Category Archives: Edward R. Murrow

When the Politicians Complain That Television Turns Their Proceedings into a Circus, It Should Be Made Plain That the Circus Was Already There

Edward R. Murrow? David Horsey? Apocryphal?

murrow07Dear Quote Investigator: In March 2016 the political cartoonist and commentator David Horsey of the “Los Angeles Times” published a cartoon showing the prominent journalist Edward R. Murrow seated in front of a television screen that displayed a group of angry clowns. The quotation accompanying the illustration compared political gatherings to circuses. Was the ascription to Murrow accurate? When did Murrow deliver this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In October 1959 Granada Television sponsored a set of lectures in London’s Guildhall on the subject of communication in the modern world. Edward R. Murrow delivered a speech titled “Television and Politics” which included a passage that strongly matched the words in Horsey’s cartoon. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

The relationship between television and the politician should be at arm’s length; the eye of the camera should pursue the politician to the very limits of privacy and decency. When the politicians complain, as they have in several countries, that television turns their proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that television has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.

Murrow’s words were remembered, and in December 1959 “The Des Moines Register” of Des Moines, Iowa included the statement in a column titled “Worth Repeating” that contained fourteen other miscellaneous quotations. The passage was streamlined with the omission of the phrase “as they have in several countries”. Also, “television” was converted to “TV”: 3

EDWARD MURROW, CBS news commentator:

“When the politicians complain that TV turns their proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.”

The version in Horsey’s cartoon closely matched the shortened text given above. There was only one difference: the word “clear” was changed to “plain”.

Here are additional selected citations.

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Notes:

  1. 1959, Dons Or Crooners?: Three Lectures on the Subject of Communication in the Modern World, The British Association Granada Lectures, (Three lectures given in Guildhall London in October 1959 on the subject of communication in the modern world), Lecture Title: Television and Politics, Speaker: Edward R. Murrow, Start Page 47, Quote Page 75 and 76, Published by Granada TV, London. (Verified with text from the Digital Collections and Archives at Tufts University; also scans; thanks to Stephen Goranson and the Duke University Library System)
  2. 2013, A Documentary History of the United States by Richard D. Heffner with Alexander Heffner, (Expanded and Updated Edition), Chapter 28: Decade of Turmoil, (Guildhall Speech on “Television and Politics” by Edward R. Murrow, 1959), Unnumbered page, A Signet Book: Published by the Penguin Group, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1959 December 28, The Des Moines Register, Worth Repeating, Quote Page 20, Column 7, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)