David Strathairn

The star of Good Night, and Good Luck.

Play a saint, in journalistic terms, and you're almost certain to get good reviews from worshipful journalists. But David Strathairn's excellent performance in Good Night, and Good Luck (see review) goes deeper. As he explained during his recent Seattle visit, the role became a history project for him, a way to study both a man (Edward R. Murrow) and his times. "I read the biographies," he says, "and listened to the speeches . . . and watched the kinescopes of See It Now and Person to Person. I'm even more intrigued by him [now] . . . after living in a fabrication of that world. He just keeps ascending in my respect and admiration. There could never be an Edward R. Murrow today. One man is never allowed to have that much access and power to the public—unless he's the president." Of Murrow and his CBS boss, William Paley, Strathairn continues, "There were just two men who made the decisions. There were just three networks back then. [Murrow] was talking to 40 to 60 million people in one fell swoop. They were the first men on the moon of this new tool, the use of television. And they realized that. "There was time then. You were allowed to think and analyze and sift. It wasn't so hell-bent to get someone's attention for the sake of getting numbers for the sake of keeping your sponsors for the sake of getting funded. It was a little purer. And I think because it was purer, I think it was clearer and more inclusive and trusted." So is Strathairn the kind of viewer who throws up his hands in disgust at today's TV news? "Yes, sometimes I am! What's going on with the FEMA situation, with Brownie. I think Murrow would look at [TV news] today and say, 'You're only listening to someone who's going to tell you what you want to hear. And they're only telling you what they want you to know, so you can perpetuate what they believe in.' It's all these tribal factions of everybody preaching to their own little choir. So nobody's getting educated; they're just getting propagandized in a way. It's divisive as opposed to forensic." Happily for Strathairn, however, Good Night was made according to old-school journalistic ethics: "George [Clooney] said, 'We gotta make this movie—he was advised by his [newsman] father and by his own instincts—we gotta make this movie like a journalist would make it. We gotta double-source everything. Because they're gonna come at us.' And everything in the film happened. To actually turn this huge juggernaut that was McCarthy and McCarthyism— and the fear and confusion—to be the one man who actually turned that around, was extraordinary." bmiller@seattleweekly.com

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