards local scandals than politics or world issues, but often they received their information from a local news sharing site. Again, more news.

I go home and sit with my dad as he watches the 6 o’clock news, where I receive my first dose of "real" news of the day, but did you notice how much information I already gotten in this one day before ever sitting in front of the television? I do not think I have ever noticed it, but by the time I watch the "real" news, I already know most of what they are telling me.

Also notice how driven our conversations are by the news. If you do not know a person well enough to spend a conversation talking about your personal lives, current events and happenings are the next logical topics.

That right there is the beginning to my personal amendment to Edward R. Murrow’s statement. Let’s clarify, I am in no way qualified to amend anything Murrow ever said, but for the purposes of this discussion I want to help it remain relevant in today’s society. I would like to propose that our fear now should lie, not just in the deliverance and reception of the news, but in the massive amount of news sources and their wavering reliability.

It does not come close to ending there. The next part of our 21st century fear should be the influence we are allowing the media to have on our "society, culture, and heritage." Here is where our fear will remain the same as Murrow’s, but the reasoning will change.

Yesterday, I was half watching a talk show on a random network and they were making fun of one of the hosts for her minimal knowledge on the Kardashian family.

Let that sink in.

They did not ask how up to date she was on the ISIS presence in the world and did not care that her focus was on the future presidential candidates. Her co-hosts were laughing at her limited "pop culture" knowledge.

Here is where we see the influence that the media can have on our society, culture, and our heritage. We are being force fed images of models, Hollywood scandals, and more from the moment we join the social media world. We are expected to know information that, trust me in my very limited 20 year-old knowledge, really is not that important, but what is the solution? Staying away from social media? I don’t know. I think we still walk into a check out line at the grocery store and are bombarded with magazines meant for bathroom reading but which are used by teenagers to develop ideas about the world. I think we still change the channel and have to flip through way too many entertainment stations before ever getting to a news source.

I do not mean to sound too negative, since I know that pop culture and pure entertainment are in our nature and we cling to them for their mindless comforts. I do not think they are always destructive, but look what they are doing to our culture. They are turning our focus to the wrong things, and for that reason, I think we as Americans need to be careful with the news we surround ourselves with. I think we are going to become a mindless culture if we continue to mass produce and mass consume mindless material.

And finally, I think that in Murrow’s time, the concern was more over television media whereas today, our concern lies more in the social media and popular culture realm. Despite this difference, I still believe that he had it right when he closed his speech saying -

"This instrument [media] can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful."

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary