Murrow prepares for the broadcast, and Fred lights his cigarette. “What do you think Freddy? Every time you light the cigarette for me, I know you’re lying,” Murrow says. Fred is silent and Murrow suggests that perhaps he has some doubts about the segment they have planned. The segment begins and Murrow breaks the Milo Radulovich story, cigarette in hand. He outlines the factors in the news story, including Air Force regulation 35-62, which is “a regulation which states that a man may be regarded as a security risk if he has close and continuing association with Communists or people believed to have Communist sympathies.” Murrow goes on to state that their reporters are looking into the case. The program switches to Joe Wershba’s segment, his interview with Radulovich.
Murrow watches the segment intently, while also asking Fred about what the military colonel wanted to talk about the previous day. “They weren’t too pleased,” Fred admits, before telling Murrow that he told them he didn’t want to do the story. “You always were yellow,” Murrow says, to which Fred replies, “Better than red.” Murrow watches, and makes transitional statements in between the interviews with Milo and an interview with Milo’s sister. Elsewhere, Shirley watches the broadcast, nervously.
At the end of the segment, Murrow makes the following statement: “We have told the Air Force that we will provide facilities for any comment, criticism, or corrections it may wish to make in regard to the case of Milo Radulovich. We are unable to judge the charges against the lieutenant’s father or sister because neither we, nor you, nor they, nor the lawyers, nor the Lieutenant know precisely what was contained in that manila envelope. Was it hearsay, rumor, gossip, slander, or hard ascertainable facts that could be backed by credible witnesses? We do not know. We believe the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. Even if that iniquity be proved. And in this case, it was not. But se believe too that this case illustrates the urgent need for the Armed Forces to communicate, more fully than they have so far done, the procedure and regulations to be followed in attempting to protect the national security and the rights of the individual at the same time. Whatever happens in this whole area of the relationship between the individual and the state, we will do it ourselves. It cannot be blamed on Malenkov or Mao Tse-tung or even our allies. And it seems to us, that is, Fred Friendly and myself, that this is a subject that should be argued about endlessly. Good night, and good luck.” Sig walks out of the room just as Murrow’s statement ends.
People in the newsroom clap, as a recording of the jazz singer from before begins to play. We see the news continuing as scheduled. We then see the jazz singer singing, “I’ve Got My Eyes On You.” A commercial for Kent cigarettes plays on a television; it makes reference to Murrow’s story. The scene shifts and we see Murrow doing a different segment, this time an interview with Liberace, the famous pianist. Murrow interviews Liberace about his intention to get married. As the segment ends, Murrow smokes as everyone packs up their things for the evening. As Murrow gets up, Natalie informs him that a Dr. Stanton would like to have a drink with him at the Pentagon bar that evening. Murrow says he absolutely cannot get a drink and dismisses Natalie. Don Hollenbeck, another journalist for CBS, comes over and congratulates Murrow on a good show.
Murrow asks Don how he’s doing—he’s evidently gone through a divorce recently—and then tells Don that he read an article in which Don was accused of being a “pinko,” a Communist sympathizer. Murrow assures a worried Don that no one reads the writer who wrote the article and that William Paley, executive of CBS, won’t have him fired. Don asks Murrow how it’s been going since he started reporting on Radulovich, and Murrow tells him it’s been surprisingly good. Don offers his help and leaves.
The scene shifts to the U.S. Senate. A man follows Joe up the stairs and wants to talk, even though Joe tells him he’s in a rush. “What if I told you Edward was on the Soviet payroll in 1935?” the man says, which stops Joe. Joe asks the man if McCarthy is going to the Eisenhower dinner, but the man doesn’t know. The man then gives Joe a document, which outlines that Murrow has been a Communist sympathizer since the 1930s. Joe insists that it won’t work because everyone knows that Murrow is a patriot, takes the document to give to Murrow and leaves. “I think you guys go too far,” he says, before he leaves.
We see Murrow waiting to meet with William Paley. Paley’s secretary admits him and he goes in and greets the executive. After some pleasantries, Paley throws the file with incriminating information on his coffee table. “Reading fiction?” Murrow says when he sees the file, to which Paley responds, “I hope so, you tell me.” Paley tries to convince Murrow to drop the story, suggesting that McCarthy will destroy anyone. Murrow counters that the network agreed to let him report on the story as he saw fit and not interfere, and that McCarthy is wrong 99% of the time about the people he marks as Communists. Paley gets more and more frustrated with Murrow’s stubbornness, finally saying, “You should have told me about this before it went so far down the road.” Going to his desk, Paley warns Murrow that all of the people working on the story have to have completely clean records in regards to communism, or he will discontinue the story. Murrow leaves.
As Murrow walks down the hall from Paley’s office with a sullen expression, we hear Fred in voiceover telling his associates that their next news segment is going to be about McCarthy, “and we’re gonna go right at him.” We see the reporters discussing moving forward with the story, and Fred urges them to come clean about any associations they may have had with communism in the past that might be used against them while working on the McCarthy story. One of the men speaks up about the fact that his ex-wife attended meetings. “It was different then, we were all on the same side,” he says. Murrow responds, “Oh, if none of us had ever read a dangerous book or had a friend who was different, never joined an organization that advocated change, we'd all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants. We're gonna go with the story, because the terror is right here in this room.” They disperse, preparing to break a story about McCarthy.
While Murrow is surely a force of personality, and at first people are compelled to see his side of things, this case proves especially controversial and threatening, even to those close to him. While they are running the segment on Radulovich, Fred, Murrow’s closest ally, admits to Murrow that he told the military men that he didn’t want to do the story. “You always were yellow,” Murrow says, disappointed in his friend selling him out. While Fred follows Murrow’s lead initially, the issue of communism, and the risk that the network takes by running a story that might be perceived as pro-communist, is too much for him to get behind it fully. To Murrow’s evaluation that he was always “yellow” (meaning scared), Fred counters, “Better than Red,” referring to the color representing communism.
The way that the initial Murrow broadcast about Radulovich is shot heightens the tension of the moment, the risks they are taking as a studio, and the fact that many people are watching. The camera darts around, shooting Murrow and the newsroom from various angles and through various television screens. This method heightens the suspense, in that we the viewer see all of the different ways that the news is being mediated, as well as the dynamics behind the scenes. Friendly and Murrow have a tense interaction before the broadcast begins, and various members of the staff watch the story tensely. We see Joe watching expectantly, then Shirley in a completely different room, sipping a coffee and watching the broadcast. In the center of it all is Murrow, calm and stable, but always puffing away on a cigarette. The tension and anxiety is subterranean, and the viewer can feel this dynamic by virtue of how the scene is shot.
Of course, the tension is built around the fact that no one in the office has any idea how the story is going to hit viewers at home. Because of the fear and paranoia that McCarthyism and its finger-pointing has cultivated in everyone’s heart, communist or not, no one at CBS knows just how Murrow’s story will play with viewers at home. The network itself has abandoned the story, but allowed it to run, and everyone working with Murrow wonders if they’ll be punished for telling the truth. After Murrow finishes the report, the filming ends, and the newsroom is suspended in silence for a moment. Within this silence, the viewer must sit with the simmering emotions of the newsroom.
The news story is a success, with an unexpectedly positive response from viewers, but that does not keep McCarthy and his team from striking out against Murrow and the other journalists. Not long after the program airs, Murrow receives word that he is being targeted for having had some ties to communism in the past. The chief executive of CBS, William Paley, calls Murrow to his office to discuss the fact that they are being targeted by McCarthy. In this moment, we see that McCarthy and his followers exercise a kind of fascist control around how information gets circulated. The fact that CBS is frightened of what might happen to the network should Murrow proceed with his story highlights to the viewer just how much influence McCarthy had over information and public opinion.
In spite of the rampant fear that McCarthyism stirs up, Edward R. Murrow, the protagonist of the film, maintains an admirable strength of character. Part of his virtue is not only his courage in railing against corrupt powers, but his ability to stay loyal to his convictions. It is this strength, fortitude, and trust that he is doing what is right that makes him both a credible news journalist and a strong protagonist. Even in the face of an angered chief executive—Paley even goes so far as to invoke the fact that his employment is what bankrolls Murrow’s life and puts his son through school—Murrow stays loyal to his story. Rather than cower or rationalize in the face of opposition, Murrow is brave and strong-willed. The film shows that Murrow’s commitment to the truth and to breaking a good story to the people is more powerful than anything else. It is this quality that makes him such a patriot.