Edward Murrow Speech

On Oct. 15, 1958, Murrow gave a controversial speech that would live on in history for its candid nature, and for its success in dressing down the broadcast journalism industry. It is sometimes called the “wires and lights in a box speech.”

Murrow was asked to give the keynote address at the ‘58 Radio-Television News Directors Association convention. He reluctantly agreed, mounted the dais, and proceeded to breath fire, dismantling the industry as lacking in values, not standing up to corporate interests, and betraying the trust of the American people with their watered-down reporting.

Early in the speech, Murrow intoned, “If there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will find there recorded in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the world in which we live.”

He later said “I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers.”

The “wires and lights” line came near the end of the speech, when Murrow said, “[t]his instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”