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doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000293997.69257.21
Turrisi Takes on the Movies

Starring David Straithairn, George Clooney, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Ray Wise, and Jeff Daniels, with cameos by Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn. Written and Directed by George Clooney (cowritten with Grant Heslov); Rated PG, 93 minutes.

Many might ask what relevancy drudging up McCarthyism might have for a modern age. Communism is dead, and the witch hunt for those duped idealists who squandered their youth at party meetings during the Depression really has nothing to say to us today as both couples work and have no leisure time. Oh, really.

Roger Ebert described this movie as depicting “professional newsmen surgically removing a cancer from the body politic.” We too have important issues regarding journalism today as well as cancers on the body politic.

The movie is superb at recalling Edward R. Murrow, the tough, hardened World War II blitz reporter embattled at exposing what he knew to be “bully tactics” and abuse of power.

David Straithairn, who plays him, is rarely seen without a smoldering cigarette (and it was lung cancer that took Murrow's life as swiftly as Peter Jennings'), and the clipped, almost spit, dialog captures Murrow's cadence perfectly, although his voice timber is wrong.

George Clooney does triple duty as Fred Friendly, Murrow's producer and ally, as well as cowriting and directing this retro biopic shot in black and white to lure us back into an era without color on the tube—but the characters on the tube were stiffly more colorful.

Ebert waxes profoundly about McCarthy as a man who “would destroy freedoms for the express purpose of defending them.” Well, we may not have Communism as a viable threat, but we do have terrorism. As a nation we remain so thunderstruck by the events of September 11, 2001, that many have expressed a willingness to forego those inalienable rights.

“If you do not have something to hide, why are you worried” about an unauthorized telephone tap without a court order, or about Jose Padilla's incarceration in excess of three years without being charged with crime and without a Writ of Habeus Corpus? is the thinking. After all, these are only protected rights defined under the Bill of Rights.

But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, according to Thomas Jefferson, and we cannot let down our guard against overreaching government. These folks may not look like us, but which of us and how many will need to disappear before it becomes an issue?

Once the press muzzles itself, or fears being muzzled and timidly rejects edgy stories, there goes the last chance for relevance against dictatorial authority. Murrow braved McCarthy, but also bit the hand that fed him (the sponsors of his show) and his bosses (Paley and CBS).

Today we all “reveal” conflicts of interest and accept trips from Jack Abramoff or pharmaceutical companies.

As shown in the movie, McCarthy himself was bombastic and arrogant in his disregard and surety with thin and trumped—up evidence. Using actual footage of the hearings prevents charges that the filmmakers are exaggerating his bullying tactics.

Ann Coulter and William F. Buckley may ardently defend McCarthy's cause and intention, but McCarthy represents one of the worst excesses of the republic. Lurking in the background during these hearings are glimpses of the smarmy Roy Cohn, the committee counsel, who used undue influence to prevent his male friend from being posted overseas. That Cohn was a closeted homosexual is no longer whispered, but legendary, a malevolence also portrayed in Angels in America. His death from AIDS was shielded by the cloak of propriety that he died of liver cancer.

The relationship between Murrow and William Paley, deftly played by Frank Langella, underscores the issue of a network as a business in conflict with a news agency seeking the truth. The conflict and tension between the former allies, now boss and underling, play well without melodrama.

The Wersheba marriage provides some comic relief as their not—so—hidden deception is played out—there was a quaint policy at CBS in the 1950s that people married to each other could not work for the company. The couple are insouciantly played by Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson.

This is a well—done and entertaining, if not nostalgic, movie, that merits comparison with the problems in our own times. Go see it.

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AACR Expresses Concern about Proposal to Cut Cancer Research Funding

The US House of Representatives is proposing to cut many domestic programs, including cancer research funding, by $100 million. If the cuts are approved, this would be the first Congress in more than a decade to reduce funding to NIH, according to information from the American Association for Cancer Research, which notes that the amount of money allocated to NIH for 2006 by the House does not even cover the cost of inflation.

The Senate has approved a $1 billion increase for NIH, providing funds for critical cancer research that will help ensure progress toward the NCI Director's goal to end suffering and death from cancer by 2015.

“The House can demonstrate its commitment to this fight by agreeing to the Senate's plan to ensure that cancer research continues its tradition of progress,” said AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD.

In October, 92 senators and 275 representatives signed a letter of support of NCI's aim, and adequate funding is required to reach the 2015 goal. Dr. Foti is asking oncologists to contact their representatives to explain that continuing strong funding for NIH is critically important and to urge them to oppose cuts to cancer research funding and support the Senate's increase in funding for medical research.

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American College of Surgeons Bombards Congress with Pleas to Avoid Physician Payment Cuts

As a result of a campaign of letters, phone calls, and e—mails from members of the American College of Surgeons, the House of Representatives passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 by 212 to 206. Two days later, the Senate passed a similar bill by 51 to 50.

Both bills include provisions that will stop the Medicare physician payment cut that had been scheduled for January 1, and will maintain 2005 levels of physician payments for this year. After much discussion about linking Medicare payment to quality measures and outcomes, a value—based purchasing (pay—for—performance) program, which had been a concern to the College, was removed.

However, the two bills contained differences, and Congress adjourned at the end of 2005 without reconciling them. As a result, a 4.4% Medicare payment cut took place on January 1.

Thomas R. Russell, MD, the College's Executive Director, said in a statement that it is important to note that the bills covered a wide range of issues, and that the failure to pass them was unrelated to physician issues.

“And, while the physician payment freeze in both bills falls far short of what is needed to ensure the financial viability of surgical practices, it represents an interim step toward enactment of meaningful payment reforms that are vital to ensuring that surgeons remain available to provide complex and critically needed services to our nation's elderly and disabled citizens,” he said.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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