Did anyone else find that Anderson Cooper shit kind of ridiculous? I mean, it was cool that some American reporters, however briefly, stopped being pussies after Hurricane Katrina. But even though Cooper bluntly pointed out dead bodies as he interviewed clueless Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, and even though Ted Koppel got slightly stern with ex-FEMA head Michael Brown, the hard-edged journalistic renaissance that Katrina inspired in the mainstream media was too little, too late.
By now, Edward R. Murrow has almost been forgotten as one of journalism's greatest. But when Murrow took a stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s—a move that mightily contributed to ending the senator's vicious Red Scare—he cemented himself as one of journalism's best and boldest.
George Clooney's excellent new film, Good Night, and Good Luck, follows Murrow as CBS airs his exposés on McCarthy's rampageous anti-communist crusade. As a director, Clooney continues to impress, especially after his under-appreciated Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; here, with help from charged performances and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, he utterly immerses the audience in the uncertain era of Murrow's exploits.
But what's so powerful about Good Night isn't how authentically it depicts an antiquated era in responsible reportage. As outdated as Murrow's TV programs feel, the film is disconcertingly relevant when one considers the gap between what Murrow worked to make news into (smart, objective, and daring) and what it has become (the prosaic, sound-bite-centric CNN and the simplistic sermons of Fox News and Air America). Good Night's complex screenplay (by Clooney and Grant Heslov) is nailed down by a subtle, strong portrayal of Murrow by David Strathairn, who brings more than believability to the role—he brings conviction.
Which, in Murrow's case, always came first and foremost. Likewise, the conviction of Good Night, and Good Luck feels gloriously, appropriately exciting—and sadly, inarguably rare. As great as it is to have a film with these qualities, one can't help but miss having passion, objectivity, and intelligence where it could really make a difference—in mainstream news. Anderson Cooper's a poor substitute.