The screenplay by George Clooney and Grant Heslov describes characters in the early years of television broadcast journalism. Major characters include journalist and producer Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn), host of the CBS program See It Now; producer Fred Friendly (George Clooney), reporters Joseph Wershba (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Shirley Wershba (Patricia Clarkson) who are secretly married; reporter Don Hollenbeck (Ray Wise), driven to suicide over accusations that he is a communist; and CBS executive William Paley (Frank Langella). Senator Joseph McCarthy (seen in archival footage) is at the height of his anti-Communist crusade and accuses Morrow of being a member of the IWW. Footage is also shown of Annie Lee Moss, a Pentagon worker accused of being a communist. Morrow is presented as a champion of the potential of television journalism and argues for adherence to the highest standards.
The acting is naturalistic and the film uses cameras, lenses and techniques available in the 1950's to give the movie a period feel. It is shot in black and white and features long takes which often linger on a scene after the main action is concluded.