Edward R. Murrow Fires William L. Shirer

The relationship between Murrow and Shirer ended in 1947 in one of the great confrontations of American broadcast journalism, when Shirer was fired by CBS. He said he resigned in the heat of an interview at the time, but was actually terminated.

The dispute began when J.B. Williams, maker of shaving soap, withdrew its sponsorship of Shirer's Sunday news show. CBS, of which Murrow was then vice president for public affairs, decided to "move in a new direction", hired a new host, and let Shirer go. There are different versions of these events; Shirer's was not made public until 1990.

Shirer contended that the root of his troubles was the network and sponsor not standing by him because of his comments critical of the Truman Doctrine, as well as other comments that were considered outside of the mainstream. Shirer and his supporters felt he was being muzzled because of his views. Meanwhile, Murrow, and even some of Murrow's Boys, felt that Shirer was coasting on his high reputation and not working hard enough to bolster his analyses with his own research. Murrow and Shirer never regained their close friendship.

In her preface to This is Berlin, a compilation of Shirer's Berlin broadcasts published after his death, Shirer's daughter Inga describes how Murrow, suffering from lung cancer that he knew could be terminal, tried to heal the breach with Shirer before his death by inviting the Shirers to his farm in 1964. During this visit, Murrow tried to discuss the breach so as to heal it. Though the two men chatted in a superficially pleasant manner, Shirer stubbornly steered the conversation away from the contentious issues between the two men, and the men never had another opportunity to air their grievances before Murrow died in 1965. Shirer's daughter also writes that, shortly before her father's own death in 1993, he rebuffed her attempts to learn the source of the breach that opened between the two journalists 45 years earlier.

Some strong clues are possibly given in The Nightmare Years (1984), the second volume in Shirer's three-volume memoir, Twentieth Century Journey. In a number of places, Shirer describes the birth and growth of an exceptionally warm and intimate relationship with Murrow in the 1930s. Although his personal reminiscences are wound together with his version of their professional relationship, he emphasizes that he and Murrow were very close friends, as well as colleagues. He does not mention their break at all in this volume. A number of very touching recollections are included. Thus it is somewhat easy to understand that their eventual break in 1947, which was based strictly upon business disagreements, was made especially bitter by the close personal relationship they once had.