Good Night, and Good Luck
starring David Strathairn, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey, Jr., Frank Langella, Ray Wise and Patricia Clarkson
screenplay by George Clooney and Grant Heslov
directed by George Clooney
This is a thoughtful and thought provoking story about famed American reporter Edward R. Murrow and the CBS television network in the mid-1950s at the height of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare campaign. Specifically, it is about the face-off between Missouri Senator McCarthy and Murrow, the latter using his news program as a microscope on the policies of the nation, and the former using his chairmanship of a Congressional committee to terrorize people. From an American Civics viewpoint, the case of McCarthyism remains fascinating. It was positively stupid and wrong, of course, and a blatant violation of American civil rights and liberties. And, in part, it is the fact that Senator McCarthy’s Senate Committee Investigating Un-American Activities unfolded before the American public on television - almost live, and sometimes live - that made it so fascinating. There was no paucity of people in America at the time who knew how terrible, wrong, and physically and morally repugnant McCarthy was, and yet they could not stop him. Well, he was stopped eventually, but more by his own ineptitude than by public or media activism against him, so there is very little solace in the thought that the system worked, that the public grew tired of McCarthy’s antics and duly showed him the door, and that society finds and keeps its own level, over time. What bothers me most about Joseph McCarthy is the blaring hypocrisy of a man who claimed to love America, but clearly could not stand Americans.
On that point - the point that there was no paucity of intelligent Americans who knew full well how wrong McCarthy was - I am reminded of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Hitler was the democratically elected chancellor of Germany, and Germanywas an educated, cultured nation. But the middle class who voted him into power in 1933 wrongly thought that he could be controlled, or that his more distasteful ideas and behaviors would just go away.
It is timely to continue studying the case of post-World War II anti-Communist purges and hunts fifty years on, because the same sort of things continue today in America, following the same formula. Only now, instead of International Communism it is International Terrorism. Does anyone think that in modern, post-McCarthy Americalessons about civil liberties and media freedom have been sufficiently learned and entrenched and that there is nothing now to fear from government abuse? Think again. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks - even before then, when George Bush was able to orchestrate a court-back coup to capture the White House after he failed to win the 2001 election - there has been a steady roll back of basic civil liberties and freedoms in that country. Americans are under close surveillance.
Good Night, and Good Luck is a must see. You will be impressed by the way Clooney captured the 1950s - or, at least, an impression of it. Shot in black-and-white, shadows and contrasts immediately become more important to the audience to assimilate what we are seeing. Cigarettes are everywhere. People are smoking non-stop, which is a fair representation of how it really was. Looking at it now with modern sensitivities it is sickening. But there you have it.