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Lights go up at the Murrow Center

Until recently, the Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Policy has been one of the best-kept secrets at the Fletcher School. Founded in 1965, the center houses about 90 percent of the books, papers and effects of the legendary CBS newsman and serves as a bridge between journalists specializing in foreign affairs and scholarship and public policy research.

Casey Murrow, left, the son of Edward R. Murrow, and actor David Strathairn, who plays his father in the film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which was screened at Tufts a week before it opened nationally. © JON CHOMITZ

Dozens of distinguished journalists, diplomats and policymakers have spent time at the center, including David Halberstam, who, as a writer-in-residence at Fletcher in the early ’70s, worked on his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Best and the Brightest.

Thanks to support from Dean Stephen Bosworth, the center is undergoing a renaissance. Recent speakers at the center have included Daniel Schorr, one of the last of the “Murrow’s boys” news team and now an NPR news analyst, Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” fame and Louis Boccardi, the former CEO of the Associated Press.

Nowhere was Fletcher’s commitment to the center more visible than on September 29, when the school staged an advance screening of the highly acclaimed George Clooney film about Murrow, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” The film, which stars David Strathairn as Murrow and Clooney as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly, centers on the very public clash between Joseph R. McCarthy and Edward R. Murrow in the early 1950s over the senator’s allegations that Communists were hiding in every nook and cranny in this country. As an added attraction, Strathairn and Casey Murrow, the real-life son of the newsman, participated in a Q&A session after the screening.

In the best showbiz tradition—just as the film faded to black—the lights dimmed on cue and then went up as Strathairn made a dramatic entrance down the aisle in Barnum Hall to thunderous applause. During the Q&A, Strathairn was asked about Murrow’s famous “wires-and-lights-in-a-box” speech, which closes the film. In the scene, Murrow receives an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association and uses the occasion to lecture the group about its responsibilities as broadcast journalists.

“It’s an amazing piece of writing, first of all, but [also] of insight and inspiration,” Strathairn said. “They thought he was just going to get a gold watch, and he gets up and reads them a manifesto for the past and the future and the present.”

Hollywood and the media have a responsibility to tackle important issues, Strathairn said. “Film and television [are] becoming our literature. That’s how people are learning about our history, for the most part, for better or for worse.”

Clooney directed the film and wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov. Clooney “didn’t intend to polarize or proselytize or preach…He wanted to raise issues. He wanted to teach, as did Murrow,” Strathairn said.

Asked to assess Strathairn’s performance as his late father, Casey Murrow spoke in superlatives: “David did an absolutely remarkable job. I’ve talked to several people who’ve seen the film who are much older than I am and knew my dad well. And they said there are points in there, there are moments, scenes where they think, ‘Oh, my God, it’s him!’ ”

Terry Ann Knopf does media relations for the Fletcher School. She can be reached at