Fred Friendly's memoir Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control... (1967) remains important for its fundamental truths and warnings about the role of television in American society. Anyone who cares about journalism, about important national issues and the way the media addresses them, must read this book.
It has been said that Friendly and Edward R. Murrow invented television journalism; certainly their program See It Now set a standard for journalistic courage and principle that in many ways has rarely been equaled. After it was replaced by quiz shows that earned higher ratings, Friendly went on to produce other important news programming and, ultimately, became president of CBS News. He resigned in 1966 in protest when the network decided to run I Love Lucy reruns rather than Senate hearings on Vietnam, calling that decision "the most important act of my life."
The book closes with an impassioned plea for the creation of a commercial-free public television network that would be free from such pressures; Friendly was later involved in PBS public affairs programming. What he understood is that the use of the public airwaves is a privilege, not a right, and that it comes with serious responsibilities. As he wrote, "Each time that the FCC grants a radio or television license, those to whom it is awarded walk out with a medallion symbolizing service to all the people their station can reach ... commercial television has the resources and professional talent to do all the things that television should be doing, but because of its stockholders, it does not feel that it can often afford to appeal to excellence." The issues that concerned him are still crucial to television journalism today.
(The 1999 paperback edition includes a new foreword from Dan Rather, who worked for Friendly at CBS, and Tom Bettag, the executive producer of Nightline and a student of Friendly's at Columbia University.) --Linda Killian
"A big, open-hearted, exceptionally readable book . . . a compelling analysis."--The New York Times
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"To follow Fred Friendly into battle is to enter the fray with one of the pioneering giants of broadcast journalism--a man who believed television news can and should be great and who fought for that vision with passion and courage. This book is as vital and important today as when it was written, if not more so."--Andrew Heyward, president, CBS News
"The passionate voice of Fred Friendly speaks through these pages for the best of television journalism."--Joan Konner, publisher, Columbia Journalism Review
"This robust and humane memoir should be mandatory reading for anyone trying to understand contemporary broadcast journalism."--Tom Goldstein, dean, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism