Obituary: Edward Morgan
Friday 26 February 1993
EDWARD MORGAN was a brave and compassionate American radio and television commmentator whose only child had a miraculous escape from death when two liners collided off the American coast in 1956.
Ed Morgan began his news career in print journalism. He was in Mexico in 1940 when he scooped other reporters on the assassination of the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. He reported from London during the Blitz, and was with the American 5th Army when it entered Rome in 1944. After the war he settled in Washington DC, where he covered a range of assignments, including the White House, for the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Morgan transferred to the American Broadcasting Co in 1985 and for 12 years his powerful commentaries were, in the words of the Washington Post, 'among the most precious nuggets of the 'Golden Age of Radio' '.
Both ABC and his sponsor, the massive trade-union combine formed by the merger of the American Federation of Labor with the Congress of Industrial Organisations, gave Morgan much more latitude than was normal under the system of broadcasting in the United States. He was permitted to criticise such close-to-home matters as the shortcomings of broadcasting and the corruption of some trade unions. In 1956 he won the Peabody award, the US's highest radio accolade, with a citation for his skill and brilliance, and for the public acceptance that his programme had gained.
That same year Morgan broadcast an impassioned and intimate account of a collision off the Massachusetts coast of two luxury liners, the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm. What he did not reveal that evening was that his only child Linda, then 14, had been aboard the Andrea Doria and was believed to have been killed. He had difficulty in controlling his emotion as he spoke of 'the numbness, the wait, the confusion and the conflicting reports'.
Linda was discovered alive the next day having been somehow catapulted on to the deck of the Stockholm when its bow crashed into her cabin. Morgan's broadcast the next day said: 'Within the space of 24 hours, this reporter has been pushed down the elevator shaft to the sub-basement of despair and raised again to the heights of incredible joy.'
In 1967 Fred Friendly, then the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Columbia University, persuaded the Ford Foundation to subsidise the Public Broadcasting Laboratory, a massive experiment in programming which later evolved into the Public Broadcasting Service, the US's non-commercial network. ABC granted Morgan a year's leave of absence to act as its chief correspondent.
In his last radio commentary before joining PBL he castigated the American media in general, saying:
There is enough wrong in this republic to merit a full exposure daily, if not every hour on the hour. But newspapers run contests to lure readers or keep the ones they have. Broadcasting is driving thoughtful citizens away in droves by fertilising the wastelands of the airwaves with the manure of utter mediocrity. The situation is so bad the commercials, even in their saturation, are often better than the programmes they support.
Ed Morgan spoke and wrote bravely about various contentious issues. One was the relationship between the reporters and American officialdom at Saigon during the Vietnam war, which he described as 'one of the most rancid I have seen in 30 years of reporting'. Another was the free-wheeling campaign of Senator Joseph McCarthy to seek out so-called subversives, which he and his fellow-broadcasters Eric Sevareid and Ed Murrow challenged, despite the cringing attitude of many of their sponsors and broadcasting chiefs. The standards of integrity he displayed before his retirement in 1975 are stlll remembered.
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