Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY
(Note: This event was fed in progress.)
GEORGE CLOONEY: (In progress) -- I think there was -- about 30 percent of the audience had never heard of Joe McCarthy, and thought the actor playing him was over the top -- (laughter) -- which we agreed with. (Laughter.)
But we are going to take out a "For your consideration" for Best Supporting Actor -- (laughter) -- Joe McCarthy.
GRANT HESLOV: That's why we didn't -- that's why we never -- that's why we didn't cast anybody --
JEFF GREENFIELD: Yeah.
HESLOV: -- because we were afraid that that's what would be said, the actor doing it was --
GREENFIELD: Okay. The second thing that I --
CLOONEY: Second urban legend?
GREENFIELD: It's not an urban legend, but one of the things that you take away from this movie -- at least I did -- was, you come out of this movie with black lung. (Laughter.) And that's --
HESLOV: You should have been there for the shooting.
CLOONEY: Yeah, that was --
GREENFIELD: But the fact is --
CLOONEY: (In a hoarse voice.) You should have been there for the shooting. (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: Yeah. So this is a tendentious and stupid question, as many of my colleagues are -- the fact that Edward R. Murrow died of lung cancer in 1964, and it's given special resonance by the fact that we lost one of the great journalists of our time to lung cancer -- when you were making this movie, was this simply to be accurate and set the scene, and black-and-white movies look great with all that smoke? Or was there a little subtle thing showing, you know, this is a very different time?
HESLOV: It wasn't about that it looked so good. It really was about that we wanted to be accurate.
CLOONEY: You couldn't -- you've never seen Murrow -- I'd never seen Murrow without a cigarette in his hand.
The problem is -- of course, a lot of those guys actually died of lung cancer or emphysema, and had problems. The problem is that the danger -- I'm not a smoker; I had my Aunt Rosemary and both my grandparents and most of my family die of lung cancer. The problem is, black-and-white film like that is actually sort of romantic and makes it look good. That's why we put the commercial in. We thought it was sort of important to at least say, "Look how full of shit they were in 1954" -- (laughter) -- "about cigarettes and how good they were for you."
Haynes, there is a revisionist notion about this time. I mean, I'm not talking about the Ann Coulter "McCarthy was a hero" notion. We might to get to that in a minute.
But part of the argument, the pushback on this is, you know, this is a big exaggeration; this is not a time of fear. I mean, yes, McCarthy ruined a couple of lives, but I mean, it wasn't like the terror.
Your book paints a very different picture than the revisionists.
HAYNES JOHNSON: You had to be there. I mean, it was just unbelievable. You couldn't talk to people. The fear that existed -- you got it in the film: guilt by association, character assassination, leaked documents, false charges.
The miasma of fear in Washington alone was just incredible. People in the government, across the board, but throughout the country -- writers, actors, et cetera -- that was just an intimidation that -- I was in the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings for three years, during the Korean War. Even then in the Army, those pictures of the two colonels -- I remember that kind of feeling of intimidation when we were surrounded by people that were protecting us from communism. And it was really a sense you had at that time.
Then when I graduated from the Army in three years, I went to Madison and did my graduate work in American history. And there Joe McCarthy was still riding high, and he made one speech about the university. He said we -- even our great University of Wisconsin boasts that it has the greatest amount of communist literature in the world. The next day he asked the chancellor, "Is that so?" The chancellor simply said, "Yes, it's true, and we intend to increase it."
CLOONEY: (Inaudible) -- I'm staying here.
JOHNSON: You're in the right place. (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: But since I share with you a bond, having gone to that fine school, just tell the story of what happened on the July 4th day in the early 1950s with the reporter on the Capital Times and what he did.
JOHNSON: That is the quintessence of McCarthyism. It's 1952. McCarthy is at the very peak of McCarthyism -- the intimidation, the fear.
Madison, Wisconsin, if you don't know what it was, was then the central liberal place in the United States -- not Berkeley, Madison. They went around and took a poll, a survey of 112 Madison people. And they asked them -- they read quotations of all those 112 people -- "Would you subscribe to these quotations?" Every quote was from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. A hundred and eleven out of 112 people would not sign, because they thought they'd be accused of being subversive -- in Madison, Wisconsin, nineteen-fifty- -- to me, that's the answer to what was the climate of the time.
GREENFIELD: Yeah. John Patrick Hunter walking around Capitol Square.
Let me turn to one part of this movie that has gotten some criticism that isn't, I don't think, explicitly political. The marketing campaign for this -- I can't remember the exact slogan -- it said, "In this time of fear, one man stood up."
GREENFIELD: Now, Charles Collingwood had gone after McCarthy two years earlier. Margaret Chase Smith on the floor of the Senate had implicitly attacked him two or three years --
CLOONEY: The Alsops --
GREENFIELD: The Alsop brothers, Herblock's cartoons.
CLOONEY: Jack Gould.
GREENFIELD: Time Magazine, no liberal publication in those days, did a cover of "demagogue" McCarthy, I think in '51 or '52.
Is this just what you have to -- I mean, the idea of Edward Murrow as Gary Cooper in "High Noon," with nobody standing behind him --
GREENFIELD: -- is it fair to say that that's dramatic license?
CLOONEY: We were going to call it "Ocean's 13" and try to open even bigger -- (laughter) -- whatever worked.
I will say that you're right; there's no question about it. But Murrow was the most trusted man in America, and he was late to the game and would be the first to tell you he was late to the game. I believe he'd been collecting footage for a long time and was looking for the little picture, the Radulovich story was the little picture for him.
So you're -- the truth is, that's probably not the best marketing --
GREENFIELD: So "late to game," you mean, is not a good slogan?
CLOONEY: It's probably not the -- yeah, it's probably not the best marketing tool. He was late to the game, but it's still a great story.
HESLOV: "One man was latest to the game."
CLOONEY: "The one man that was" -- (laughter).
But the truth is, he was by far the most effective, because it wasn't -- and the funny thing is -- and I think you'll agree -- what took McCarthy down or what really put a -- made him more vulnerable was not Murrow's attack of McCarthy but was McCarthy turning around and accusing Murrow of being a communist, because the one thing we knew was that he stood -- he'd sat on the top of those buildings during the London blitz, and we knew that he was a patriot. And to call him a communist wasn't accurate.
GREENFIELD: He was a -- I would suggest that when he went after the Army --
CLOONEY: That got him in trouble, too. Yeah.
GREENFIELD: -- that was no small item, because that got Eisenhower, who hated the guy in the first place -- he said: All right, enough already, or whatever --
JOHNSON: It's such an incredibly wonderful, complicated story, because by the time he did that great broadcast -- and I have to say -- you asked how people thought about it. I thought it was great, wonderful. You saw Ed Murrow as eloquent, as passionate, and you want to say, "Yeah, let's have more of that in America today." We need it now, and it's probably more important now than it was then.
The Ed Murrow broadcast did not bring down Joe McCarthy. Joe McCarthy brought down Joe McCarthy. It was four years by the time that broadcast ran. He was about to have the Army-McCarthy hearings. Eisenhower had finally turned against him in the White House. The Republicans had finally said he was a doom for their own chances in the election. Democrats had finally summoned some courage to go after him. All these things were about to implode.
But that Murrow broadcast deserves what you gave it. For this audience, today's world, to see that, I think, is magnificent.
CLOONEY: Well, I also --
JOHNSON: But it didn't just bring down Joe McCarthy.
CLOONEY: But -- no, I don't think it did. I agree that -- I wouldn't say that it at all brought down McCarthy. But in a world that was for the first time suddenly dominated by television, which was something that we were not yet aware of -- it hadn't happened yet, it was the first of those. And also, you know, when they did the broadcast, they thought they were in the minority. They thought it would be New York and Los Angeles and Chicago. And when they got 15 to 1 in Cincinnati, Ohio, letters saying, "Good for you," that changed the perspective for them a little bit.
So I think I agree with you completely that it is a turning --
GREENFIELD: It's an interesting note -- it's a footnote in Haynes's book which I found fascinating -- that the first great investigative moment that made television in its early days was the Kefauver hearings, broadcast on Channel 11, because then, as now, they had nothing else to put on. (Laughter.) And there were 3-1/2 million television sets in America. There was no coaxial cable at the time.
GREENFIELD: By the time the Army-McCarthy hearings took place in '54, there were 35 million, and ABC put them on because they had nothing else to put on, and they got two-thirds of the audience. So rather amazing --
JOHNSON: And McCarthy wanted to have the Army-McCarthy hearings televised, because he had a genius at reaching the audience, and that tone -- I love the idea you showed Joe McCarthy.
JOHNSON: You hear that ominous tone -- tone, you know, "What do you mean to tell me," and that fear that had -- and just absolutely nothing could -- no actor could play that.
CLOONEY: What we also didn't show much of, which was the -- ultimately Army-McCarthy hearings, because we felt this was a -- this isn't is a biopic, we were telling them; it's a very specific story.
CLOONEY: But Grant and I went back, because you can't just watch a documentary like "Point of Order" and take facts from it, because as much as, I mean -- and I'm an old liberal -- as much as I like it, it's misrepresenting of what really happened. But you would see McCarthy ranting at Stu Symington, Senator Symington, and then you'd see this wide shot that looked like he was ranting like Fredric March at the end of "Inherit the Wind." And the truth was those are two different days. And Grant and I went back and watched all of the footage, and we realized that if we used just pre-edited documentaries, we would probably be carrying on a miscarriage.
GREENFIELD: Would you speak to this question? One of the critics of the movie, in The Washington Post, began his --
CLOONEY: I could tell you a story about him. (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: You mean --
CLOONEY: Stephen Hunter.
MR. : "I can tell you a story about this man ..."
MR. GREENFIELD (?): Let's hear your story.
CLOONEY: He's the only critic I've ever written a letter to, after I directed "Confessions." I'm not sure whether he liked it or not. I thought he did. But I wrote him a letter and I said -- he spent four paragraphs at the end of it saying that the one thing he could prove is that I didn't direct the film and that Steven Soderbergh had. So I wrote him a letter and said, "You can critique a film, not necessarily me." And then I signed it "George Clooney," but I said, "Letter actually written by Steven Soderbergh." (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: Here is the point of the gentleman in The Washington Post, who may or may not have been Stephen Holden (sic), or Annie Lee Moss, for that matter --
MR. : Stephen Hunter.
GREENFIELD: You know, in 1948, Murrow did a radio broadcast rising to the defense of a guy named Laurence Duggan, who had been pilloried by -- it was pre-McCarthy, so it must have been the House Un-American Activities Committee. And he was in high dudgeon about this.
Now, it turned out that the Venona Papers showed that Laurence Duggan was, in fact, a Soviet spy. And you have that neat little -- I thought this was really one of the neat things you did, where Paley says to Murrow --
MR. CLOONEY (?): The Alger Hiss thing.
GREENFIELD: The Alger Hiss thing. But the argument that people have made is that nowhere in this movie is there -- except maybe in that cryptic note -- is there a hint that, you know what, according to Haynes -- you (suspected ?) several hundred New Dealers who came into the Roosevelt administration in fact were actively working for the Soviet Union.
CLOONEY: We put the Algier Hiss piece in because I went through journalism schools and said, "What are the arguments against Murrow?" The arguments were editorializing, obviously, which, of course, sort of advocacy about it, and the second was the Algier Hiss moment.
Yeah, you're absolutely right there were some communists in the government. I think Jack O'Brian's line when Duggan jumped, "Communists are falling from the skies" -- he's a lovely writer, that guy.
GREENFIELD: You're not going to get me to rise to the defense of Jack O'Brian.
CLOONEY: Yeah. No, right.
GREENFIELD: My only point is that --
CLOONEY: But that wasn't what our story was. Our story was constitutional issues, and the issues were this. And when you watched Murrow and the argument against all of those issues is, when Ann Coulter sort of writes her book about treason, and she defends and says Annie Lee Moss actually might have been a communist, Murrow's point, and he says it in the show, is you will note that neither Senator Symington nor this reporter know or claim that she is or isn't; we demand she has a right to face her accuser. That --
GREENFIELD: Yeah. Haynes, weigh in on this, because in your book, which is not on the Ann Coulter school of revisionism about Joe McCarthy, you do make the point that part of the climate, part of what happened -- it's a complicated story -- was, in fact, that there were some people of the liberal anti-communist (position ?) who never recognized that in fact -- you know, they were still hung up on the Popular Front or World War II and they never realized that just these were bad guys betraying their country.
JOHNSON: Absolutely. And that's what made McCarthy so powerful, and he was able to play on it. You can't take McCarthy away from the times. When he went to Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9th, 1950, and waved a stack of papers and said, "I have here in my hands a list of 205 communists who are at this moment members of the spy ring working actively in the State Department on our policies," there was no list.
JOHNSON: There were no names.
CLOONEY: And the number changed every time he said it.
JOHNSON: And he changed it, then it was 87, 51, and so forth. But there were enough things happening then that he was able to play on the fears. Alger Hiss had just been convicted of perjury.
GREENFIELD: That's right.
JOHNSON: Not treason. You had Klaus Fuchs arrested in London for giving atomic secrets. The Russians, had the bomb. The Chinese had signed a pact with the Russians and they would expel Chiang Kai-shek into the Island of Formosa, which is today Taiwan, and all these things. And Einstein went on television just before McCarthy. He said, the end of civilization beckons, because Truman had just announced the creation of the hydrogen bomb. So everybody was afraid. McCarthy played on fear.
CLOONEY: And China -- (inaudible) -- a hundred million communists.
MR. : Look, I remember -- I was a New York City public school student at the time -- ducking under desks. And I always wondered what the hell were those desks made of. (Laughter.) Those were SOME desks. (Laughter.)
MR. CLOONEY (?): Just like in Los Angeles they do that now with earthquakes, where they tell you to stand in a doorway. I say, when have you ever seen a house that's flattened and just the doorway is standing.
MR. : One of the silliest things, the Homeland security Department put out a thing right after they started, and they said you can hide behind a door in an atomic attack, that will save you.
MR. CLOONEY (?): They told you to save gaffer's tape and plastic.
MR. : Gaffer's tape and duct tape. Well, they didn't do that back then.
GREENFIELD: Just one question about Murrow the fellow. He comes across -- first of all, the voice. I mean, Straitharn is just channeling him. That's not acting, that's something beyond. He comes across as a guy just carrying around enormous pain, conflict, tension. I mean, this does not look like a hale fellow well met guy.
MR. HESLOV (?): That was all -- I mean, when we were writing, we said we've got to find somebody who's got the weight of the world on their shoulders.
CLOONEY: You have to cast the right guy. You can't act it. You know, I was about the right age and probably fairly close to -- you know, it's the best-written part in the piece because, you know, he wrote it himself, Murrow, and he was a hell of a writer. Early on, I was entertaining the idea of playing him myself, and you realize that this is a character who in real life had the weight of the world on his shoulders because,unlike the rest of the guys who worked for him, who also had the weight of the world on their shoulders, Murrow knew if he aimed high and missed, he'd saddle the country with McCarthy for a long time. He knew it was a risk. And so it required someone who had the weight of the world, and honestly, I don't think people think that of me. (Laughter.) They don't think, "Poor George, he's got a tough one." (Laughter.)
By the way, just while we're here, Don Hewitt is sitting up here somewhere, and he was actually in the room. Where -- there he is. (Applause.) It's really something when you get to point at people who actually stuck their neck out when it was a very difficult time to stick their neck out. And you did that, and it's an honor to have you here.
GREENFIELD: Which leads us, Mr. seque-man, to --
CLOONEY: To opening it up.
GREENFIELD: -- to the business of television. We're going to get to the present imminently, because we have limited time, but when you look now and people talk about the horrors of conglomerates, and big corporations owning all the networks, and we kind of romanticize the old days, I mean clearly you put this in a context where Bill Paley is quite aware of how much money he can make, and took "See It Now" off the air because they couldn't afford the half-hour, never mind his stomach ache relief.
So when we look back and say, "Oh, it was much better when there were single owners, like a Paley or a Goldenson or a Sarnoff," this reminds me a little bit of the line in "Atlantic City," when the crook says to Burt Lancaster, "This is a great ocean," and he says, "You should have seen it in the old days." This has never been a business, particularly broadcast journalism, or for that matter print journalism, where there was a golden age. You can argue some people are better than others -- you know, family trust, maybe -- but it seems to me what you tell us here is don't go romanticizing the past about how great it was. We talk about this. It hasn't changed much.
CLOONEY: When you listen to the box of lights and wires speech, it holds up because, you know, when you hear Murrow saying for once let's take an hour off of "Ed Sullivan" to talk about problems in the Middle East, it's not such a stretch. I guess Ed Sullivan probably would think it was a stretch, but --
MR. : He had a (bear do it ?).
CLOONEY: But, you know, I think that the issues are and the point is that this is something that must be fought constantly and won over and over and over again. I don't know a reporter that doesn't want to break a great story. My father was a reporter for 30 years. He was a news director as well, and his fights were with the general managers because it was about commerce, ultimately.
MR. : I think it ought to be put on the record that that speech that opens and closes the movie, which is a real speech, word for word, for at the Radio/TV News Directors Association, that was the last straw.
MR. : When that speech ended, Murrow essentially never worked again. I mean, he did "Harvest of Shame." But the echoes of that speech apply not only in television, the newspaper today cutting back, worrying about this and that. It's all still -- that's what's so contemporary about the story.
MR. : Yeah. I'm glad you guys did it.
CLOONEY: Well, we had to. We were unemployed. (Laughter.) We needed to work.
MR. HESLOV (?): Yeah. Wanted to make a blockbuster.
CLOONEY: Because we thought there'd be a lot of money in this one.
MR. HESLOV (?): A black and white film.
CLOONEY: Black and white film about the '50s.
GREENFIELD: I can't wait till the action --
MR. : Oh, there's some action being -- (inaudible) -- smoke blows out -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: You heard it here first, friends. And if he doesn't give me a cut, we're in court. (Laughter.)
There's another part of this movie as reflects journalism that's very much, it seems to me, relevant today, and that's the notion of Murrow as an editorialist. Because it is rather startling, when you watch -- it's a prime time Tuesday night show, and there's no -- some say -- critics say it's like this guy's no good.
GREENFIELD: He's hysterical and all that.
Now, George, it seems to me we do have this today. Your new best friend, Bill O'Reilly --
GREENFIELD: -- does this every night on cable. Lou Dobbs, you know, with his broken borders, and the immigrants are taking over, and there are too many Doritos in our vending machines -- he does this. (Laughter.)
GREENFIELD: So the question is, in this sense, if you like the notion of --
GREENFIELD: -- freewheeling, robust commentary, hasn't --
CLOONEY: But you have to take the hit from the other side.
GREENFIELD: Well, hasn't cable TV, in fact, provided just this kind of thing --
GREENFIELD: -- where people, you know, are free to not just report but to say, you know, "liberal judges are destroying our" --
CLOONEY: Well, I could argue that about a dozen different ways. But I think the argument that you would probably agree with is that the two moments -- Cronkite taking on -- coming back from Vietnam and saying this doesn't work, and Murrow taking on McCarthy -- which are the two sort of basic seminal moments, I think, in broadcast journalism, at least when I was growing up, they were the moments that you could say actually had a policy change -- immediate. You know, Johnson doesn't run because he says, "I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country."
You know, those were guys who -- the government had the microphone and could use it whenever they wanted. And these were guys who said, okay, let's give another point of view.
The other side -- the Bill O'Reilly world is just sort of reiterating the government's microphone. Again, it's not necessarily taking the other side. Murrow kept saying, "The other side has been represented very well," and that was his point.
I can't argue with you about it because there is advocacy.
GREENFIELD: Well, let's take Katrina -- the hurricane. (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: Because the -- (Laughter) --
GREENFIELD: Don't want any misunderstandings here. I mean, here you have not just Anderson Cooper telling Mary Landrieu, stop congratulating the politicians, you guys screwed up," you've got Sheppard Smith --
CLOONEY: Sheppard Smith.
GREENFIELD: -- at Fox News -- our competitor -- saying to Bill O'Reilly, you know, what the hell's going on here?
GREENFIELD: This is a disaster.
And what I'm wondering is whether or not, as I say, journalists and people who care about journalism are in a perpetual state of tearing our hair out, and there's a lot to tear our hair out about. But it does seem to me that the explosion of media -- unlike Murrow's days, where had two and a half networks --
GREENFIELD: -- has actually -- you could argue that it's actually opened things up a little.
I mean, you -- where are you on this?
JOHNSON: Yes, I do. I'm agree with that. And I think the whole -- our business, the news business, is not just to cheer the government. We're not supposed to be just speaking to the government, support them and so forth, you're supposed to be a critic. And instead of just telling objective truth, which may not be objective truth, the reason McCarthy was so successful, he was able to use the headlines, always to reach -- (inaudible) -- and never got caught up. There was great reporting done. Herblock -- I dedicate my book to Herblock, my dear friend. He was -- he named McCarthyism three weeks after February 9, 1950. And there was great reporting. You mentioned the Alsop brothers. You mentioned Walter Lippmann. You did, and there were a lot of reporters. But this idea of the press to sort of be critical -- and I thought Katrina was, in the sense of finally finding their voice all across the board -- and I cheer.
MR. : Yeah? Good.
MR. : Because nobody was afraid of being labeled --
GREENFIELD: The obvious question here -- and after all, as a TV journalist, what other kinds are there? -- (laughter) -- is whether or not this movie is meant to be or should be seen as a cautionary tale for today's times, that there's something we're supposed to -- we're supposed to --
CLOONEY: I'll say this. Look, you know, my old man ran for Congress last year, and I couldn't campaign for him because it's Hollywood versus the Heartland. I'm fairly sharp at understanding the idea that nobody really wants to hear actors talking or preaching to journalists or politicians, and I don't believe in it. I do believe in a debate. I do believe in a discussion about issues. I don't think -- I think you're right about the idea that, yes, we've opened up things. I think that it's probably best that there aren't 40 million people watching one person because that one person may not be Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow, and it might be someone else, and that could be dangerous.
MR. : Bill O'Reilly.
CLOONEY: And, you know, I think that we're so fractured now -- it's an interesting time for us because, as you said, we used to get our information from two and a half networks, but it was basically the same information, so we would all take it and we would take it home, all of us, and we would take that information and we would digest it through our political and our social beliefs, and we would come up with our own opinions based on that starting information. And now you go to the place that reaffirms what you believe and tells you what it is you believe, so that your starting informations are very different, so your truths are very different and it complicates the issue and it's polarizes.
GREENFIELD: No, I think that's a fair point.
CLOONEY: So I think that -- ultimately, I think, yes, is it true -- I think there's some of the best journalism I've ever seen going on right now, and kids getting killed, and some amazing things going on. And maybe -- you're probably right, it's probably best that there isn't one most-trusted man in America because I don't know who that would be.
GREENFIELD: Really? Okay. (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: I think maybe you! How about you? You --
GREENFIELD: Okay. Yeah, all right, all right.
CLOONEY: -- or --
GREENFIELD: Let's take a look at the --
CLOONEY: -- Greta Van Susteren. (Laughter.) It was a name. I couldn't think of any --
GREENFIELD: There's an old joke about "trust me" about Hollywood, but we're not going to tell it here.
GREENFIELD: Haynes, the notion of power, the last chapter of your book looks at the post-9/11 world. And I just want to put this notion on the table to see where you go with it. During the McCarthy era, when he was at his height, there was a long-playing record album that was put out called "The Investigator." It was a parody of McCarthy, a radio comedy. The idea is he was killed in a plane crash, he goes to heaven, and he starts investigating subversives in heaven. The point is that -- when it was originally released, it was released with no credits, no album, no identification -- but the idea was it was like a samizdat. You just played it in your living room because -- this is a little over the top at the West Side of Manhattan -- that you would -- that this was the kind of fear.
Now, we move -- flash forward to 2004, and what's the most popular documentary ever made is Michael Moore in a -- whatever that was --
CLOONEY: Polarizing --
GREENFIELD: -- documentary, mockumentary, whatever -- Fahrenheit 9/11 -- that's basically saying the president of the United States is both a moron and a liar.
So my argument is -- at least from a fear point of view, that parallel to me at least doesn't work, that people are afraid, who are afraid to talk about Iraq. Whatever else happened -- we'll get to that in a minute -- that there was nothing. Do you agree or am I wrong about this?
JOHNSON: No, people aren't afraid to talk about Iraq. But I do think that the press was absolutely acquiescent for three years leading up to that point. I mean, I started writing this book when we were invading Iraq. I haven't changed the words in there in the prologue, because I thought it's going to have consequences that are quite serious for the country. But the -- since then, we have found our voice. But the truth is we didn't raise questions.
And my point in what I was trying to do, Jeff, is that fear can be exploited. It was exploited in the last four years. Fear of terrorism. And the same phrases in your movie -- "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" -- you're soft on communism or you're soft on terrorism, or you're not a good American. Poor John Kerry -- I make no brief for him at all -- I think he deserved to lose, as a matter of fact -- he never fought back on the Swiftboat (ads ?) smear that he gave at the time. That was typical of McCarthyistic attacks, and fear does still work.
Now we seem to have found a voice, and I think that we should salute that and praise it. I hope the movie contributes to the idea we should be raising questions, not sitting back.
CLOONEY: Also, you know -- having grown up the son of a journalist, my father went after Jimmy Carter for the OPEC nations raising the price of gas, and he went after Gerald Ford for pardoning Nixon. His theory was, and his belief was -- which is, I think, most journalists' belief -- is that all power must always be questioned, you know, in general, or it corrupts, and that's the secret to it. That's why Jefferson said, I'll take a free press over a free government. And to me, that is the most important thing, and that -- and it is something that I appreciate seeing.
MR. : But he said that before he became president. (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: That's true. (Laughter.) By the way, he took it back immediately after!
GREENFIELD: I am so glad Haynes said that because this -- because we're going to go to questions. But just for the record -- here's what Jefferson said in 1807 in a letter to a friend. He said, "Nothing can be believed which is now put in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspect when placed in that polluted vehicle." (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: (Laughs.) Well, he had a little trouble with Adams at that point, I think. (Chuckles.)
GREENFIELD: We always quote that first one. We never quote the second.
So we -- here's the deal: we want questions from the audience. There are microphones, so you'll please raise your hand --
CLOONEY: Or I can yell it out really loud.
GREENFIELD: And some of us have hearing issues, but please make it a question.
Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I understand the problem that you'd have, you know, as an actor speaking out on political issues. But as, you know, a representative of the media industry, I could imagine that you would have a platform, obviously, with this film, and you would have standing to speak on the media industry's beauty to elevate public discourse and particularly those broadcasters who have public licenses, their duty to perform that role for the public, you know, and devote more time to news broadcasting because it is a public utility that we give to these companies. And so I can imagine that would be one issue anyway of where people would and should listen to.
CLOONEY: Well --
QUESTIONER: I'm speaking to George Clooney.
CLOONEY: All I can say is, you know -- Don and I were talking about this earlier -- you know they -- the one thing growing up with the FCC was -- initially the theory was you're going to get six hours to make money off of entertainment and owe the -- you owe the citizenry information and that was the deal, and you lost money. My father's news lost money for 30 years, and he grew a strength to lose the least amount of money, but you were always a lost leader. And somewhere along the way in the last 20 years or so there has been some move because of there's a belief that you can actually make money in news, which has actually caused some difficulties at times.
MR. JOHNSON (?): They have to do another piece.
CLOONEY: (Laughs.) Exactly. It's a difficult thing to do, and it's a hard fight. Because how do you keep news alive? Les -- I talked to Les Moonves just this afternoon who said -- who was my first boss and a great friend, and he said, you know, I'm getting beat up out here. And I said, I know, and I said, you know, I understand your problem. Your problem is how do I keep the news on the air if no one's going to watch it. On the other hand --
MR. GREENFIELD (?): He probably should not have mentioned the Russian news broadcasts --
CLOONEY: He shouldn't have said naked news. Yeah.
MR. GREENFIELD (?): -- (off mike). That may have been part of his problem.
CLOONEY: But it's a complicated issue. Again, it's not for me to preach or talk about. It's for me to sort of bring up as a debate and ask more than anything.
GREENFIELD: On this side, if we may?
You get to pick. I don't want the responsibility.
QUESTIONER: Thanks so much. A question for George Clooney. I'm wondering if at a time when Americans seem to have so few heroes, does it bother you that most of their heroes seem to be actors?
CLOONEY: I don't think they are. I think that we've been fairly marginalized lately. Don't you think? I don't think actors are often heroes anymore. I think that myth has gone away a lot. You know, I frankly find interesting heroes in the news a lot. You know, you'll find a little girl who sold her tooth to raise money for Katrina, and you think, "Wow, that's -- I wish I was that inventive at six years old."
I don't -- I think the news media has actually been able to find interesting heroes along the way. I don't think actors -- you know, we get pretty beat up in the press every once and a while. So -- I'm not complaining. I'm just saying it happens. So I don't think people really think of actors as heroes anymore. But yes, it would be sad if it's just actors, although we had one that was president, you know. (Laughter.) And a governor.
GREENFIELD: You have a governor.
CLOONEY: And a senator.
GREENFIELD: You might have another governor?
CLOONEY: Yeah. I mean, we got actors. Actors are big, man. (Laughter.) We're doing very well out here.
GREENFIELD: They rule. Let's come down front a little to spread this. We'll have geographic diversity. Hang on. If you pass it to gentleman in the middle --
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Matt Schaffer (sp) from Seattle. I love the movie. It's fantastic -- the conflict between the corporate bosses and the newsman struggling for independence -- marvelous. And by the way, I have a book I want to give George and Grant afterwards, if I may.
CLOONEY: We'll make a movie out of it. (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: People will do anything around here.
QUESTIONER: My question is, since we live in the age of spin, what is the significance of your timing on bringing out the film right now -- if there's some significance?
HESLOV: I mean, the reason we brought this one out now is because this is the time that you bring these kind of films. This is the only time in the marketplace for where a small film like this can actually get an audience. But the timing in terms of in the bigger picture, you know, the timing was -- just happened to work out for us, that the country is in the place that it's in. We didn't plan that.
CLOONEY: We were -- look, you read those speeches again, and you hear those speeches, you go, "God, it's nice to hear those words." He is one of the great writers of all time, and he -- and they hold up because they're constitutional issues. They're not -- they're nothing but constitutional issues, so they always work. You don't get tired of them. I thought it was a good time to hear those again. We had no idea where the -- you know, it takes a couple years to get a film made, so you had no idea where the world was at that point.
HESLOV: Can we --
CLOONEY: I was --
HESLOV: We didn't know who was going to be president.
CLOONEY: Yeah, we didn't know who was going to be president. We don't know anything. The biggest concern I had -- and part of the thing that rushed us or got us moving was that there was this revision of history going on about -- not that -- just that McCarthy was right, but that Murrow was wrong. And I thought it was important to talk about the fact that Murrow -- Don, you'll agree -- was not wrong in those -- in the sense that he never defended someone as not being a communist. He only defended their right to face their accuser, and I thought that that was an important thing to talk about.
GREENFIELD: It's also nice to see a journalist as hero because they used to be in the old days. You know --
CLOONEY: They were.
GREENFIELD: Give me rewrite, I'm going to blow the lid off the milk trucks. And then we had "Absence of Malice," and we had -- in Mary Tyler Moore we had Ted Baxter, I mean, who was generally defended -- (laughter) --
CLOONEY: (You know, it was a real slide ?).
GREENFIELD: This is good. On this side, please. Who's got the mike? Yeah.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Pat Rosenfield (sp), Carnegie Corporation. This is a question for Haynes Johnson. The facts of life are that we are in another age of anxiety, and Jeff referred to that. I'm wondering how this film might be taken on by the conservative elements. I know there have been articles about this, but we're deeply concerned about anti-immigration reactions, fear about Muslim populations in this -- American Muslims. I just wondering how you --
MR. : (Inaudible) -- Muslims.
QUESTIONER: -- the Muslim population -- might take on this film and say, "Oh my God. There is a fear out -- something to be feared out there, and maybe we need to have more investigations." I'm thinking of the reaction to the 9/11 commission, for instance.
GREENFIELD: What are you thinking?
JOHNSON: What is there -- I mean, I had -- the first review I had on the book, it just come out, was someone -- wrote defending Joe McCarthy, one of these people. He said I have written the worst -- me -- the worst book of the decade, and I thought, that's quite proud, you know. (Laughter.) I could put that on the wall because it was revisionism, it's making all these things and everything you're talking about, and that's part of what we're in -- the climate. And we don't talk to each other. The divisions turn people against people -- attacks, attacks, attacks. We can't go on that way, and I hope the movie and maybe this book could -- we could think about what we should be doing --
CLOONEY: Well, I think --
JOHNSON: -- instead of just going on this hate.
CLOONEY: And what you've done with the book, I think, again, is -- if we boil this back down to constitutional issues, then I think there isn't really a conservative or liberal agenda. I think they're fairly easy to go: Well, we do agree on these issues. We sort of built the Constitution and the Bill of Rights around them. And then, from here let's try and find some common ground along the way.
JOHNSON: Could I add one thing? What McCarthy did so well, he was able to attack so many institutions of the country and therefore demonized them. The press is all liberal, conspiratorial, this educational, the Hollywood elite, the -- this and that, back and forth, and those things have been constant factor in our political campaign, as Jeff knows, covering all of them that you and I have together. And that just feeds on the kind of climate of anxiety and fear that we have now, and it doesn't help us with our real questions.
JOHNSON: And you want authentic people to speak up.
CLOONEY: Real answers.
GREENFIELD: If you can make your way up to the -- yes, can you put your hand up, stand up, speak up. That sounds like a Springsteen song.
QUESTIONER: Hi, C.J. Uhouse (sp). I had -- I don't know if I missed the point of the movie, but I was surprised by the ending because it seemed to show that although Murrow had clearly won that battle, because he lost the corporate sponsorship and Bill Paley's (sp) sponsorship, he was sidelined. And my question is, had McCarthy not been about to self-destruct, which was kind of brought up as well in this discussion, that McCarthy destroyed McCarthy, would Murrow have been successful, or would he have been silenced from the beginning? And can anyone in a campaign like that be successful, or do we just have to wait for the bad guys to self-destruct?
MR. GREENFIELD (?): Wow, that's a good question.
CLOONEY: That's actually very good.
MR. GREENFIELD (?): You want to tap dance a little? I can --
CLOONEY: Do you want me to tap dance or you want to take it?
CLOONEY: It's pissing me off, it's such a good question. (Laughter.) But it's a tough one, it's a tough question, because I don't -- you know, it also raises the question of do you take on all the bullies, and if you're taking them on, are you actually empowering them?
I have this great letter from Fred -- from Eisenhower to Fred Friendly that Ruth gave me, where Eisenhower said, "I never took him on." And he said, "I didn't do it because I thought I would empower him." And the truth is, I'm not quite sure that that's true.
GREENFIELD: Haynes, many in this audience know the story, but there are some people here of different generations. Tell them about Eisenhower coming into Wisconsin in the '52 campaign, briefly.
JOHNSON: Eisenhower went there with McCarthy; was riding high. He had attacked George Marshall, who Eisenhower revered and Eisenhower would not have been in command of the armies in Europe had it not been for Marshall -- and all these sort of things. And they wanted -- Eisenhower hated McCarthy, loathed him. His diaries are absolutely fascinating because he hated him. His brother, Milton, said, "Take him on, Ike!" He said, "I won't get down in the gutter with that guy." And so he stayed back and he said, "He will self-destruct." Well, he did self-destruct, but three years went by when McCarthyism reigned, which is a tragedy. And Eisenhower, all of his great instincts, didn't take him on.
There was a campaign -- a wonderful campaign swing into Wisconsin. There was a speech that Eisenhower's people had prepared. He was then going to take on Joe McCarthy in his own bailiwick and say, "This is guilt by association, we don't support it," with McCarthy at his side and a roaring audience, and so forth. There was a really wonderful paragraph in that speech. They got on the train, all the Republican apparat, and the Republican Wisconsin people said, "You can't do this. He might lose Wisconsin. We need Wisconsin -- 12 electoral votes. This is going to be a tough election." And so forth. And so they took it out. He didn't say a word.
And again, I think it's tragic, but he didn't say a word.
GREENFIELD: The point about that story is that power -- you know, taking power on frontally -- I mean, here you have a president of the United States -- I'm sorry, the Republican nominee for president -- let's be accurate -- who hated the guy, who had attacked not just the guy who made Eisenhower Eisenhower -- George Marshall, secretary of State, secretary of Defense, the Marshall Plan, maybe one of the great public servants ever -- but he just felt, "Ahhh -- I'll wait." You know. It's why in this country -- I'll shut myself up -- we don't have Cabinet members resigning on principle. It happens about every half century. William Jennings Bryan, Cy Vance. That's about it. It just ain't done.
JOHNSON: Could I add very quickly? Eisenhower -- actually, I was fascinated with these diaries. I don't know if you know this. I didn't know this. I thought I knew a lot about Ike. But he talked three or four times -- he was so furious with the right wing of the Republican Party he said, "I think I'm going to resign and form a new party in the middle of American life, of moderate people." And I wish he had. (Laughter.)
CLOONEY: It's also important to remember that it was the conservatives that took down McCarthy as well.
JOHNSON: That's right.
CLOONEY: It was the conservatives that eventually brought him down and --
JOHNSON: Who were then -- I don't -- because they were then losing after gaining --
JOHNSON: Well, it still is --
CLOONEY: I mean, the point is, it isn't necessarily a right or left issue, either. It was right.
GREENFIELD: Over here, please.
QUESTIONER: I'm (Hoyt West ?). It just seems to be a pattern that repeats itself with regard to those who take on power that their successes are picked up in those who come afterwards, whether it's Martin Luther King or Gandhi or others, or on the other side of the spectrum. And certainly the constitutional issues that you refer to bring home the poignancy of the movie -- and I did appreciate it very much, and thank you for it.
The question that I have out of this is, there are a lot of situations of fear going on right now. Are there plans in the works for the movie to be translated, for example, into Egyptian, Russian --
CLOONEY: I'm doing all the translation myself -- (laughter) -- which could be a problem.
GREENFIELD: You know, if I may tack on to that question. One of the things that I wondered about -- I mean, this movie, to some of us who actually remember --
GREENFIELD: -- seeing some of this stuff -- coming home from school, watching my mother ironing and screaming back at the television set --
GREENFIELD: -- sometimes it wasn't even on. (Laughter.) But if this same demographic of young people predominately go to movies, does this mean -- I mean, you talked about the percentage that had never heard of either of these guys -- how do you think -- what do you think, is this moving going to --
CLOONEY: Cross over? I don't know. We've been exceptionally lucky so far. You know, our numbers have been ridiculously big, and the reviews have been a little too kind, I think, at times. Sometimes they give us a little too much credit. So you never know. We feel like we're sort of on a lucky train with this one along the way.
I think there's also reasons. It goes back to what you were talking about with fear. You know, we do this in the country every 30 or 40 years, which is we sort of lose our mind for about 30 seconds, for a couple of years. You know, we did it with -- you know, we get bombed in Pearl Harbor, we put a bunch of Japanese-Americans into the internment camps, and then we go, "Hey, you know, that's not really very sporting of us."
MR. : The book -- the Haynes account, it's a brief precursor of the raid -- of the Palmer raids in 1919 and 1920 when we arrested a few thousand people and deported them, basically, just took them out, just that's enough
CLOONEY: But we do that every once in a while. And the good thing, and the thing that's optimistic about this film, I think, in terms of today is that we do come to our senses eventually and we start to go, "Well, that's not" -- you know -- "maybe that's not our best move."
JOHNSON: So far, repression is always followed by reaction and reform.
GREENFIELD: We promised -- we promised George Clooney that he could be out of here at 9:00, and we're --
CLOONEY: What time is it, 9:00?
You guys are gone. I'm leaving right now. Is it really --
GREENFIELD: Would I lie to you about this, about that? Why would I do this?
CLOONEY: I don't know. You never know.
GREENFIELD: You've been in Hollywood too long.
CLOONEY: Yeah, we were going to talk about students right now.
GREENFIELD: I do think this, if you want to be optimistic about something, I mean, I was thinking about this because the Council on Foreign Relations has had me do panels on a series of movies that have been put on HBO. HBO is a company that makes a billion dollars a year, or some ridiculous amount. And every so often they do movies about really, you know, hot button, great, high concept issues, like sub-Saharan AIDS, radiological war, the Rwandan genocide. They don't have to do this, but they do it.
And I think the fact that George Clooney, who, you know, could probably make "Ocean's 13" and "Ocean's 14" --
CLOONEY: Next year.
GREENFIELD: -- next year -- with Grant, has taken on -- I can imagine the pitch meeting this would have worked at some major studio. We got this, a guy nobody ever heard of from 50 years ago, we're going to do it in black and white, nobody has sex --
GREENFIELD: -- and nobody shoots a gun --
MR. : (Off mike.)
GREENFIELD: Yeah. I think that that's -- you know, I think that's another sign of optimism that, you know, maybe this will lead to -- this is a movie that had to be made.
And last, but not least, for those of us in this audience that still read -- you look like a working majority -- (laughter) -- even if you think you know the history of McCarthyism, "The Age of Anxiety" is really one hell of a book.
So I want to thank these guys for being here, and than you for --
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