What would Murrow do?

Stephen Zeoli
2 min readJun 3, 2023
Edward R. Murrow

Tim Alberta, a reporter for The Atlantic, began following the newly hired CEO of CNN, Chris Licht, last fall. Licht claimed he was leading the organization back to real, unbiased news coverage. I bet Alberta never expected Licht to give him the juicy lede to his story that was provided by the so-called Trump Town Hall event.

The teaser at the top of the article says:

CEO Chris Licht felt he was on a mission to restore the network’s reputation for serious journalism. How did it all go wrong?

You can read the long and interesting article here.

From the story it is difficult to know what Licht’s genuine goal is — turning CNN to the political right, making a ratings grab, sucking up to his boss, or genuinely trying to instill integrity into the news reporting, or all of the above. I think Alberta never got a clear idea.

But whatever Licht’s intention, it is hard to see how he could possibly believe that Trump’s “Town Hall” could be a good idea. And he knew it. Because a town hall event implies that a representative sample of the community makes up the audience. In this event, the auditorium was filled with die-hard Trump supporters. That’s a political rally, not a town hall.

So why did CNN deliberately misrepresent this farce? Because they could not have aired it as “news” if it were a political rally. The first clue that something isn’t a good idea is if you have to lie about it.

While this is very disheartening, what may be worse is how much hand-wringing seems to be going on at CNN as it tries to get on or stay on the rails of what news reporting should be.

If Licht and the owners of CNN are sincere in the mission of restoring CNN’s journalistic reputation, they only need to ask themselves, “What would Edward R. Murrow do?”

Murrow started his career as a radio journalist, reporting from Europe during World War II. Transitioning to TV, he hosted regular news broadcasts for CBS. During the height of the Red Scare of the early 1950s, Murrow and the team at CBS News began to cover McCarthyism, ultimately revealing that the real un-American activity was senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt.

Nations have lost their freedom while preparing to defend it, and if we in this country confuse dissent with disloyalty, we deny the right to be wrong.
- Edward R. Murrow, June 1953

The willingness to push back against powerful people, sifting the truth from the amalgamation of “facts,” and articulating this into reporting people understand. That’s the Murrow way.

CNN and all news agencies should make living up to Edward R. Murrow’s standard their mission.