The First Amendment; Sonya Hamlin
WGBH Boston in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic communications at the School of Communications with Boston University now presents the First Amendment and a free people. An examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s and now here is the director of the Institute for democratic communication. Dr. Bernard Rubin. My guest for this program is Sonya Hamlin the well-known television personality. Sonya has been for 14 years in television and is now the host and associate producer of the program Sunday open house which is on WCB Channel 5 in the greater Boston area. She's also well known in academic circles working as a adjunct assistant professor at Boston University in the School of Medicine and working right at the moment as a teacher of principles of communications. In regard to the trial advocacy workshop at Harvard Law School she's also
toward taught at Boston University in the school of public communication. She's a member of the governor's commission on the status of women she has been for the last five years and a consultant to the United States Department of State in its Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. Sonia I want to talk to you today about the status of women in the communications profession and having been in it for a number of years in communications. You have insights that few have. You've seen the growth of the profession you've seen firsthand and felt the frustrations. If I could ask you a very simple opening question. Well we know when it comes to women in the profession are they making great strides. Have they made recent strides. The silence comes from thinking because it's hard to filter it all out and say aha yes I know where to go with this. It has many answers
and one of them is simple quantity. Numbers of women that are on the air perhaps almost topped by the scapegoat of Barbara Walters becoming an anchor person in a most negative and backward way really not accepted by the people she was going to work with. She's being coached in very strange ways to fulfill the prophecy of nobody can take a woman seriously when she deals with hard news. And when one watches her choose very strange fish kind of cocktail clothing to do a workaday piece of work and to play under with a very soft voice so that she sounds as feminine a non-threatening as possible than it does fulfill the prophecy that a woman cannot then deal with hard issues and be taken as seriously as a man. One does see. For example in Boston some extraordinary strides Shelby's God has been an anchor woman for quite a while now. Lee Jacobson is an anchor woman on the nightly news and that's taken very
seriously and I think she does a remarkable job because she is herself and her own person and yet is totally credible as a foreign reporter. So locally we see it better I think than we do nationally. There is there are several curious intangibles but truths about television television's a visual. Men and women are chosen for television who look good men make the choices. Since management is male therefore what one continues to see is whatever the symbol of the current female look should be from time to time when Gloria Steinem was very important suddenly they looked at women with glasses they thought that will help a little because it'll be pretty though glassed right which is what they kept saying our glorious time Madge and smart feminist and yet marvelous streaky hair. They couldn't ever let go of this level of sexuality. OK. I cannot really fault it. We are a product of our environment and our society. The men who make such choices were born and brought up in a culture that taught them what women were meant to be and how to perceive them. It
is difficult for them to have to change their minds and they're still fighting every stereotype of themselves. They also are told go get em. It's necessary. Got to do it a certain number of those quote minorities are necessary. I was interested that you. Went first to the category of hard news and talked about Shelby Scott Mr. Jacobson and so on who are accepted in the local area of greater metropolitan Boston as being professionals and they know their job but nevertheless their job is to be super dooper at a lesser role. I think the anchor person on television is still not a hard news person. Maybe they do the anchor work very professionally but they're not basically diggin reporters they didn't have that wire service background that Walter Cronkite had before he became the anchor person that he now is. But you know one really has to analyze what that anchor person position is in terms of the station and the most important person on the station that is the flagship they are the people who are out on the prowl the
ship that has all the symbols since the news is the number one priority in any station that's where the most money is made and the anchor people are most visible they make the color and style that the entire news cast takes on. The fact that they read an awful lot of news and only some of the anchor people write their own material. For some it is written. Then would make you wonder you know where Has journalism gonna be late into the anchor person who gets the number one credibility who let's take let's take a local personality Gene pal who works on WBEZ TV channel 4. Gene is a professional person who can read news with the best of them. Seems a little inhibited sometimes when he just sits there reading. He's only happiest when he is out there digging out his stories taking the film crew out for women in particular if they're to achieve their the justice that they should have in the medium. Shouldn't some of these people who make it to the front row.
Change the nature of the job because they are in the forefront of women in communications shouldn't MS Jacobson say now look or miss God. Doing the first great job than any person one hundred other stations does. But I'm not making progress unless I can compete with men or or any other women. They do that they do their own stories they're out on the street. They write their own copy I know that for a fact because I know both of them quite well. They are very serious about what they do. They're easier just have the feeling that they don't get enough opportunities for you know when you're able to know anchor people do they're very busy trying to pull together that if you think about it think about how much of the time they are out on the street. That's everybody else's job. Those are the people who only have to do each of them their own story. They anchor people or they are putting together an entire show. You see it's interesting that we have to focus on that since television has defined the news as most important to them. Is it most important in the minds of the people who watch
well you see then there's the other aspect of the stars quote who make lots of money have a certain kind of power and charisma and charm very much I bet it. They are given the power that television has. There one sees women in very strange ways. For example what a host or hostess of a night time program do you know that is a woman. None. And if you notice what has happened to the heroes and heroines of the sitcoms over the last ten years I think it's fascinating. We have to go from the bumbling stupid father you know and who and the mother somehow or other sweeps it all under the rug and makes it all be very nice to an interesting place where we suddenly began to find female heroines. Mary Tyler Moore was not married and a professional woman and she's handling her problems. Rhoda Maud Phyllis suddenly there are not male heroes but great heroines who are really reflecting what's happening. They are
durable durable flexible bright and they are not necessarily playing on their sexuality they want to laugh about are they true. Another reason I thought they were you know Laura's program was a great boon. Yes and you know another interesting other representative of what of true people at the station. Yes I think they are representative people outside. That's what I care about. For people who sit and watch television we are creating a reality. On television we say this is the world. Don't wait for the world to evolve for you this is what's good. This is what you want. This is how you like to be. It's Hollywood. We've supplanted Hollywood. Now we make the heroes. If that is true what do women learn when they watch television what are their role models. I think the role model of Mary Tyler Moore wrote is just fine. They're real they're fallible they bumble and fumble they have a sense of humor about themselves they managed to survive. They love and hate and cry. But you mentioned the program on the on your list fillers which I would consider to be
among the world's most atrocious programs why. Because you know really to a male viewpoint She She downplays the role of woman today. You know something i women have got to be given as much opportunity to be as ridiculous as men have been. I spend weekends away from my husband and three sons for hours at a time because they all adore watching the endless football ness. Now I have to tell you how ridiculous I see that. That to me is ridiculous. I think that it isn't particularly healthy I think you know to be out there running yourself instead of watching somebody else beat up on somebody else that makes you feel good. I have much to contend with I think you're right on that but. But we gotta let it then we've got to let women also be that aspect of silly and funny good and clever bright and accomplishing you know whom I love. I love Archie Bunker's wife because if you think about it although it makes you always seem silly and she is extraordinarily loving and
unifying and always comes up on the right side of it well that's the same thing that was portrayed by how do you make Daniel who when you think about it had a certain stereotype role to play in many movies but when you look back upon it she was the dominant figure. Yes in a most of the scenes that she played right. And I think that's the point. Given the number of women on television now some of the outstanding names are from the national scene Barbara how or why or how or I don't believe that she represents anything deeply important in terms of women professionally on television. I don't think that there are enough women of the caliber of say of the late Margaret Higgins or will say a United Nations reporting of Pauline Frederick's. There are some very good women on the network doing spots on the network news. I think that's the most important thing that's happened recently. These gals that appear to me like catty back and like us and others US who appear with their two minutes. But it's a hard driven
story. You know women they're good reporters now way fascinating the words you use a hard driven story equals a good story and a hard driven story by a woman is a surprise. This is the essence of it. It's not a surprise to me. Doesn't have to be a hard driven story. And also if I were a lover What's the matter with Jack Perkins who always manages to find the most deeply human aspect of what he is talking about. That's a hard driven story to me because it drives home and it speaks of a level of sensitivity albeit a man. That's what makes him remarkable. But isn't it awful that we live in a society where it is remarkable that a man does a soft story and a woman only becomes credible when she's able to do a hard driving story. Although she is a woman you know the other aspect of it is that they give women soft stories to do. When I first came on the news channel for Shelley then I was handed every kind of quote soft story which meant the Ice Follies were in town.
Here is the circus there isn't a museum opening whatever it is fascinating culture music theatre whatever equals women. Men do not go to that. It wasn't seemly to give that to a man. And that was always designated the woman thing. And when I came in I came in as cultural reporter Shelby and I were divvying this up. It never occurred to them to send a man to Boston Symphony when they played on the esplanade how ridiculous that is. All part of the stereotype that we learned. I think my point though is aren't we reaching the age. Where it is not to Germany that you're watching a story on television presented by a woman for example when I watch Marilyn Berger on the network I am not very much concerned as I was 5 or 10 years ago that I was viewing a story told me by a woman I am very much interested in the story and could care less about about that person. Now the same thing is true
when one looks at the prototypes today of say Dorothy Thompson Dorothy Thompson was a certain kind of reporter and had to be that quote hard driving and unique to manage to emerge at all right as opposed to the millions who ended up still at the typewriters. That is not quite so anymore because the government has indeed forced the networks and the stations to really get involved in pushing women into what are supposed to be equal slots. But I would submit that they are not yet. The truth is that if you look at weekends that's where you see minority people doing the news. Women do the news at 12 o'clock. The excuse may very well be but women are home. I would wonder about that. There are a lot of retired people home now and there isn't anything that's marvelous about a woman listening to a woman particularly or a man should listen to a man. Men and women are home at 6 o'clock and still it has been an extraordinarily difficult thing across the country to make that happen. Look I have been a fan of yours for a long time and have watched you for many years
on the television the Boston area. I have still yet to see you in a format that is up to your intellect and I've always wondered about that. Even on the current program that you're doing now I somehow feel that you are doing things that. You're still waiting to be given the assignment that you can do superbly. Now is that because you're a woman. Because I've seen you do a number of programs on a number of stations and I've always said that as there goes a person I'm watching a person know who's a superb interviewer who empathizes with the guest a person who can bring the guest story whatever that is to millions of people. And yet I still don't see the format. I'm curious about that because I'm talking to one of the leaders now in the industry. I'm being very frank with you and I wonder whether there's any truth to this impression that I have a
very sensitive view. How shall I answer it. Well one part of me says how much of it do I want to answer. And another part of me says how do we use this medium. Is it useful for me to hide and then not help other people to really come to some better terms about what we are really saying. I want to ask questions of that like there. Yeah I would remind you yeah of people because this is the First Amendment in a free people. Yes yes. I hear of individuals who know the answer is No. You don't have to talk about yourself you can talk about women generically. But I'm curious because I would like to see the progress that you lay out where you set the format and you grapple with the kind of topics that you want. I'll tell you an interesting thing. You know I'm working on this program also as an associate producer. And I said to you that I left television for a while and came back and now see it somewhat differently.
I left still living all the frustrations of all the idealism of my entire life and the things that have made me choose everything that I've done which has always been that I've created a job that wasn't there before because I look to see what should be done and in what way can I then relate to it. And I really never looked at the other half of the agenda. I had only mine and then a sense that was very naive and immature because I always used to say that I could never be a politician I would die of frustration. I couldn't lay it in now so I wait five years and then eventually a compromise part of my bill could eventually pay possibly get passed. Television is a business. It is not a means of communication. That's a side product. It is first off a business in this country. That's how it was established. This is not the BBC which had another premise altogether and people turned that machine on expecting that they used to turn it off between five and seven so the children and families would
visit together. That's not business like. That was a concern for and their involvement with government at a certain level. Television here was given to business as we have done with almost everything free enterprise go do it everybody fight for it you know make it marvelous will be more technically wonderful than anybody and waited to see what we can do. Of course American television is over the whole world translated into a million languages because we did that in the process we have trained people we've trained them so well that when you now go to the movies in your heart you begin waiting for the commercials. That's how we have interrupted our concentration span. We are multimedia people now you got to have somebody talking singing graphics and something else. And meanwhile the phone is ringing and you can manage to take it all in. Kids now study and listen to the radio the television is going. That's what we have done with it. At the very bottom of the list is what are we doing to everybody. At the top of the list is this is my business. I am a profit making institution.
I have a finite inventory number of hours to sell. How do I make the most money by asking the most people to watch this. I therefore have to at the beginning start out pleasing the most hurting the least and then I will make my money which is the premise of all American business. We get all hung up because television also can be a force for good and is also in many ways a force for harm for us to call them to account and I was almost like boy you lost the horses 20 years ago where were you and therefore now that I come back to television again I must recognize that I can only be as good as. Causing people to listen long enough to perhaps put in some of the things that I care desperately about to take a new look at the current scene. Another look a different look perhaps because it's my luck different from someone whose Suppose I were to ask you given that as an appreciate your answer if I were to say so in your home when I come back in a
week and tell us what you would like to do. I'm getting forgetting the constraints we want you to do. Oh I can tell you now tell me no. I think the biggest problem that faces us now and roots was a perfect example of it is ruthlessness. The fact that our sense of values is gone we haven't supplanted it with anyone and everybody sort of out there casting about trying to make their own. We have thrown over the one we used to buy and that's OK. We haven't given ourselves very much equipment to make new ones. The family as with most of our existing institutions is falling apart. Nowhere are we using this extraordinary medium to teach anybody anything they really want to know about. We have taught ourselves enough about entertainment so that we can make people buy soup in 15 seconds or watch Roots for a week and glom onto it because we did use it still in the entertainment format. If that was a series of documentaries it wouldn't have happened. We only deal with public affairs in documentaries. We've
only recently begun to think it's even valuable enough and commercial enough that if we spend a lot of money and jazzed it up and made it a marvelously entertaining vehicle people would want to hear it. I would love to do a thing about letting everybody in on how tough it is to live in a family and techniques and tools for living for surviving for surviving loneliness death growing up growing old being discarded forced to retire the kinds of rootlessness that we create in this country remove families from one end of the country to the other because corporations say do it. We haven't given ourselves very many tools. And now we find people everywhere asking for them women asking for counseling How do I get into it. I don't even know where to begin. I don't think I'm qualified even causing people to see themselves in this way. Swing the pendulum to all the Eastern religions plus the best and the touchy feelie is a vessel and so on. What is everybody really saying. Good. Teach me when I love to become an instrument for that. I think one of the best ways that we learn is when we learn from each other.
So no I don't think so there's something basically wrong there and with the with the communication system not talking about any station or any particular network which has people that are ready as Mondale said of the Democratic convention he said we are some something I'm paraphrasing we are willing we are ready we are going to do it all we need to be is elected with many women in this country. In the communications industry the time for them to spread ahead is now. We shouldn't wait but we are. For some reason I have in the back of my thoughts that we are not spreading ahead that we are looking at women saying look there goes that person who is an anchor woman I think a person. There is a woman who is a good reporter on the network news. There's a woman who might have a show of some kind on radio or television. We're not looking at the potential of women. One really has to you know the other half of being a male chauvinist is being a female chauvinist and saying how women have cornered the market on feelings and sensitivity and the you know life.
And those are the ones that can do it. I think that men haven't been given the opportunity to practice or sit back and focus on it. More men are doing that now than ever before thanks to the women's movement I believe women who were given the chance. So we start out from a place where that has prime importance to us. We were not given the opportunity to move far enough to develop lots of the skills that's a more recent development you know it takes time to hone the skills of how to produce on television make films. What is a viable way to say it what are three different ways to say it. We talked before the show began about person to person and I think person to person is an extraordinary opportunity now. If we were to deal with people in this really old Edward R. Murrow program yes if we were to deal with people in this country who have achieved or perhaps listened to a different drummer and gone back up to Vermont and been delighted with their life who have changed in midstream the people who adopt seven children before they're five years old the people who go after the Peace Corps who decide who has who listen to inner voices
that seem to work for them. That level of listening to how famous people have dealt with failure and disappointment and that it's true and it's true for them that kind of truth. But it's not considered viable in prime time because you're up against the game shows Dara How can you do it fast enough people will fall asleep or they are fed up with the news and their lives. And at 7:30 you've got to go Wow. Happy Days of some sort or another blow your mind in forget it. I think it's just a combination of things that isn't only inside the industry it's what we have been taught to expect what our lives make us do what we needed 7:30 in the evening. It was extraordinary to make routes happen and routes also happen late at night. By the way it was like you're almost going through the whole decompression thing and the nonsense of the earlier wouldn't be tragic if roots become something like the Harvest Of Shame or any of the Edward R. Murrow documentaries or becomes a Sterling drama. People say Do you remember back in
1977 roots or something you want to reply. It was a good program and now it's 1981 and we have two more like it. That's the kind of program that should be in 15 minute formats half hour format radio programs. Right. See quality of life things sort of business of helping us to embellish to expand our horizons. If you didn't grow up in a house where people listen to music and play the fiddle and cooked and the father had three houses in the back or something. How do you learn it now and how do you make it now for your children so it becomes a new tradition. All of that is desperately wanted material. Look at the question and answer articles in the paper for heaven's sake. Listen to the talk shows are radio and what people are saying. Yet we haven't really found formats nor has television I think yet considered it commercial enough. To want to dig deeply into how do we go about doing that when you consider that some people estimate a generation in about 15 years. And if you go back
15 years 30 years 45 years at what the human race has gone through in the last few days actually if you just say it when we talk about a commercial system versus a noncommercial system we should not talk that way we should talk about a responsible system versus an irresponsible system. It shouldn't require to account. Well it just requires a snowstorm in Buffalo or in Ohio to force educational programming on the air in certain districts because there's no other way for people to get out that's potential the medium is there always. You know this is a very cynical kind of saying in television they say don't ask the audience what they want to see because they are now till they've seen it. Think about that deeply. It wasn't until a crisis that they suddenly discovered perhaps for a little while a new use for television because nobody thought sat around thinking in advance. You know what we ought to be doing. People go out we change in a hard way. And I'm watching the time and as far as women are concerned we can
really not rise too far above our society. The changes have to take place across the board not only inside of television. Television could be the vanguard could make enough role models could show us enough ways to use women who are 65 who can be credible although not gorgeous. And you know women in new roles as well as just sort of filtering them through the entire society or giving men some of the things that have been traditionally women oriented. I appreciate your comments Sonya Hamlin especially because you're such a leading personality who happens to be a woman in her hand this is Bernard Rubin saying goodnight. Whatever GBH radio in cooperation with the Institute for Democratic communications of the School of Communications at Boston University has presented the First Amendment and a free people and examination of civil liberties in the media. In the
- The First Amendment
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