19 October 2007
1 hour, 40 minutes
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Jim Murphy was born in 1960 at Boulevard Hospital in Astoria, Queens. His father emigrated from County Mayo, Ireland to New York in 1948. He worked in construction before securing a job with the New York City Transit Authority, working as a bus driver in the Bronx. Murphy’s mother emigrated from County Galway, Ireland in the mid-1950s, working as a waitress at Schrafft’s Restaurant in Times Square when she first arrived. Murphy’s parents met at an Irish dance in the Rockaways, a popular seaside resort in Queens among Irish Americans, and were married in the 1950s.
Murphy grew up in Queens, New York with one older sister, Mary, and two younger sisters, Nora and Celia. He spent the first few years of his life in Woodside, Queens, before his family moved to Queens Village in 1964, where Murphy and his family belonged to Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic parish. The following year, the family moved to Floral Park, just three or four miles east of Queens Village. After finishing grammar school at Our Lady of Lourdes, Murphy tested into the rigorous all boys Jesuit institution, Regis High School, in Manhattan, where all students attend the school tuition free. Murphy became increasingly interested in current events during high school, often reading The New York Times and listening to news radio at home alongside his father.
During his senior year, Murphy applied for internships in order to escape the Regis classroom and work during his final trimester of school. After applying to a few internships, he began working at WPIX-TV New York (now the CW11). Soon Murphy began to realize his love for the newsroom, and upon high school graduation, he became a full-time employee at WPIX. Murphy chose to stay in New York and attend Queens College, where his sister Mary also went to school. Since Murphy worked full-time, it became increasingly difficult for him to manage classes and his job. At first, he lived at home with his family near Queens College and commuted to class. But after a few years, Murphy eventually dropped out of school and at age 19 moved out of his house and into his own apartment in Manhattan. Working under figures such as Dan Doherty at WPIX, Murphy learned how to write stories and produce news shows at an early age.
In 1981, Murphy moved to WABC-TV, the ABC owned station, where he spent close to five years. By the age of 21, he became the producer of the flagship Six O’Clock Eyewitness News with anchor Roger Grimsby. During this time, he met Adrienne Barr, also a producer at the station, and the two married in 1986. Just after his marriage, Murphy left to join WCBS (Channel 2) in New York, where he worked alongside his sister, Mary, a street crime reporter, until 1988. Itching to get out of the newsroom, Murphy asked the network for more field experience. While on assignment to report on a Chicago Bears and New York Giants football game, he met Gene Siskel on the plane to Chicago. When their flight was delayed, Murphy, Siskel, and his wife, who had also worked at Channel 2, spent hours talking. Soon after, Siskel offered Murphy the position of supervising producer and director of his nationally syndicated film criticism program Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. Murphy took the job in Chicago.
While working in Chicago for the next four and a half years, Murphy also helped to write and produce documentaries with Siskel and Ebert. He and his wife, Barr, attempted a “commuter marriage” for the first six to eight months of his new job, but soon Barr left New York City to join Murphy in Chicago. After missing the newsroom and New York City, Murphy decided to move back east with his wife. In 1993, on his last day of work in Chicago, Murphy learned that his wife was pregnant with their first child, even after doctors had told the couple they would never have children.
Back in New York, Murphy returned to broadcast news to work at CBS’s morning news program, This Morning. He first served as a segment producer of the broadcast. Within months he became the senior broadcast producer of This Morning, and then finally the executive producer. After two years, Murphy moved to the CBS program 48 Hours, working as deputy producer under the executive producer Susan Zarinsky. Two years later in 1999, he joined the CBS Evening News team, after Dan Rather asked Murphy to work for his program. By 2000, Murphy became the executive producer of the Evening News, the same year his daughter was born.
Under Murphy’s leadership, the CBS Evening News won several awards, including six Emmy Awards. Murphy, among other members of his team, was recognized with the Alfred I. DuPont Award in 2002 and 2003, as well as the RTNDA (The Association of Electronic Journalists) Edward R. Murrow Award for “Overall Excellence” in 2003. While working at CBS, Murphy experienced some of his most important career moments. His program reported on the September 11th World Trade Center attacks while Murphy served as executive producer. CBS also produced the first network news broadcasts from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Murphy even helped to secure an important interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which Sharon made an important policy change to break relations with former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Finally, Murphy and Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein just weeks before the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003.
After six years at CBS News, Murphy departed in November 2005, after Dan Rather resigned. In the summer of 2006, Murphy joined ABC’s Good Morning America team as the senior executive producer of this network morning show, working with executive producer Tom Cibrowski, and co-anchor Diane Sawyer. After choosing new team members for Good Morning America in 2006, Murphy continues to compete for morning news ratings, vying with NBC’s Today Show to gain the top spot.
Murphy currently lives in New York City with his wife and two children
Excerpt No. 1
Witnessing 9/11Disc 1, 43:33‒45:24
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
SO: What was it like? What was your…
JM: 9/11 was amazing. I mean, it’s…it’s all a blur.
LA: Plus you lived in the city, right?
JM: Yeah, It was such a…It’s so clear in my memory how that morning went. It was beautiful out. And I live on 91st Street just a block from the kid’s school. And I dropped my son off at Trinity(1). And I was supposed to have my check-up that morning. My doctor’s over on Fifth Avenue, and it was so gorgeous out. I’m walking. So I walked through the park. I was walking down Fifth, and I looked up when I was crossing over to her office. I was crossing Fifth Avenue, and I looked up and I saw the black smoke. You know, cause, uh, Fifth is sort of like a hill up there. So I’m really looking, you couldn’t see the World Trade Center, but I saw this thick line of black. And I said that’s weird, and I took out my cell phone and called the assignment desk at CBS, and it was exactly that time. I mean it must have been within a minute or two of the first plane hitting. It was like…
LA: 8:40 a.m. or whatever it was.
JM: Yeah, it was 8:46 a.m. when the plane hit. It must have been 8:49 a.m., or…when I was calling. And people were just screaming. I said, would you like calm the fuck down and tell me what’s going on. And then…a plane hit the World Trade Center, and I knew immediately what it was. I mean I’d been waiting for this. I mean, I had been telling people for years that Al Qaeda was coming, and, I knew exactly what it was even before I knew the second plane hit. And I just said, I’m coming right in. And I got off the phone and ran into my doctor’s office and told her what happened, and she said she was going downtown to help. And I got into a cab and then the cell phones weren’t even working by that point. I couldn’t get through to anyone. I got to work like ten minutes later. And it was blur for the next four days. We worked…you know, I mean I worked from like 7 or 8 a.m. until midnight, you know, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then they finally put programming back on the air Saturday, and we were on all the time for those four days. And it was just, um, brutal. I mean it was just brutal.
Excerpt No. 2
A day with Saddam HusseinDisc 1, 54:20‒57:16
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
JM: The most fascinating part was, after the interview with Saddam, he had us come into his office, and he moved all the couches and chairs into a circle, so it was very tribal Middle Eastern thing. And all these big guys in uniforms and Saddam and a couple of his cronies. And then he talked to us like a totally normal person for like an hour and a half, about politics and media and stuff.
LA: Through a translator? Really?
JM: Uh huh.
LA: How did you find him?
JM: Cause…In that. I could tell that he was a very smart man. But, I could also tell that everybody in there, the highest-ranking people in there, were scared to fucking death of him. Scared to death. And at one point, I remember, I just picked my leg up for a second, and I’m always supposed to remember you should never show the bottom of your shoe to anyone in the Middle East ‒ that’s an insult. And, umm, yeah, it’s…like a filthy insult. So I just like sorta crossed my legs, and like this sweating general, like you know, whacked my leg. You know, and he was obviously terrified of somebody doing that in Saddam’s presence. You know, we’re all like toadies around him, like even these big guys, like they were like moving the chairs around, they were like looking… It was just very interesting. Because they knew he was the kind of guy who just might…
JM: Yeah, or put a bullet in their head for kicks, I don’t know. But he was incredibly…um…well versed.
LA: Was he a big man? Like big…
JM: Yeah, I mean you could tell he was kind of imposing at one point. I mean, he was getting old. I mean, he was up in his late 60’s, I guess. And um, he had on, you know, elder person’s shoes. He had a really nice brand new suit on, a well-tailored shirt and suit and stuff…
LA: That’s interesting.
JM: …But he had on the shoes with the like sort of special soles [laughter]. He wasn’t wearing a pair of Italian loafers like Tariq Aziz was when we met him the day before. Umm, but all he wanted to talk about was the American political and media scene and how the Bush administration managed to convince the public that he was involved in 9/11 when everybody knew he wasn’t. And he was really interested in us telling him how that happened and our interpretation. You know, I don’t know if we had it right. Umm, and he…he was fascinated by it, not because, like, they screwed him. He was fascinated in understanding how you do that. Like, man they’re good. So wait, tell me again exactly, what did the local televisions…would say it a lot and the network shows didn’t say it…but those are on so much more that maybe people heard them. Like he was getting into the weeds of how the word gets spread in America, in the media, of certain things. And he was just really interested in that because that’s what he did for a living.
LA: Yeah, yeah.
SO: So you were just freely talking to him about this stuff?
JM: I didn’t say much. As a matter of fact, at one point during the conversation he asked Dan why he traveled with a mute.
Excerpt No. 3
Views on Irish identityDisc 2, 10:00‒13:14
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
SO: I guess going back to the idea of Irish, where it plays a role in your life. I mean, when your own parents were raising you, do you think like, you know, your Irish heritage…
JM: Oh yeah, it was important to them. Look, they didn’t know a lot about Irish history because they were not exceptionally well educated, or you know. I mean, I’ve read a lot about Irish history. I know who Brian Boru is, and I love to go by Queen Maeve’s grave, and you know, up on the way to Donegal and stuff. Um, all of that means something to me. What exactly, I don’t know. I’m proud to be Irish. I’m really proud to be a first generation Irish American and to see what parents were able to accomplish and what their kids were able to do. Umm, all of that matters to me. Uhh, I wish that Italian food had been Irish instead [laughter]. Because there was not a lot of good cookin’ there for most of my life.
LA: It wasn’t about the food.
JM: No it wasn’t. It wasn’t. Look, I just…the thing I like about Irish people that I think is unique is just a real ability to fraternize and socialize, and to be engaged with the world. You know, when Irish people go out there they do all kinds of things, not only in leadership roles, but I mean they’re everywhere. I mean, they’re in every industry and in every business, and in every form of political movement. And you know, they cover the gamut of every kind of philosophy, and I don’t know what it is, that…that sort of made them that way. Uhh, the love of letters that exists in my heart and mind is just…it’s huge. I…my family yells at me all the time for reading too much. I umm…
LA: It’s the engagement with words though too, and I think journalism, you know…you’re telling a story.
JM: It’s storytelling. And who knows how much of that is psychological. And how much of it…maybe because of evolving on that cold little island, like maybe part of it…is something that we’ve actually evolved into distinctively. You know, it’s like, I don’t know. I don’t know. But It does feel special. I’ve just never been…I’ve never been a big joiner. I dropped out of the Cub Scouts, you know, it’s like…So I didn’t join the Irish American clubs, and go to the Irish American nights. My sister did all that stuff. You know, you go to the bars in Woodside every Friday night for years.
LA: I don’t think you have to do that to have a sense of your own identity.
No. You don’t. I have a lot of Irish books, and I look at a lot Irish pictures, and I love that landscape. And I love the people there, and that’s the most important thing. I just think it’s a fairly unique group of people. And I could be crazy. Maybe you just think that…uh…no matter what you are. I’m sure every Italian American who’s done well is just as proud and thinks his homeland is just as special. Of course, Italy is damn special. [Laughter]. It’s a wonderful place. But, I don’t know…we seem a little bit different.
- Sarah O’Hare [SO]
- Linda Almeida [LA]
- Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida. Date: 19 October 2007
- Jim Murphy speaking to his team, including Robin Roberts, in white, Diane Sawyer, right and Tom Cibrowski. (Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Time)
- Jim Murphy, right, outside the Times Square studio of Good Morning America, with Sam Champion, the program’s weather anchor, and the co-hosts, Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer. (Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Times)
- Trinity School is a college preparatory, coed, independent day school for grades K–12 at 139 W. 91st Street in Manhattan.