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::Lack of "Shame"::

I recently viewed the new Edward R. Murrow DVD Collection, and was reminded of what real journalism and quality television used to look like.

Murrow, who began his career in Churchill's London as a war correspondent with CBS radio, later adapted his hard hitting, extremely literate reporting style to the new medium of television, and, in so doing, established a template for how to produce and present news.

He assembled a team of journalists to work with him on his "See it Now" series, then, later for his documentaries. These were not pretty boy anchors, rather, they were competent correspondents who went on to achieve great success on their own, including Murrow's young director, Don Hewitt who eventually created a tribute to his boss, with the highly decorated "60 Minutes".

Murrow's most famous "See it Now" episodes involved his coverage and criticism of Senator Joe McCarthy's post war communist witch hunt.

But the DVD collection also includes Murrow's most famous documentary, "Harvest of Shame" (1960) which depicted the plight of migrant farm workers in America.

Interestingly enough, the majority of migrants back then were poor whites and blacks who, each year, worked their way northward from Florida to New England to pick whatever crops might be available. Murrow made a reference to the growing number of Mexicans who were entering the country for temporary work, but they would not comprise the majority of day labor in this country until more than a decade later. Living conditions were deplorable for these gypsies who were lucky to clear a dollar a day after feeding their families.

This definitive American documentary wasn't without its flaws. For example, every migrant interviewed had no less than five children, and some had as many as fourteen. Were I Murrow, I would have been compelled to ask the obvious question of these poverty stricken nomads. "If times are so tough, and wages so scarce, why do you keep having babies?"

Still, Murrow was engaged in a noble crusade, so his bias (or oversight) can be forgiven.

It was interesting to go back and watch "Harvest of Shame" at a time when illegal immigrants are now flooding across our borders, and driving down wages for American workers, many of whom are adjusting to life without factory jobs that have since relocated to the countries from which today's illegals hail. The irony is inescapable. Nevertheless, Murrow helped effect reform for migrant workers, using television as a catalyst.
That's why perhaps the most disturbing thing about watching "Harvest of Shame" is the dearth of such documentaries on TV today.

Yes, HBO does an excellent job with periodic sports documentaries, and A&E and the History Channel do a passable job with safe topics and celebrity bios. But, for the most part, neither network nor local television offers us Murrow-like programs. That's because quality costs money.

And so, the shame of all this is that local television managers and network executives have abandoned Murrow's mission, and squandered his legacy.

But let's be optimistic. Perhaps this new DVD collection will catch fire with the public, as well as with TV bean counters. Perhaps it will even inspire a whole new direction in investigative journalism. Perhaps. But not likely.

Edward R. Murrow on DVDTelevision today is about style over substance, and profit over public service. Until that paradigm shifts, we might be forced to look for our hard hitting journalism in a pack of 45 year old DVDs.

Jim Longworth is a veteran talk show host, columnist, and lecturer, and the author of TV Creators: Conversations With America's Top Producers of Television Drama, volumes 1 & 2.

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