A Federal Case; 24
This is a federal case a weekly show that takes up an issue of government and takes a good look in Washington D.C. I'm an Zille producer for the national educational radio network. I think it was the New York Daily News which said about this report that should have been delighted with it. That was Robert Baker. The report he was referring to was something called mass media and violence. Robert Baker prepared it with the assistance of his staff for the Commission on the causes and prevention of violence. That commission was just disbanded. It was established in 1968 right after Robert Kennedy's assassination to find out why we have so much violence in this country and how we can stop it. People in the news business have not bought highly of Baker's report. You just heard what the New York Daily News that broadcasting magazine said this work was a piece of flotsam.
Howard K. Smith said it was a quote long fuzzy report that altogether is an amorphous mound of ignorance. David Brinkley noted that the report criticized the news media for not only reporting the conditions behind social protest. He said that's dead wrong. In fact Brinkley wondered if quote the commission's members had ever read a newspaper or looked at a news program. Well this week we're going to make a federal case out of this report and the man responsible for it. Robert Baker we're going to find out if he is dead wrong or maybe a little too right. You'll hear him commenting on those news men's reaction shortly. Now here he is telling how he got involved with the commission the commission I think created I was a special assistant to the deputy attorney general. And who was that Warren Christopher that was Ramsey Clark was it engineering. And the commission was
announced and I had a commission meeting coming up very soon a friend of mine was the first staff member there of General Counsel Jim Campbell who had also been in the Justice Department and they asked me if I would come over and help them get ready for this first meeting. Primarily that meant preparing an outline of the scope of the commission's investigation and I just finished most of what I've been working on recently and so I took it about a week or we can happily absent absence and went over there and then the problem came up of who would direct the media study. And part of the difficulty with that was it was that almost any lawyer you got out of a private firm if he didn't have the person on his firm would have had media clients which made for a conflict of interest. I've been either teaching in the Justice Department for the time since I got out of law school and I had also done several investigations against the networks
and was there. I suppose this is the architect of a case against international telephone telegraph and American Broadcasting Company. What was the IPT ABC merger proceeding which took place in 1967 so I was familiar with the industry. I had no conflict of interest problem. Next problem. While for the first I would say for five weeks. Week I think I really did not didn't do very much work on the media section. I have the other three or four people who were there and recruiting staff for the other task forces I traveled with like cattle around the country. Lloyd was executive director of the commission. Talking to sociologists and psychologists and lawyers and law enforcement people trying to get the names of people that we could recruit in various ways to work for us. And
after that one of the problems was finding a sociologist a working media task force as a co-director. I guess from that time until January this would have been August or January. Most of the time that I was there I was spent in basically administrative problems setting up the two sets of hearings and contracting to have content analysis done issuing subpoenas to the networks for information. We subpoenaed the film and entertainment programming for one week. During the fall of 1967. Content Analysis and. Interviewing people in this profession setting up a conference of some 50 journalists who came to Washington to discuss the concerns we had about the news media and to give us the benefit of their peers.
After the hearings are finally ever the second set in December then in January I start taking a long look around. It was January of 916 you're in right now and the place where we were in the greatest difficulty in terms of being close to it. The news media and so I will ask that one to myself. Robert Baker special interest then was in the news media part of broadcasting and its relation to violence. His co-director for the whole study was a sociologist Sandra Boll. Now he explains the relation of his book length report to the commission's occasional reports of its own. Please explain to me how what is the difference between a report such as the one you produced which was released by the commission without its approval or disapproval. And then those are points which are specifically title Commission reports I believe.
Well when the commission was set up it was decided that the first meeting that the staff papers and reports to the commission upon which they base their decision if they were a publishable quality they would be published by the commission. And if the commission declined to publish them that then they could be published privately by the staff members. In this way we sought to avoid. The problems which the kind of commission had of having many many very good papers which never saw the light of day except perhaps in the National Archives and saw the reports which were done by the task forces are published by the commission without their approval or disapproval. Then the Commission writes its own short report which has finally been published in their final volume and synthesis of these reports. And in that case the commission endorsers everything that's in there unless as in one report some commissioners dissent. So it was not and so therefore no report was
based upon for example your report on the media in the case of their final report on entertainment programming yes the commission effectively issued no final report on this. I love the New York Times quite accidentally. Stated the commission had not endorsed the recommendations of the task force. In fact they did in about one page on page any one of their final report. Baker didn't discuss entertainment programming with me because that wasn't his baby. The section of his report on entertainment concluded that violence wasn't being presented as much in the 1969 season as before. But there still was a lot of it and there were several disturbing aspects. For one thing violence on TV is not like it is in real life. Often it doesn't hurt to be shot on television or strangers do the shooting instead of intimates or good and bad guys tend equally to resort to violence. Now
Baker discusses some of what he found out about violence in TV news that went into his report. First I would say that we didn't find a lot of people are very concerned about the violence which is on and it's media the actual violence which is portrayed and as a practical matter I don't think that there's enough of it. At that. Almost no at this time. But there's another part of it or it is of the current which presents a serious problem. Except in some very peculiar kinds of instances we've secured information from the networks as to whether in their hard news programs and how many seconds were spent on each one and if you take a fairly broad view of what is violence it will find that the networks I think go 20 to 22 minutes and a half hour news show you find it somewhere around 8 or 9 percent of that program is devoted to what would be called violence.
And I just don't think it's a serious a serious problem is that you know is that your determination it was that it was there any other way of that proposal. Well look let me tell you how I came to that conclusion. There are basically two kinds of facts that we're concerned with about people watching violence and one are called active responses to watching. Now. This means some play does watching violence produce an emotional change in the individual which makes him more aggressive. The answer is yes it does but there are two or at least two important qualifications that one is the mere fact that a person is more aggressive doesn't mean they're going to be more violent. Football players are aggressive business men are aggressive lawyers in court can be very really aggressive. So it doesn't mean that a person is going to be
more violent. The second thing is tied to this is it really turns upon what it is what its own values are with regard to the use of violence how he wants to manifest his own aggression. The second thing is although we're fairly confident of the direction that is that it increases the aggressiveness of the individual. We don't know how much. There's no there's been no effective way to quantify it. And the methodology has been developed to quantify it. And we don't know whether it's killing a lot of other ways whether it lasts a long time or whether it wears off in rather short time. And this in addition to the fact that you're not sure that just the appearance of aggression means anything in terms of of the individual's going to be part of gun violence if the individual has or has a propensity to manifest as aggressive feelings and violent forms. And probably yes but but it's a very it's a very weak kind of thing. The second is what are called cognitive effects and this is what an audio visual portrayal teaches people
about the uses of violence. Here we go. We concentrated in the main upon entertainment programming but in the news media. Then there's presentations by and large simply do not. They just tell you that something happened. They really have some kind of context which entertainment programming has which communicates either indirectly or directly a certain standards or values about the use of violence. With some exceptions and these exceptions would be activities by for example government officials police and the illegitimate use of violence. For. Illegitimate use of their authority and I can say I am always amused that one of the strongest law and order candidates in the last election was
also one of the leading proponents of her position in the South during the attempt to integrate schools down there he was in favor of one order but I I think you probably in all candor should have said as long as integration is required so that when you see public officials. Standing up and saying things like well well and in 1960 6 who was president of the transit workers in New York tearing up a court injunction on television. A governor standing in the doorway of the school barring federal marshals in violation of the federal court order the chief law better law enforcement of the country saying justice is incidental to law and order. Are you saying that the presentation of these kind of things on TV is they may teach people to be to have less respect for the law and Cordingley in some circumstances to engage in unlawful behavior which may be
violent. But I don't think that you can not report these things. Indeed if you don't report them most of the research literature on the dissemination of rumor indicates that these stories will go around anyway. And as a practical matter they will probably be much more exaggerated. Than if they're recorded by you. Say it with there's exceptions and I don't think that television teaches people too much about when it's legitimate and when it's not material. I should say news program entertainment programs are a completely different story. But the news programs I don't think in that regard are a serious problem. If they're not such a serious problem why have news men felt so critical of this report. Well I guess I was surprised a little bit I like. I should've been that thin skinned reporters were.
What do you mean. Well there are a number of notable exceptions Ben bag dick in his national affairs at a Washington Post as one. Norman Isaacson. Editor executive editor legal Courier Journal is another. And there are a number of reporters here in Washington and in New York. Who don't fit this category. Many of them many of them correct even the mildest form of criticism and they respond quite quite by to bird of late. I don't think that there's anything in this report. At least I was very careful that even comes close to infringing on First Amendment rights of the. PRESS. But is it the father. I can't read other people's minds. Take away their errors. I can only suggest that that at the time they commented on it and you know some of the remarks they made they obviously had not read it.
In the case of the network news departments I think I made it quite clear in the report that I thought they were doing probably as good a job as they could do in the time that they have available which is about 22 minutes and evening and the primary recommendation there was that they expand the evening news program to an hour show and that they as a mixed hardness news magazine format which would give them an opportunity to put some stories which were in the public eye had been for a week or so in some sort of perspective instead of devoting 90 or a hundred and eighty seconds to it. There's certainly enough material for this. The news departments run about one foot of film for every twenty five feet that they have. Do you think that they're not backgrounding say the phrase used backgrounding you cannot backgrounding their stories enough so that they put them into a kind of perspective which makes it more intelligible to the American people is that what gets left out in 22
minutes. I think I think that's a big part of it. You hear on Monday night's newscast 90 seconds about the Arab-Israeli war and you know that some Egyptian planes flew over this issue as can Alan and so many Arabs were killed in a raid across this is us. And then the thing just sort of drops off in the next night there's another little blurb in the next night there's another little boy. I think that maybe if they had an hour once a week they could take five or six minutes and try to summarize what had happened what changes had occurred whether the level of activity was increasing or decreasing or what political problems inside Israel or Egypt were or Jordan or any of the other countries. In this way they could give us some perspective I don't think that these little blurbs about planes flew over Damascus today. I mean very much to people. There were a couple of other things about the news business that also bothered Baker the
first one and perhaps the most important is the extent to which their practices and values for reporting and the way in which they go about reporting things have not really changed very much in the last 70 years. There's been a very small almost insignificant amount of research on how one would most effectively communicate the truth as each individual reporter happens to see it to the public. There's been a tremendous amount of research on advertising on the use of audio visual presentation support for indoctrinating soldiers on voting behavior. In virtually all areas of communication except now the news men don't seem at all interested in having any
research done. They don't pay much if any attention to the research that has been done. Let me give you one example which which bothers me very much. In Chicago CBS on Wednesday night had an interview with with Mayor Daley and while they were interviewing Mayor Daley they were asking him how things were going on the streets of Chicago. And he was giving his point of view. At the same time CBS was intercutting between the interview with Mayor Daley and leaving the soundtrack of the interview on and showing scenes of the disorders in the streets of Chicago. Most newsmen that I've talked to saw that thought it was really great. And you asked them why they think it's really great. And they say because of the tremendous dramatic impact. But most of the research which I've seen indicates that the greater the dramatic impact the less likely it is that what you're trying to say is going to get through. And the more
likely it is that the people's individual prejudices are going to work what has been said to fit their own preconceptions. Now Baker talks about his most important recommendation the Center for Media study the Center for Media Studies. I think it's much more important to entertainment programming and it is to news programming. I think that if if the entertainment programming had not been a matter of concern to us that the center probably never would have been proposed as long as we were proposing it. We included news programming in the report you will find this proposal in the entertainment section. The press. Picked it up. And saw it only as a watchdog of the press. Well it's not really a watchdog. Really what it's designed to do is. Provide a centralized effort to. Give the American public information about the American news media number one number two to assist those news organizations which want to
establish a more responsive relationship with their public through community press councils through the establishment of local journalism media such as there are in Chicago to provide. A impetus and a kind of function as a catalyst to promote research on the effects of different kinds of news presentations which kind of seems to be interested the best by the public. These sorts of things in terms of a watchdog function that really applies much more to entertainment television and this is primarily because there's no way to evaluate a. Car and in quantity of violence on television without large studies find they have point out that it's its. Chief purpose is not to do the studies and but to collect the funds and to authorize and approve the studies to be done. It would have no sanctions of any kind it would have
no connection with the government. After the initial appointment of members why did you suggest that the initial appointment of members would be handled by the president. Because quite frankly we couldn't figure out any other way to do it. You can't have them appointed by the organizations involved. You can't go through a telephone book and pick them out. The proposal was made before Vice President Agnew's recent comments about the press. I suspect that this recommendation is less palatable now in view of what apparently is executive Department's attitude than it might have been if John Kennedy were president. In 1981 for example the president just announced a new communication department within the executive branch to be set up does that is that going to bear any relation to the ideas that you even you Mr.. What.
We recommended that such a department be established within or within the executive branch. Basic difference between our media center in this and what I and the office of telecommunications policy is it the media center. Among the provisions in the in the proposal is that no member of the board of directors of the advisory committees shall hold any government position of any kind. It is a private agency just the Ford Foundation if it wanted to could fund the whole thing by itself and set up a subsidiary to the Ford Foundation. And I take it there would be no First Amendment problems there. It's simply it's so function is to provide information to people about this and to provide a catalyst for research and assistance to those news organizations which would like to do what I would call improve their performance they may differ with me. This agency. Would be should be. Involved in long range
planning. Formulate government policy. Which would. Produce a structure in the communications industry 15 years from now which will provide the kind of diversity which the vice president and so many other people have complained does not exist. The technological. Know how is available now to provide 20 broad man communication channels and of them 20 television channels into the home. Who controls that system. How people get access to that system whether or not it's a direct system where you only have 20 choices or some of the channels are devoted to an information retrieval where you can dial in and and get what programs you want to what news you want or what commentators you want. It's vitally important if the First Amendment is to continue to be viable. In the society.
Robert Baker ended his conversation with me by talking a little more about the directions in which television news asked him. First he defines diversity and its importance. I think that there are really two measures of diversity one is by who gets access to the system. In other words who is alive. To put their view make their views available to the public. And too is the extent to which the individual viewer has choices and I think that I would try to program the thing so that there was a broadest possible access and the broadest possible choice. Precisely how this should be done I don't know but it's clear that if we just let these this new technology come about without any forethought no planning on the part of the government then it's going to develop in a matter manner which is very convenient to the private interests which may or may not coincide with the public
interest. How do you feel about the commission on the causes and prevention of violence. Looking back on it might it then I mean do you approve of such commissions to begin with and this one in particular do you think you performed a valuable service. I don't think there's any serious question that it did. For a variety of reasons. But if you look at it in the grand scheme of things at the time this commission was created there were plans on the Hill to hold hearings on the problem of crime in America and to some extent the scenario had already been written. And. The findings very likely were going to be the crime is caused by a very small group of malcontents and we need to do is deal with them very firmly which may be a euphemism a euphemism for knocking their heads in. And our problems will be solved. And I think that in part this commission headed off that
kind of theory. Number two I think that many of the commissioners learned a great deal. And you can have a bonafide liberal stand up and say a lot of things. And the people will just. Say well what did you expect from him. But when you have someone like Senator Russ. Congressman bogs Milton Eisenhower Leon Jaworski Dr. Manning are people who are generally regarded as being from members of the establishment. Stand up and say these things then people will tend to listen a little more and you educate the commission like that it's that's primarily its staff function you hold hearings. And once they say something like that then it works its way it begins to work its way in the public consciousness. Remember that Medicare was proposed by Harry
Truman when he was still president which means pre 1952 it was passed in 64 civil rights legislation was proposed by Vice President Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and there was no merely adequate civil rights legislation until a voter rights Registration Act. Came along in 65 I believe these things take time and democratic society like ours you must establish consensus before you can get major legislation through and where you establish consensus is by keeping the issue before the public. And what's the most important recommendation when you're in the media U.S. is for me and I want do you think that the person you like to say yes you'd like to see our name implemented and Carvin to I suppose to relay one would be the massive funding of public broadcasting. And the second with a kind of interest on the part of the news media and trying to find out using what limited
research and academic resources are available to determine how they might do a better job. That's a change of attitude on their part. It's not going to happen overnight but if people keep talking about it long enough eventually it may come to bay. This federal case speaks for itself. This is your correspondent. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
- A Federal Case
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