Working for the Government

By 1961, the news industry changed so much, and it was so different that it was almost unrecognizable to Edward R. Murrow. This was the man who practically wrote the book on the news business in both radio and television. Now it wasn’t just about the news, it was about sponsors, money, executives, personalities, then the news. It seemed that there was no place for men like Murrow.

It was fortuitous timing that Murrow’s decision to leave network news coincided with a presidential election. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Murrow knew the Kennedy family beginning with Joseph Kennedy, Sr. in London before the war started and was not overly impressed. During the McCarthy era, Robert Kennedy worked for the Senator, and John Kennedy, said nothing furthering the impression.

After Kennedy was elected, he asked CBS president, Frank Stanton, to take over as director of the United States Information Agency (USIA). Stanton declined but suggested Murrow. Kennedy did offer the position to Murrow who accepted on the condition that he was included in all Cabinet meetings and all National Security Council (NSC) meetings.

The USIA was responsible for America’s image both at home and abroad. The agency was underfunded and suffered from lack of leadership. Murrow was just the man to take over. He was well-connected and knew how to organize. This job was remarkably similar to his first job at the National Student Federation of America. The USIA sponsored many projects from overseas research programs to producing movies and operating Voice of America and organizing exhibits to distributing science materials. During Kennedy’s administration, the agency even set policy and engaged in covert activities.

Though Murrow attended cabinet and NSC meetings, he was never part of the President’s inner circle. This was a hindrance when it came time to explain and promote new policies or policy changes, often without warning. For example, the agency had to struggle to explain the Bay of Pigs invasion or the troop reductions in Europe.

The agency was, however, an integral part of the plan to spread the United State’s influence. To support that plan, Murrow opened many posts in Africa and Latin America, increased radio broadcasts, translated and distributed books and more.

As part of Murrow’s policy, he believed it was crucial to make an effort to hire African-Americans into top spots in the agency and increase recruiting for entry-level positions at historically black colleges. He also hired the first woman into a senior-level position in a government agency.

While Murrow made many advances at the USIA, the physical toll was expensive. There were several times during his three years with the government that deputies had to take over, sometimes during pivotal incidents such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition, Murrow became increasingly disenchanted with working in the government.

In 1963, there were rumors that Murrow was ready to go back to news. ABC was a possibility as was CBS. However, in the autumn of 1963 he became seriously ill and eventually had a lung removed. He tried to go back to work after President Kennedy was assassinated, but it was not to be. In December 1963, Murrow tendered his resignation to President Lyndon Johnson though the resignation was not accepted. Johnson wanted administrative continuity. Finally, in January 1964, the President accepted his resignation.

In April 1965, Murrow died of brain cancer.