Special of the week; Issue 34-70 "Is TV destroying American culture?"
NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from Yale University from its series called Yale reports. What happens when a TV host and three authors thrash out the question of television in American culture. We find out when Dick Cavett Luigia Barzani Cleveland Amory and Jack Newfield decide whether or not television is destroying American culture. The event was a meeting sponsored by the Yale Political Union Mr. Cabot as host of ABC TV's late night talk show and a graduate of Yale. Mr. Barzani is author of the Italians. Mr. Amory chief critic for TV Guide is noted for his sharp social criticism. Mr. Newfield is assistant editor of New York's Village Voice and author of Robert Kennedy a memoir. Mr. Cabot speaks first. A letter from rationing going to television. There are those who think it causes violence on the streets I have never subscribed to this but this is I've actually heard him say this in so many words. If it did it seems to me that it would consequently also
cause comedy on the streets which I have never noticed. Any issues and never close down the industries that I know of and certainly. The money has never caused anything on the streets today. I just don't accept this whole premise. I think TV is as much cause as effect in many cases I think sometimes it does. We can learn some things from it seriously but. It never gets credit for being as subtle as I think it is sometimes. Juliet for example. With Dan Carroll I think has taught us that black America can be as. Vapid and predictable as white America. He has shown us that the silent majority to be. Dealt with. I do wonder if television in culture could co-exist a world that his game shows and
such things. Whether it can actually co-exist with and if it does affect culture. If you take for example this just thinking this one thought and I'll pass it on. Let's make a deal. For example as if you know this show was an example of television this is where a lot of. People dress up in weird costumes and coming trying to get selected to stand up and guess what's behind the screen and whether it's more valuable than what's in a locked suitcase. This is let's say this example of television and then on the other hand let's say the Gael philosophy department would be an example of culture's finest. Yeah. Is there any way that these can co-exist or could you combine them. Yeah. Yeah. I want you to think about this. Yeah. Woody Allen and I are trying to work out a game show that actually would combine those two worlds. Your genial host would be a kind of Norman Vincent Peale. Al. Would be like the old radio game shows but they would say you know Mrs. Lippett from
Roanoke Virginia now the $5000 question is Is there a purpose to the universe. Yeah this is Lipschitz you know says he answered. Going. To tell me that we moved at twenty five hundred dollar question Is there a God. Yeah. Because it was on the tip of my tongue. This is an idea that I'm toying with anyone wants to invest in this I think we can get it rolling. I'm going to defer now to this dream. Mr. Avery I wanted to say one of two things that I think in the main in this discussion in the broad frame and a very serious level I think it's important to realize that there been three events. In television in recent history that are very important for you to bear in mind in any subsequent discussion that we're having all these issues. One was a statement of Mr. Michael Dan. The vice president
in charge of television for CBS. Speaking of the future of TV. He stated that the biggest crisis by the TV networks is the fact that we're running out of more movies. I tell you that. This. Sort of statement is the kind of thing that all of us now. Have really got to think through. I mean for television to run out of almost always. What kind of future will our children have. There is one other that I would like to mention briefly and I think you should bear this in mind this is the statement of Congressman Roman put Ken skeet a Democrat from Illinois the Honorable Mr. pre-cancer. He was making a speech before the House of Representatives on the subject of whether or not TV knows his fate and he thought it was on television he said it has an important role in moving pictures from. The factories into the American homes. If people lose faith in TV
news he asked. How long will it be before they lose confidence in TV advertising. To it. Yeah. And our. In our. In this normal Roman field it isn't really important whether or not we believe in what is important is that if we don't believe in Noah's then the day will surely come when we want. Mr. Barzani. All I can speak about is to begin with the fact that I agree with you that television is not the cause of the corruption. If any of American culture television is one of the many symptoms. I don't think there is any I don't think any culture has ever deteriorated that cultures change from the Roman Empire you go to invasions there but to bury and historians will point out that it was a great improvement.
So that I. And Louis at this time of life to decide whether what we are going to live and what you are going to live in because I'm too old to see it. It will be an improvement or not so I don't know whether American culture is being destroyed or improved by television. But I think I can see this there when I was a boy in this country. There were definitely two cultures in America. One was the culture of the cultivated people all who talk they were cultivated people. And the other was the vast the culture the culture the vast multitude. And the difference between American and Europe is that in Europe there are vast multitude. Well humbled by the elite and they kept their mouths shut and read obscure little sayings while in America the vast multitudes were not. Humbled the dog and they produced the greatest quantity of stuff to read. Reading was at that time
the best national pastime there was nothing else to do. And the American production keep trash on the printed page which accompanied of course the production of important world important literary masterpieces. These make mega magazine supplements of the press has press filled the merry go round Sundays with prehistoric to delusion animals found alive again in some parts of the United States with strange diseases which were going to kill everybody off in ten years. I mean it all these things where a part of American culture they were not American cultured too cool or they were just a part and I think America has always enjoyed scaring itself with these lurid stories and these appalling articles and forecasts of the future. So that the fact that these things which were on paper
have now become. Visible images. I think it's a quantitative change quantity revolution if you wish but not a qualitative Wotton Americans always amused themselves with that same sort of thing and with no visible result then and I think with very little visible result today Mr Newfield and I felt that where I want to make a point no matter what gets said tonight specifically about television I think television exists in a political context in the United States and I think the context now is probably the worst repression in a generation I think it's probably worse then and when McCarthy was around in the 50s and it television is not. Responding to that serious historic threat in any way. Then I wrote a list of what I thought were the root reasons why I think
television was just a vessel for banality and violence and the Far East. I think it's a question of ownership. Theoretically the people own the airwaves you own the airwaves but the way it works out in practice is that the network executives and the advertisers feel they own the airways and they act like they own it. I think part of that problem is the Federal Communications Commission which is seven people appointed by the president and they except for one or two exceptions they are spokesmen for business and a television industry. Nixon has had two appointments to make to the FCC. One has been dean Birch who was Barry Goldwater's pre-convention campaign manager in 64. And the other was Robert Wells who while Mr. Bagnet was been talking about the concentration of media ownership in a few hands. Mr. Wells owned seven newspapers and television stations in the Midwest. And he had been appointed to the FCC by
Nixon and I think that concept advertisers and executives owning those airways and nobody challenging that fundamental concept as part of the problem. I think the second basic criticism I would make of television is television news which still functions under the mythology of objectivity TV news is not objective. The television news shows I think a transmission belts for the government any government whether it's Democrat or Republican it presents that point of view. They're consistently biased in favor of authority and against insurgency. There is no tradition of muckraking on television. The TV networks have the most fantastic economic resources they have correspondents all over the world and capitals they have bureaus all over the country. But when muckraking it's done in this country it's done by a few solitary individuals. Seymour Hersh exposed the song My massacre television do that a couple reporters from Life magazine expose Tom died in a fortress. A reporter found the Morning hand memo about benign neglect television has a
responsibility I think to do muckraking not illogical left wing propaganda but muckraking and to be skeptical and cynical of all established authority because governments lie. The old. I think. I believe that television had covered John Kennedy in the early 60s with the same instinct that I have Stone has a lot of the history of Vietnam never what happened. There's a lot of power in our shows and they don't use it for anything except to reflect the white papers that the government serves out. Third I think that the network executives have been intimidated and cowed by August November 13th speech in Des Moines. I don't think that's the problem as they say is that dead being censored by the government they are censoring themselves out of fear. I think how are they going to show the truth about Laos if they can't show Abby Hoffman Cheri.
Will. Oh and I just have a few. Positive concrete suggestions to begin to deal with this. The first Nothing is going to happen with television until a serious movement is created in the country to change television. Three years ago there was not an ecological movement there were not a women's liberation movement. Those movements were organized. And now the changes are happening. There wasn't a women's liberation movement in New York without a pastie abortion bill I think has to be a serious movement in this country to change television involving a lot of people. They defend a first step that should be an attack on the FCC. Television should be a public utility. A lot of different groups to get access to television in Holland. Any group which can get a petition with 15000 signatures gets access to have a show and not network. I think that kind of formula should be pursued in this country. And. Rian and it should be campaign for legislation to make monopoly
ownership of radio and television outlets in the same city a violation of the anti-trust law. I don't address myself to one of Mr new fields points I subscribe to a great deal of what he said particularly about the FCC wholeheartedly about the television shows. I think he's a little bit hard on him I don't think that would be the opposition to the Vietnam War that there is today had it not been for a television news I think. While there has been enormous shortcomings in in this area I think that they have. Tried to cover within their limitations perhaps. Better than he gives them credit for. I don't think we can condemn. All of the television knows quite is out of hand as he has I think that would be a darn sight worse off if we were left to just the papers in the magazines. Yeah why should I have St. Ralph Nader get 100 list to see it in a whole NBC empire when the real trouble Jack is that in their own staffs they are so hidebound in
the people that work for them the only ones that get the access to the news airwaves are people that work for them day after day after day. And that's a whole chain of command up the way this has happened all over the country this is happening with the magazines and newspapers everywhere. There's been a great confining of what once was in my day when I worked for the Saturday Evening Post which I'll point out it was alive in those days. The fact remains that it was edited by the the editors would sit there in the six or seven stories that came in that they thought were the most exciting where the ones that got into the magazine. Now it's completely stopped read and all of the magazines they had signed the stories that you know it's a very very hard road for anybody going in on their individual and their individual own and making a go in this profession. But this is going to break down to I see controversy coming from all different direction from cable television from it. Educational Television which has made enormous strides I also think as one other built in problem with television news is that most of the newscasters are not really trained journalist. There
are a lot of them tend to be actors and paid as actors and they're paid not a weekly salary but the paid each time they get on camera and I think that is a built in incentive to distort it sensationalize and had not spent three weeks researching scandal mail and CS administration because you're getting paid every time you get on television she does run to a press conference to twist what a politician said into a charge. Get it on the news and you get your money up because you're paid per time you're on the air and I think that is a distortion which the networks are responsible for. Well of course we are touching here. The fundamental problem of it all it's not American culture it's everybody's culture. We have studied in international meetings. The problem of whether television should be a monopoly or state controlled it should be a competitive organization of several chains of stations. And I am
pleased to announce that in every country where there is a state controlled monopoly the people want competitive channels and where there are commercial competitive channels they want a state monopoly. The reason is that these solutions are no solutions at all the state monopoly becomes a government run thing failed with fair play patronage and competitive channels. So expensive to run that inevitably the competitors are no longer competitors they come to agreements to count on what to do and what not to do. The result is nobody. There is no foolproof way of safeguarding the interests of the people. Some muckraking is being done in Italy. I must say some very. Very courageous revelations are being put on television in Italy but it's always about the negroes in
Alabama and never about the sulfur miners of Sicily. And we are facing this problem which is this television thing is a monster. There is no way to control it. I think that perhaps yes we should have mass movements we should have demonstrations. These things manage sometimes not to solve but to advertise the existence of problems and force people responsible for them to do something about them. But I have been to very many meetings debating this particular problem. And from here from New York I'm going to go to live to the Hague for a meeting of the International of all liberal parties in Europe because we are organizing this. Can a little meeting really on this one problem the freedom of information in the electronic world of today. And
I talked with Professor Halloran of a diversity of Sussex recently. He went to. He is in charge of an Institute for Research on mass media and in particular on television and he has done the best work available today scientific work. He went to Chicago a few months ago and showed students and policeman the same feel. The students describe what they saw as policemen beating students. The policeman described what they saw as students provoking and beating policeman. And it was absolutely the same piece of film so that we are up against an unknown monster. We don't know what the people see. Is it what we show them not what they imagine they are seeing is there. The television provoking violence or its violence reflected on television. Nobody there is very little research being done.
I think that it is not only American civilization in danger if it is in danger but it is a problem. Every man in the world today in a question from the floor Mr. Cabot was asked about the rating system and its influence on television shows anything I'll let you get that ratings don't rule television is a lie and I think that they're right. I thought this summer as I was reading the mail I got to my summer show that it's conceivable that there could be television shows and I thought maybe my summer one was that way in a sense because a lot of people thought it was highbrow that had a vast audience that is not actually measured by the measuring systems I know of a guy who worked for one of the systems and one of the first questions they asked the people that they surveyed was you watch 28 hours of television a week otherwise they were no good to them. If you're saying the
people who measure are already conditioned and limited in a way that does not give it show came along that a vast audience unsuspected by the network want to want to see it would not be measured. I mean I don't know how many of you would allow them to put a box into your homes maybe some people. Who were tuned in to a certain kind of show would want it would not would think of that as an invasion of privacy or stupid or something and so. I suspect that the ratings I know the rating system is all powerful. And what's funny is that you point this out in an article once you're on my show or it was only show that the Nielsen book the one you're never supposed to see and it says confidential didn't for your eyes only and circulates all over the place it has in it all kinds of disclaimers about in accuracy. That's not the word but but that whatever the word they use is that says these figures are not necessarily that reliable and there are great margins for error and if you add up all emergency error that they admit to in there he wouldn't have to go by them. But they do and I would say it's the only
wheel in town the network you're in and it always as anyone knows you don't you don't have to play it in town you cannot gamble if there's only one wheel. Mr Newfield was asked how he reconciles the fact that ratings are all powerful with the idea of 15000 people sponsoring a show. My point was I think that this Senate minority unpopular group should get some access to television. My example of how and where 15000 people signed a petition for a group that group can get a half hour on the air maybe from midnight to 12:30 and the show is not. You know it's one half hour a week but I think if the Black Panther Party for example got a half hour on television I can express itself that's better than nothing. And I'm not saying if you get it on our show network trying time. But I think they should. Groups like the Panthers who are the Young Americans for Freedom should have a chance to go on television and explain themselves and not be put into position of being theater freaks or
oddballs and to be able in their own time to express themselves. There is a little difference in the hall and the 50000 people that don't just give their names. They are members of a club and they pay and amount of money which they become recognized as possible users of television channels and it is a slight financial burden on these people and they are responsible for it. And these clubs are usually organized by political parties not by small minorities. It is a very good arrangement by the way. And your work works very well in Holland Mr. Barzani was asked at the standards of the viewer could be raised by presenting different kinds of programmes. I think that I being a journalist last 40 years I think I'm the oldest member of the panel. I have always come up against the opinion of editors that readers were. And you had to write down to them
my personal experience is that the readers are hungry for things of a higher level. Well explain to them. There are no highbrow or lowbrow topics. There are dead journalists in television and in newspapers because a good journalist can take a pretty difficult topic and make it into something extremely interesting. So any medium is using. And I think that the public is underrated and I'm going to estimate it and the public is much better than editors or executives of television networks believe the public is I think the people who read these things are too timid. All over the world. Mr Barzani then went on to talk about technological developments. But I think that we are on the verge of great new steps technological steps which will change the face of television. One of them
is the fact that technicians know that within a short time the satellites will be able to broadcast directly to private television sets in the houses. This is going to be a revolution not only within the United States but all over the world when a man in Europe can listen in to the United States see a Russian Soviet show see some German or English or any Japanese already show directly without any government or a television organization filtering these foreign programs for him. Then you're going to have these cassettes which are going to you or introduce them into your apparatus and your own television set will tell you GIVE YOU War and Peace or a lecture on Roman history or whatever. Some pop music that day they create television systems where we can because each man will be able to borrow from the
circulating library whatever program he wants to make for himself. So weak people will accept what the television system will send. And of course television news will have all this too. Come from a station bought a beer do it yourself the programming which really revolutionized the present system among you double Ds is the one you are mentioning to cable television. Eventually the technology itself will impose it transformation of television as we know it today. Mr Newfield was asked if he thought television would ever become truly responsive to the public. One thing I think that hasn't been stressed enough is that these wonderful things like the cassettes and all the things that are going to enable everybody to to watch tape programs that have been taking months or weeks or years before and keep watching them. I think so one thing that has gone out of the so-called Golden Age of Television is the fact is the light quality in other words going back to the army
McCarthy hearings and that sort of thing the excitement on Jack Paar on a show when you didn't know where he's going to walk off and not it was a terribly damn exciting thing. And I think that it's very Too bad that some people have not. Maybe that shows live which could have been LIVE one of the things that made that was Chicago that Chicago convention so exciting where you felt that they were and they were literally cutting from it right out to what was going on in the street at that moment. And that is more exciting than any amount of tape knows during the day or anything else. It was going on then. I am very very pessimistic about getting substantial changes and in network programming because of the concentration of economic power that's there. But I do think that there are alternate institutions in this country including print which do serve a function. And I think that as I said in my opening remarks the only way you change consciousness is to build political
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- APA: Special of the week; Issue 34-70 "Is TV destroying American culture?". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-5717qt1j