American Rhetoric: Movie Speech
"good night and good luck" (2005)
Edward R. Murrow: Address to the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation
This might just do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous ideas. But the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies, and sponsors will not be shaken or altered.
It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television. And if what I say is responsible, I, alone, am responsible for the saying of it.
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now -- and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week of all three networks -- they will there find, recorded in black and white and in color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable, and complacent. We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.
Our mass media reflect this.
But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television, and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.
I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us. Just once in awhile let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night, a time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey on the state of American education. And a week or two later, a time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.
Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged?
Would the shareholders rise up in their wrath and complain?
Would anything happen, other than a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country -- and therefore the future of the corporations?
To those who say people wouldn't look, they wouldn't be interested, they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.
This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and, yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends.
Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights -- in a box.
Good night and good luck.
See also: Text of actual address by Murrow.