Do Americans care? That was the question about the White House’s attacks on journalism and the state of foreign news reporting in the Trump era when ICWAns gathered in Washington for the institute’s semi-annual dinner at the Cosmos Club on June 7.
The veteran broadcaster Marvin Kalb addressed the topic in a forceful keynote address. A month after the 2017 inauguration, he said, he received a call from a friend at the White House—“I have very few friends who work at the White House,” he qualified—to warn that the president planned to state in a speech that the American press is the “enemy of the people.”“No American president had ever described the press as the enemy of the people,” Marvin said, listing other leaders who did use the expression to describe the press corps in their countries: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Mao.
Marvin recounted long talks with the legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow—who hired him to work for CBS News in 1957—about Murrow’s admiration for Germans in the mid-1930s, when he worked as a correspondent in Europe. “Wonderful people, fabulous people… listening to Mozart, doing all kinds of wonderful things.” But when he returned to Berlin in late 1938, those same Germans were in uniform and “mouthing Hitlerian doctrine, and he could not understand how it was possible for a people to change within three years… it was something that haunted him to the day he died.”
That worry informed Murrow’s response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade, “to do everything he could to ensure freedom would remain the basis of American democracy,” Marvin said. Murrow’s week-long series of radio and television programs in 1954 lowered McCarthy’s popularity ratings from 48 percent—he was the second-most popular Republican after Eisenhower—to 32 percent, effectively doing more to bring McCarthy down than the televised Army-McCarthy hearings that soon followed.“Are we today as a people as open-minded as we were in 1954?” Marvin asked in conclusion. “If the answer is no, we have a big, big problem.”