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30-60 minutes
  • Cold War
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • World War II
  • 9-12
  • College/University

  1. Tell students that they will learn more about the power and responsibilities of a free press in a changing media landscape through the work of one of its giants. Check for background knowledge by asking:
    • Have you ever heard of Edward R. Murrow? If so, what have you heard? If not, any guesses who he might be?
    • Can a journalist change the course of politics and/or history? If so, how?
  2. Explain that Murrow believed the news media, especially television, had a responsibility to teach, illuminate and inspire rather than merely entertain, amuse and insulate. His lauded ethical standards met great challenges, including questions of commercial sponsorship of the news.
  3. Hand out copies of the viewing guide worksheet. Have students read the questions in advance and then take notes as they watch the video.
  4. Watch the video.
  5. Ask students to complete post-viewing comprehension questions (in class or for homework).


  • “Edward R. Murrow” Video Lesson worksheet (download),  one per student
  • Internet access to watch video
  • Edward R. Murrow reference materials (download, optional)

Ask your students why Murrow is an important figure in journalism history. You may also wish to assign one or more of these questions as short essays for homework.

  • Today, who or what do you think can be considered a “conscience” for journalists? Who or what guides journalists’ decision-making in difficult situations?
  • “See It Now” explored important topics of the day, while “Person to Person” was sometimes criticized as being entertaining without a lot of substance. Name some shows on television today that are like “See It Now” and some that are like “Person to Person.” Is there a good balance between these types of shows on television today?
  • If Murrow’s report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy aired today, what do you think responses would be? Does his language seem more or less harsh than what we hear on cable news channels today?
  • In the video, journalist Don Hewitt says, “Edward Murrow was a star.” Who are the stars of journalism today? Why?
  • What are war correspondents? What is their role in war? What risks do they face? Why are they important?
  • In his book, “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism,” Bob Edwards writes that “Murrow hired people on the basis of their smarts and their contacts. He didn't care how they sounded, if their voices were pretty or whatever."  Do you think this was a smart strategy? Why or why not? Do you think today’s television news producers hire people for their intelligence or their looks? Should a journalist’s looks or the sound of his or her voice matter?
  • Murrow’s radio reports during World War II used vivid language to describe the events: “The small incendiaries were going down like a fistful of white rice thrown on a piece of black velvet.” “Berlin was a kind of orchestrated hell, a terrible symphony of light and flame.” Which do you think would be a more engrossing depiction of war: Murrow’s sentences read live over the radio or a live television image? Why?
  • Murrow desired a fully independent press that would not have to worry about interference from sponsors/advertisers. Is this a realistic goal? Does journalism need sponsors? In no, where should it find funding? If yes, how should journalists manage their relationships with sponsors?
  • Was Murrow’s criticism of Sen. Joseph McCarthy anti-American? Could his report have put the country at risk? Explain why or why not.
  • In the video, journalist Don Hewitt says, “What killed Joe McCarthy was not the Murrow broadcast about him. What killed Joe McCarthy was his broadcast attacking Murrow.” To what extent is the opposite true today? In other words, can attacking a journalist or the media generally help a politician’s career? Cite examples.

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