Based on a screenplay by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, Clooney does a great job of directing not only himself, but other fine actors portraying the pivotal puppets of the McCarthy era in America. The story evolves around the relationship between Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and Fred Friendly (George Clooney), hard drinking, chain smoking men in the CBS news room in New York City in the early 1950's. Their magazine-style news show is known as "See it Now." During this time, Bill Paley (Frank Langella), who controlled CBS with an iron hand in those days, was continuously sparring with Friendly and Murrow over their direct attacks against McCarthy. This type of journalism makes advertisers nervous, as shown by Alcoa's dropping of their sponsorship of the show. Not much has changed in today's television environment.
Clooney chose black and white over color as it obviously recreates the look and feel of the television news and documentaries of the 1950's. Friendly and Murrow plan their attack against Senator Joseph McCarthy in a stealth-like fashion. Their news team includes Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr) and Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson) who are secretly married as, in those days, married couples were not allowed to work together at CBS. Eventually, they are outed and one of them has to make the decision to leave the network. Other supporting cast members include Ray Wise as Don Hollenback and Jeff Daniels as Sig Mickelson.
The pace of the film moves quickly as the chemistry and professionalism between Murrow and Friendly is intense in their quest to expose the lies and insanity behind Joe McCarthy and his witch hunt for Communists in Americas. Even the employees at CBS were forced to sign a "loyalty oath" pledging their allegiance to CBS.
The props and re-created studio space are as authentic as possible. Clooney's father was a television presenter, so he had exposure as a child to older-looking newsrooms. They were considerably cramped compared to the modern high-tech newsroom of today's era. Also, they had a blue haze from all the smokers. Murrow always appears on the air in a bespoke Saville Row suit, left over from his radio days in London as a wartime correspondent.
The film is framed by Murrow's 1958 speech at an industry conference, reminding his esteemed colleagues that if we don't retain the integrity of journalism and the news, then television is nothing more than a box full of wires. Perhaps this speech should be aired for some of today's television news people? This film has garnered Clooney a Golden Globe award and others and is nominated for the Academy Award in the Best Screenplay and Best Director categories.