Screening Room


Voices of Truth

January/February 2006


What's the difference between honesty and spin?

When I was growing up, before TV came to our neck of the Alabama swamps, we had to imagine what the real world over the next hill might look like. We'd sit around the radio, envisioning the things we couldn't see—wars, baseball games, Burns and Allen, or Baby Snooks.

When TV finally came, in the early '50s, the world it brought into our living rooms was black and white, and dumbed way down. It hardly mattered—we'd watch anything, even test patterns, for hours. Anything was more interesting than Alabama in the '50s. Broadcasting only a few hours a day, TV gave us Hopalong Cassidy and Captain Video, relentless baseball games and wrestling matches, Lucy and Uncle Milty. And, of course, the news. TV news no longer came from disembodied voices, but from talking heads. Newsmen now had faces, and, as eyewitnesses, we could now determine who had an honest face and who didn't.

The most honest of the talking heads seemed to be the revered war correspondent Edward R. Murrow. He had a deeply trenched face and a nicotine-stained voice that seemed to arise from the depths of the world's wisdom. He sat calmly and spoke authoritarian truths through the haze.

The moment when TV ceased to be a silly toy and became the news itself was in 1954, when the audience watching at home became referees in a great debate over what was true, what was…

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