In 1946, a former tail gunner during World War II was elected to represent Wisconsin in the United States Senate. He promptly went on to become arguably the most disliked man in that legislative body while spending three years in utter obscurity in the eyes of the rest of the world. Five years later not only would this Senator no longer be obscure, his name would be used to define the most hateful and damaging ideology in America: McCarthyism. In a strikingly short period of time. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had managed to lift him from isolation and oblivion in the Capitol into a man so feared that public criticism toward him or from him could cost a person their career and reputation. George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck is the story of two men who put their careers and reputations on the line not just in public, but before an audience of millions. The risk was high and the hopes higher. As it turned out, the payoff was even higher than expected.
The film details how the most respected journalist in America in 1954—Edward R. Murrow—and CBS producer Fred Friendly crafted a series of episodes of Murrow’s popular show See it Now that exposed many Americans for the first time—due the fear of criticism which McCarthy cultivated—of the tactics of deceptions, bullying and the creation of what today are known as “alternate facts” but which were then referred to as what they are: lies. Part of the McCarthy mystique was that he was able to wield such a wide influence because most Americans were only seeing his side of the story. A story which changed as the occasion demanded or the facts required. Good Night and Good Luck is just as much about the necessity of a free media to report the truth in within an atmosphere that stimulates doubt about the media and forwards its own fictional narrative as truth. Although Murrow was not the first journalist to take on McCarthy and the Senator’s star was already sinking under the weight of his own lies, the popularity of Murrow’s show was instrumental in putting nails into his coffin simply as a result of turning the tide of public approval through the kind of massive exposure none of the other journalists could hope to replicate.
The title of the film derives from Edward R. Murrow’s signature sign-off slogan that closed his broadcasts. To lend a sense of historical authenticity a film in which all archival footage was shot in black and white, director Clooney made the decision to shoot the film itself in black and white. Good Night and Good Luck was nominated for six Academy Awards though it failed to win any of its categories that included Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.