Whiz Show

Good NightGood Luck, and Good Night, George Clooney’s grab-bag paean to the glory days of monochromatic news broadcasting, when men were men and they had the lung cancer and cardboard livers to prove it, is something more than it appears to be.

The critical reception has been good to excellent, and the general opinion is that Clooney does a terrific job of recreating that atmosphere, when CBS News represented a degree of dignity in news reporting that they brought back from WWII.

Clooney is sharp, and anyone who knows anything about Clooney’s politics will be quick to assume that the movie uses Joe McCarthy as a stand-in for an attack on reactionary bullies like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, wrapped in historical phyllo dough.

But if that were really the case, it doesn’t explain why McCarthy has such diminished power in the film, and there’s little in the movie that gives a sense of how very powerful he had been and how terrible the impact of his witch hunt. (Anyone interested should hunt down a copy of Emile de Antonio’s great documentary Point of Order.)

Clooney seems at times to be pulling punches, and as he does, it seems that in spite of the seriousness of the men in the newsroom and their sense of propriety and professionalism, they are more than a little timid and a bit self-important at the same time.

It doesn’t take long to see that under all that, the movie is a tentative critique of TV journalism in general, and of that moment in time when newsmen decided to flex a little editorial muscle, chasing the Commie-busters after they were already in retreat. They mistook bark for bite, and as such. this is not really a story of heroism.

In fact, what the picture really is, is a story of that moment when news people took a belated stand and became emboldened enough to feel they could invest the news with a degree of subjectivity they had not really allowed themselves prior to that point, when they realized that television news was a platform, a pulpit, and, most importantly, an entertainment medium.

It’s no wonder that Clooney intends to remake Chayefsky’s Network for live TV, which operates as a kind of sequel to Good Night and Good Luck. The Max (William Holden) character in the film is, for all intents and purposes, one of Murrow’s men in a late-middle-age crisis, his ethics outdated and illusory, especially as he chases the soulless whore-child of corporate TV (Faye Dunaway).

Finally, Clooney’s real theme in his film is the threat that Murrow refers to at the very beginning and end of the picture, when he addresses the gathered newsfolk at an awards ceremony. His less-than-uplifting speech is a prescient admonishment for the excesses he saw down the road they all were already traveling at that point.

In a sense, when Clooney covertly addresses the Fox thuggies, he isn't so much referring to them and their banal and transparent bullying as he is the men in those rooms, back in the day, smoking all those unfiltered cigarettes, and the unfortunate passing of some element of honor among journalists that came about in those few precious minutes. - Henry Cabot Beck

Henry Beck

Mr. Beck straddles the coasts, contributing features on movies, music, books, comics and other cultural objects to the New York Daily News and many other publications.

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