Journalist Marvin Kalb leaned forward in his armchair and reminisced like he was chatting to a group of old friends. He casually spoke of a chain-smoking, sweaty and brilliant former boss, friend and media icon, as if he himself were not an icon.
Kalb and fellow former CBS journalist Robert Vitarelli spoke to 60 students after a screening of George Clooney’s 2005 film, “Good Night, and Good Luck” in Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday night. The film, nominated for six Academy Awards, traced CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s exposure of Senator Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist fear-mongering in the 1950s.
Kalb, who was recruited to work for CBS News by Murrow himself, told the audience, “Follow the philosophy of Murrow. Do great things for small people.”
The risks Murrow took to confront McCarthy contributed to his reputation as one of the premier journalists in American history, the speakers said.
“Who could do that today? There are a lot of great broadcasters, but no potential Murrows,” Kalb said.
“We were writing the book on broadcast journalism as we went along,” Vitarelli added.
The speakers offered advice to SMPA students and reflected on changes in the news industry since the time of Murrow.
“There is a crying need for better journalism in this country and around the world. There’s absolutely no difference to the central core principle of good journalism. You have the same responsibility that Ed Murrow did,” Kalb said.
School of Media and Public Affairs professor Michael Freedman’s Media History and Radio Journalism classes attended the event.
“The basic tenants of journalism don’t change from year to year or era to era. We need role models. A lot of people today still turn to Murrow as a role model because he established the standards of quality journalism,” Freedman said.
Out-of-classroom activities are worth the extra time commitment, junior Jehan Morsi said. “You get to talk to the people you’re supposed to be emulating. You’re constantly learning from people with experience.”
She added the movie wouldn’t have been as powerful without the discussion.
“I’d love to see more of this,” agreed sophomore Scott Backer.
The opportunity to host prominent speakers is one of the benefits of teaching in D.C. and at GW, said Dr. Kerric Harvey, an SMPA professor whose Film, Politics and Journalism class was also present.
“The way to complete the GW experience is to come outside of the classroom. It’s the responsibility of the students, and faculty as well,” Freedman said.
The lessons of the film are still relevant today, SMPA professors agreed.
“Murrow brought clarity and single-point focus to journalism, which is all the more important to remember because it’s all the more difficult to sustain,” Harvey said.
Throughout his career, Kalb has worked with CBS, NBC, National Public Radio, and Fox News. He also moderates The Kalb Report, now in its 16th season, which is produced in conjunction with GW’s Global Media Institute.
Vitarelli worked at CBS for nearly four decades and currently directs the Kalb Report. In 1997, he received the Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award.