The film opens with Edward R. Murrow being honored in 1958 for his contribution to television. His speech is not one of thanks, but one of grave urgency, a plea that television become an educational and informational tool rather than a simple distraction or a form of entertainment.
The film jumps back to 1953 where we see Shirley and Joe Wershba discussing a document they must sign affirming that they haven’t been members of the Communist party. Senator Joseph McCarthy is on a hunt for Communists in government, television, radio and Hollywood. Everyone in the office at CBS is being asked to affirm their allegiance. We then see that Ed Murrow wants to go after the American military, who have tried and convicted a member of the Air Force, Milo Radulovich, without proof of his Communist affiliations. Murrow goes on air even after a Colonel tells the producer, Fred Friendly, to tread carefully in what they are about to do. By airing an episode of his show See It Now that exposes the Milo Raduovich case, CBS influences the Air Force to reinstate the wrongfully terminated Radulovich.
For their next episode of his show, Murrow and the team decide to take a crack at Senator McCarthy himself. During the episode, Murrow invites McCarthy on the show to defend his corrupt methods. While the segment is a success, soon enough McCarthy gets in touch and wants to tape a response on April 6th. In his response, McCarthy states that Murrow was a member of the Communist party, an accusation which Murrow fully expects and fully denies. In his next show Murrow lashes out again at McCarthy and exposes a court case in which a woman, Annie Lee Moss, was convicted of being a Communist simply based on speculation and hearsay. The move turns in favor of the CBS news team when McCarthy himself is investigated.
In the midst of the show's victory, Fred gets news that Don Hollenbeck, a colleague of his who was accused by the conservative media of being a "pinko," has committed suicide. Soon after, Bill Paley pulls Murrow and Fred into his office to tell them that he is only giving them five one-hour episodes and moving their slot from Tuesday night to Sunday afternoon. He needs to make money and if the sponsors won’t buy into Murrow's show he can’t keep Murrow going. The film ends with Murrow concluding his speech at the dinner from the opening scene. He says that we have a stark choice: television can continue to be mindless programming that distracts the public from the real issues—or an opportunity to inform and educate people to make a better world.