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Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control. . . Paperback – March 9, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

"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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (March 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081293136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931365
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,566,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Roger Peter Marec on November 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
This occupational memoir traces Fred Friendly's sixteen years with Columbia Broadcasting System where he spearheaded the production of hundreds of public service programs and documentaries. With Ed Murrow he brought series like See It Now and CBS Reports to light.

He resigned in 1966, his last two years serving as president of the news division. He saw the direction of what he was steadfastly accomplishing regarding the organization's responsible handling of the news be summarily emasculated in just several days. The power to decide what was newsworthy was now relegated to a pawn (Schnieder) who was not versed in international events, but heavily influenced by pure profits and the advice of the new efficiency experts. A firm and cold decision by this pawn to air a fifth rerun of an I Love Lucy episode (followed by an eigth rerun of The Real McCoys) over the extremely pertinent testimony of Ambassador George Kennan in the Vietnam Hearings was more than Fred could bear. His principles wouldn't allow it. Every news executive pleaded at the time to air Kennan, but to no avail.

This book is beautifully written and very engaging. It includes Fred's letter of resignation. It is a masterpiece of literature.

This book, or Fred's life, could easily be made into a movie. It has all of the captivating elements of the best dramas. It might appropriately be called "The Big Switch" (which is how the New York Times described the control of the air time).

Fred Friendly is an American hero. He remained determined in his pursuit of journalistic excellence and is responsible for a six hundred round table discussion - 83 that appeared on PBS that featured moderators like Harvard Law School's Arthur Miller.
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