• Golden Globe Awards

George Clooney, 2005: On the Importance of Journalism

George Clooney – nominated 13 times, recipient of three Golden Globes and the 2015 Cecil B. deMille Award- spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about the importance of journalism during an exclusive interview for the movie he co-wrote (with Grant Heslov) and directed Good Night, and Good Luck. Starring David Strathairn as 1950s broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, the films focused on the efforts to denounce Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Committee. Clooney also directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Leatherheads (2008), The Ides of March (2012), The Monument Men (2014), Suburbicon (2017), The Midnight Sky (2020), and The Tender Bar (2021).
Back in 2005, Clooney explained why he was intrigued by the public confrontation between Murrow and McCarthy: “I’d been interested in this subject matter for a long time, I’m a fan of that particular moment of bravery. And I found that suddenly there were several books and articles being written about how McCarthy was right and the good guy, while Murrow was wrong and a traitor to his country, like Ann Coulter’s book (Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, 2003). So, I started to worry about history, and I wanted to recalibrate it again, remind people that it wasn’t whether or not two of the people that McCarthy had named ended up being communists. That wasn’t ever the issue, the issue, of course, was using fear to erode our civil liberties.”
He said that this is the moral responsibility of the fourth estate in terms of news – the essential power that keeps governments in check: “Reporters must not be afraid of being called unpatriotic, and always remind the government not to panic and act out of fear, because power unchecked and unchallenged has always corrupted in the history of time. We did it with McCarthy, we burned witches at the stake because we were scared. I found it was good to bring up all of those parallels and remind ourselves that every thirty or forty years we get a little shook up and we do something dumb, then we fix it. That’s the beauty of our country, we’re really good at fixing those mistakes without there being a civil war. The freedom of the press is what actually brings down totalitarian governments, that’s what Thomas Jefferson talked about was needed for a free country.” 
Clooney was inspired by his father Nick Clooney’s approach to journalism, who worked in TV news for decades: “Interestingly, the first thought I had was that I wanted to treat the film like a journalist because my father was a journalist and continues to be a journalist, he has been an anchorman and newsman for thirty-five years. And when I talked to him about doing the film, he said, ‘make sure that you double or triple source everything. Treat it like a journalist.’ So, every scene in this movie happened. And I thought I would treat Joe McCarthy in the same way that Murrow did, which was to let him use his own words because he was a buffoon, so it was much fun to just put him up on the screen, rather than get Kevin Spacey put on thirty pounds and do the part perfectly.”
He was aware that for a long time changes in TV were turning news programs into entertainment: “Growing up as the son of a news director who also wrote his own news, his battle was always with the general manager of a local station, and he was trying not to let entertainment push news off the air. This was 1968, so it’s not something new, it’s a constant battle against not pepping up the news to make them more like MTV. In the last twenty years or so, slowly someone figured out that you could make money doing news, and that’s when it became dangerous. I find that there is a happy medium somewhere where entertainment and news can continually weave within one another, but there has to be a responsible voice at the end that says, ‘more important than that car chase might be these three stories that could actually inform you.’ And Murrow talked about that in 1958.”
This is why he employed longer takes and converted the film color stock to black and white: “I felt that in this MTV generation that we live in, where everyone’s afraid that no one has an attention span longer than three seconds, silence and stillness are actually to our benefit because the words and the actors were so good that you can put a camera on someone for five minutes and not move it.  And obviously, we did the film in black and white because we were going to use the real McCarthy footage, but from the very beginning, I felt that there was a simplicity to 1953 and 1954 that, if I tried to do anything more with it, I would get in the way of the words. Also, the reasons why people shy away from black and white are changing, it’s not thought of as quite as antiquated as it was five or six years ago.”
Clooney did not resort to preaching to deliver his political message: “I have friends of mine who make films that I politically align myself with, but I’ve always been of the inclination, especially in telling these stories, that polarizing people doesn’t do us any good. That means I only appeal to forty-eight percent of this country, and no one else opens their eyes and their ears. I find it dangerous to stand up on a soapbox, so the trick is to go into it saying, ‘these are debates, they are much more complicated than right or wrong.’  When Murrow says, ‘we must always remember to find a way to protect the rights of the individual and the state at the same time,’ that’s not easy. It’s the difficulty of a democracy.”
He drew inspiration from the political films of the 1960s and 70s: “I’m at a place in my life where I’m interested in the films of the sixties and seventies and the way they were political in nature, like All the President’s Men. They were born out of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the Vietnam antiwar movement, and out of all of those films came interesting conversations. So, I feel like it’s a good time to have the entertainment community step up and start asking some questions again, or at least opening a debate.”