Urban Confrontation; 16; Our Mass Media - Assault on the Amerikan [sic] Mind"
The views and opinions expressed on the following program do not necessarily represent those of the program host. Joseph R. Baylor Northeastern University or the station. Questions asked merely represent the moderator's method of presenting the many sides of today's topic. The urban confrontation and analysis of the continuing crisis facing 20th century men in the American city. Great ideas of history which have rung down through the ages are infinitely more important than the accent of the man who pronounced them all. Whether he wrote it out with a chisel on a rock or was a Gutenburg printing it or was Bill Hillary or telecasting it or whoever. I think that that content modified by the method of course and influenced by it is the real fundamental thing.
Today's recorded guests are Erwin de canim editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor. Ross Hagen New England news director for the Associated Press. And William Hill your public affairs director of WBEZ television in Boston discussing our mass media assault on the American mind. Here is your host Joseph R. Bailey. This is the era of the living room war. A time when distant conflicts can be projected instantly into our homes national figures on their assassins are cut down before our very eyes we're confronted directly by mass starvation moonshots riots backroom politics. This is the age of the global village. Hello Marshall McLuhan. When all our senses are assaulted by the many facets of the mass media there is little doubt that the media radio television the press my mass circulation magazines affect our lives directly and importantly on the question at the beginning of this program is what about that effect is the effect for the better or for the worse.
ROSS like an Oregon Bill heard you referred to the living room war. I think this is one of the great two most important historical facts of our time. They certainly was and telling fact in bringing about the great disaffection with the Vietnam War. If World Wars 1 or 2 had been brought into the living room where the Vietnam War was there would have been a lot more questioning about them and public unhappiness. I think this is great. Im not in the sense that it involves the people in this national experience it makes it vivid and real. I think this is all right. It has it hazards and I don't know that any of us understand the ultimate implications of it. Suppose we are in a war which is clearly in the national interest where a terrible sacrifice of men is unavoidable to protect our nation. Now is this assault on the emotions of the American home and family going to weaken our national resolve. These are questions I don't know the answer to yet. But I think we have
to think about them and make sure that somehow or other this impact is a responsible impact and an impact which doesn't distort or alter the decision making power of the public. Well yeah but I think in a way you have to tell it like it is television's come under a lot of fire lately because of our coverage of the conventions because of violence and things like this in a way I begin to get a little tired of it. I only had a comment about it in the old days when one king wanted to send a message to the other king. He sent the messenger and if the other King didn't like the message he chopped off his head and somehow I feel the television is in the position of being a messenger whose head keeps getting chopped off in a way we're trying to report Intel objectively as possible what is going on what is happening and I think people who don't want to listen to that are condemned to their mistakes. Ross again why is it that lately in the words of Edward Barrett former dean of Columbia Journalism School that everyone seems to want to make the press the whipping boy. What the press is doing nowadays. They're telling people things they don't
particularly want to hear. And because they're doing this it's the messenger boy philosophy that you don't like the people that tell you the bad news. But I don't think that this will have any depressing effect on news coverage in fact I think it probably just stimulates the news media more. Obviously we make mistakes. But I think that there are honest mistakes. I just think that the caliber of news reporting is increasing. Let's take a look at the nature of this bad news to find it a little bit here. The bad news is not only the course of the war in Vietnam the way it's being fought whether we should be fighting it at all but it is also a matter of what perhaps is the inner decay of our cities. Some analysts say that if America is ever to fall it will fall because of its weakness from within rather than enemies from without. On the outside. What about the coverage of civil disorders riots if they're fair they should be complete.
They ought to show both sides. I think that many times in our in our coverage and I'm talking about the media I'm not talking about the Associated Press because after all we are not in direct contact with the public all we can do is put our reports on the wire and let the newspapers or the broadcasters do it and that that's up to them. This is one thing that our general headquarters stresses that do must be objective and you must get both sides of the picture because many times you can show up one side at a disadvantage and the people will get the wrong idea. Can one reporter with a patent pencil show both sides on one television cameras. No but let me point out something else when you say one reporter and one on a major news event there are probably hundreds of reporters and reporters. No report to their local radio stations or to their newspapers but these newspapers also read our reports and they can balance these off and they can tell when there is something wrong.
The question of objectivity is really a sticky one I think what may have happened one or two years ago was that there was an incident in the ghetto and the newsman really didn't know that much about the ghetto. And they went down and they they covered it and called it a riot and this may have been inflammatory. I don't think anybody can really prove that I think there was a situation in Detroit in a situation in Newark and in Detroit correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the press did not cover the riot for at least 24 hours in Newark that covered it right away and both riots as you remember were equally severe. So I really don't know how much affect news coverage has on on riot situations. I also think though in terms of objectivity what you need is you need people who are covering these events who are involved in the ghetto who know exactly what's going on so they know where to point the camera as it were. Now they're only going to in television they may only show a small piece of the action. This has been the criticism the cameras always show that is always pointed towards the scuffle it's always pointed towards the demonstrators Well it doesn't have to be if the reporter and the camera man have have the prior involvement in the ghetto to know what's
important to know whether it's just an incident or to know whether it's a sign of something deeper to know whether it's a large scale disturbance. We all would agree with the doctrine tell it as it is or as they say on a grammatically tell it like it is. We would all agree that we want to present things fairly. But let's remember that all news coverage is selective. Do you how do you choose what you are going to take a picture of what you're going to talk about what you're going to print. You have to make a decision an act of selection. And you should make that as honestly and as responsibly as you can. But from time to time the news media in this act of responsible selection will sometimes cooperate with the authorities in not broadcasting something or printing something which you just believe would cause very serious harm. We cooperate sometimes in the search for kidnappers. We cooperate in other particular crises usually affecting crime. With authorities at least for a period of
time this isn't news management. This is civic responsibility and in the same way in covering a riot situation or a potential riot situation you have to keep in mind as you select what you're going to cover something about the possible consequences. You want to picture it or describe it as accurately as fairly as honestly as you can but you cannot altogether ignore the possible consequences. And if these consequences are going to whip up a state of emotion which might lead to a civic catastrophe you have to count ten before you do that. The reporter broadcast on the printing press is like the historian who must sift through vast mounds of information and select only what in his own opinion by certain standards is relevant to give to the people. Right. I'm not sure whether the people are aware of the fact that they only get what is selected from the whole thing. They think that it is much worse than in fact it is in their opinion we are managing the news all
the time or if we're not some government authority up in some office is managing it. This of course isn't the fact but the public as we've been saying is pretty critical of the media and the public suspicions that go far beyond the facts. Art Buchwald a political satire still appears in print three times weekly around the country but our program recently I would like you and the rest of the guests here in the studio and people in the audience to hear a short segment of his discussion of the mass media in front of our microphones. Television I think that's the one with the most impact has got people. Influences people greatly. It probably with the most influential thing about us trying to stop this war in Viet Nam. So there you have a good situation. It probably was terribly influential in getting the sympathy of the country for the negro plight study with more Luther King's march. What we saw on television and we saw a pro-Condit beat up people all of a sudden the whole
country was incensed. Now it's working the other way. We see. Black people burning down stores and rioting we see students cooking up a storm you know with the countries revolted by it and it's having the opposite effect. So I don't think I'm medium which is pret has any of the effect on people that TV does and I think it's McLuhan is right it's the hype medium hot. Story and newspapers are a core medium for one story. So I wouldn't say that we had as much influence as TV. And what you see every night on the Cronkite show and the Brinkley show agreement gentlemen is the broadcast medium a much more powerful means of communicating to the people of society it's much more emotional. In this he says a hot medium and I go along with that and it bears very heavy responsibilities. As to the long run effects in terms of basic power in terms of influencing public opinion I'm not so sure a lot
of this problem relates to the nature of news. The nature of news is something bizarre that man bites dog etc. etc. etc.. No. We cover the situation we cover a riot all we cover some students a small group of STF students in some university assaulting a holding some building. This is News this is sensational this is worth covering 95 percent of the students in that same university maybe up holding the university maybe going along with the administration and being good citizens who covers them. Reports of this which is more important really. The riot which is far more interesting. Spectacular and interesting to see all the fact that the vast majority of people are doing that you would apply this to the ghetto to some extent and to the whole range of news. Here is a community that hasn't had a murder for 10 years. Does anybody print a story saying that this community hasn't had a murder for 10 years. Well it's very very often that this kind of fact which may be
socially very significant gets covered. So I think underlying the whole matter of the communication of information is the definition of news which I think is that it is humanly and emotionally unavoidable but is sociologically very dubious. Now that's I think the other thing too is I don't think we ought to forget that television is a lot more than news. That may be its power is not only in its nightly news broadcast but its power is perhaps even in its entertainment programs and yet hasn't the definition of nudes of Western Civilization been traditionally that that which is unique unique almost for its own sake something titillating the mass media shape public opinion. Now what kind of shape do they put it in. Water Lipman a syndicated columnist observed in his book The public philosophy that ninety nine point ninety nine nine percent of the time public opinion is wrong misinformed subject to short term we him.
Now isn't there a danger here that the press may give a distorted picture of reality and thereby distort public opinion. There may be a danger but I think Mr Cannon hit the nail on the head when he talked about civic responsibility and I think when newspapers and particularly when television stations have the right people sifting through the information and people who. Well let me be corny whose heart is in the right place. I think then that danger is is very very much diminished. Yes I think we have to work awfully hard to make important news interesting. The most important things in the world are not necessarily the most interesting right the things which it is most necessary to communicate to people. I'm always the most interesting little girl falls down a well and gets stuck there. That's a story that you don't have to work out at all. You know how to get into people's thoughts. But the rice crop in Burma fails and this is done difficult to get readers in Boston to read about it. And yet the journalist whether electronic or printed has to work awfully hard to make important news sufficiently
interesting to get into people's heads. I think I think this is an excellent point because I think part of the answer in television is true other than news programming through public affairs programs and programs of this kind but the problem is these things are traditionally run as they are in radio and fringe time where not enough people are really watching. How do you make these programs exciting. Well you have to work if you work harder at it. The Associated Press and the United Press International supplies some 75 percent of the copy that appears in daily newspapers and on radio and TV stations. Now Ross Hagen from the Associated Press in a wink when you have more power than many editors many radio and television station managers. You can kill a story about knowing Glenn or you can send that story around the world people all over the country all over the world will hear about an event that occurred. In no way Glenn because of your decision. The old adage
is that power corrupts. Now Ross isn't there a danger here. If there were only one news service there there possibly could be a danger I suppose. But one thing you can rest assured of in our business is that if we don't cover a story our competitor is going to do it. We're going to get our ears knocked down but. But you only have one competitor Ross. You used to have two but. Well I asked merge with UPI. That's right. There are only two major news services in the United States but there are several supplementary news services and Reuters is also operate in the United States now. But our report is read again in the newsrooms of the metropolitan dailies of the major broadcast stations so that they have their own reporters out covering stories if if they don't see a story on the wire they want to know why it isn't there. And once again I'd like to point out that we do not deliver our stories to anyone but the media themselves. There again we don't have contact with the public.
We say it would on behalf of the AP is a cooperative and it's composed of member newspapers. Where most of us are members and we are on that Nick all the time. If they're not covering they do not have a very unilateral power. They are even in a sense the servants of all their members including the radio and television stations which subscribe to it. You know what I'd like to extend that even farther and say when you talk about power you've got to understand that all three of the media here are based on circulation. And where is the real power. I think it perhaps isn't the people who are turning on our stations and buying our newspapers we're really not as free as you think to arbitrate taste and to manage news. The competition between television stations and television networks is cutthroat and fierce and I think that this competition is extremely healthy and I think is one of your greatest safeguards against any kind of news management and a kind of taste arbitration. Bill here I'm going to have to argue with you when you say that the only
criteria for making decisions in the mass media is the public interest. You're in business bill in business to make money and the competition costs don't separate the two as I say our business is circulation our business is also the public interest and I don't think you can really separate the two. When we are serving the community we are serving our circulation. I think it's an oversimplification to say that we're in business. Our business our people our businesses our community our business is Boston. And if Boston thrives then we thrive. If Boston likes our station because we are doing things for the community then they watch our station. I think New York let me come in as a defender of the electronic media. The television stations in New York in my observation are intensely competitive. I think they are to a very considerable degree here in Boston also. So I think you competition is a reality. There are governing elements which you mention Joe and which relate to some extent of the difference between the stern the terms of reference of the electronic media and the terms
of reference of the newspaper you speak of the cost of sending out equipment on this may be a fact. I would like to emphasize though the basic fundamental difference between the relationship in society of the newspaper and the electronic media and that is of course that the electronic media are regulated by by law they are part of the public domain given for periods of time to the licensees and the newspapers have no such relationship and of course take great pride in the first article in The Bill of Rights the first amendment of the Constitution which defines and preserves. Right to free speech. I think that the radio and television are protected also by the First Amendment but they cannot escape the fact that they are under regulation and this is a constant situation which bears upon them. Maybe to some extent it improves their performance. I don't know but they are. Their relationship with government is entirely different than the newspaper relationship with government and some things that disturb me in connection with this is the
process of administrative law by which the FCC operates I hope you don't get cut off the air on account of this. But when an applicant or a holder of a of a certain license has to pay a Washington law firm specializing in the business untold millions of my money the consumer's money the advertisers money in order to maintain some kind of a special relationship with government. I think the system is wrong. I think that the whole system of regulation can be greatly improved and a lot of the fantastic time consuming detail and the arbitrariness and the intricacy of it needs to be cleaned up. I'm glad that there is no such thing existing in the newspaper business we have plenty of our own problems and lots of our own houses to clean up. But the relationship between government and the electronic media is still I think an unsolved problem. Well I trust that we will not be cut off the air for revealing that kind of information or when we are criticizing the and adequacy of our own profession I guess that isn't done too
often. But we're not painting the gloom and doom picture that some people envision after the 1968 political conventions that we should pause at this juncture in the program to let our audience around the country know that we are talking with our Windy column editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor here in Boston. Ross Hagan now England news director for the Associated Press and Bill Hillier public affairs director of Boston's WBEZ TV. We're talking about the mass media. We're talking about its impact on society. I want to talk gentleman about Marshall McLuhan prophet of the mass media and to talk about a phrase of his that has become quite popular. That phrase is this the medium is the message. Is it what message that the message projected by radio and television the newspapers the magazines that that message is not as important as the method by which it is transmitted.
The means by which it is hurtled into the American living world. I wouldn't underestimate the importance of the medium but I think that the statement is nonsense. I don't think it's so. I think that the content of ideas the word the basic content what the idea is what is fundamentally important. It's very important how you say it. This has a lot of difference. But the great ideas of history which have run down through the ages are infinitely more important than the accent of the man who pronounced them or whether he wrote it out with a chisel on a rock or was Gutenberg printing it or was Bill Hillier telecasting it or who ever. I think that that content modified by the method of course and influenced by it is the real fundamental thing. I think that the the message is the thing. Ross Aiken I think you and I would like to agree with what our own economy has said. But I wonder whether people like or one are not. Very often when I comment on McLuhan
saying what they want to believe that they want to believe that ideas are more and more than the medium but neglecting that very possibly we are very near 984 we're very near some of the brave new world types of social inventions that Huxley talked about perhaps the medium will be the message. I think that the beauty of his job is to reflect the people and what they're doing and I don't think that it is their job to convey any message as the other medium does is reflect what other people do. And so it is their message that. You could say is it content or is it matter you know or form form content is the old you know the argument. I wonder McLuhan doesn't really agree with himself. I think he drops these things out as as more to irritate us into thinking which is good. But at the same time I think he has hit upon a very important thing that television hasn't quite learned to understand which is that it is a separate medium. It is not mere transmission of the print the
good and content it shouldn't be the mirror in its plays or its entertainment program it shouldn't be the mere transmission of well-made plays that there are certain characteristics of television which demand certain kinds of content and we haven't really well we haven't thought of television as an art for one thing up until now which I think is unfortunate. Let's be concrete again Bill. You spoke a while back of the Northern news material which television disseminate is being considered quite important right if I recall most of the observers and sociologists and others that have studied the black community where television is widely watched have felt that the picture of American life or of imagined American life what the people in those communities in those little punishments and miserable places saw in the little magic black box and thought life was like had a tremendous bearing on their their revoked. I'm sure this is true. Oh was it the medium. Was it the technology of television the electronic miracle of
television that had this profound effect on them. Or was it the content. Was it the fact that American life was depicted to them as something different from what they had. I think it was the message. You've I mean you know religion namely the picture our of our of our way of life which hit them rather than the manner by which the picture of American life was conveyed to them. Well I agree with you to some extent but but I think at the same time that television does have as we said in news a sense of credibility because there are pictures and even though it's an entertainment program I stink still think it gives an illusion of reality. Also McAllen has a very very interesting point about the concept of community. In other words television is the one medium through which this whole country is united to use the example of the assassination of President Kennedy as a moment when we were at it much like the Greek city but our forum was television our Greek Theater. Suddenly it was television. And I wonder if the best sense of when someone in the ghetto sees television in effect they have a sense of
seeing a community they're seeing what the guy in the suburbs their suburb has. They don't really understand that it that it's purely on their own it's pure entertainment I want to minimize the emotional power of the method of communicating. But I still think which is the fact that John Kennedy had been shot. That was the essential element if Nasser had fallen into the Nile I don't think that and this have been vividly projected by American television I would be anybody would worry too much about it but it was a fact that a president had been killed but what happened was it was impulse. You know I don't think that that is the whole story particularly not when it is a matter of record. But in the attempted assassination of the left wing student leader in Germany I believe the name was read to him in the attempted assassination of this man the would be assassin admitted that he got the idea of how to kill Deutch he from watching the television news coverage of Martin Luther King's death and other members who were simply transmitting the message.
If we if I already had been assassinated not sure how that would happen but it's meaning and you know a way of behavior. Sort of a recipe for behavior as Margaret Mead said in front of these microphones and that's not the medium. That's what happened. That could be true in any medium. Yes it could be through my newspaper as here is here is perhaps the most salient you also say we read that there is a global village where the whole world has been right a very small village so what happens on one side of the world is just like what happens on one side of town on the other side of town knows about it immediately. The speed and immediacy all of our messages and the God in this land I thought of the 20th century become an added factor but I think I think McLuhan said in the Kennedy thing that this was an added factor because what happened was you developed a sense of solidarity because of television because everybody knew they were seeing it live now all over the country. So in effect the effect of television was quite positive after after the kind I mean a point out
that the effect of Abraham Lincoln's assassination on the country was very great too and it was communicated had to be by the print medium. I think that nobody can deny that what happened is important and whether what happened is more important than how it was communicated. I find rather trivial. A poet Matthew Arnold once described journalism as literature in a hurry. Journalism has it appears become the most popular literate literate literary form in the and the hurried fast paced society that we've been talking about in the past 30 minutes. It exerts an enormous power and we've been talking today with three of the gentlemen who wield some of that power. Northeastern University has brought you an interview with her when she can I'm editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor. Ross Hagan New-Englanders news director for the Associated Press. And William Hill. Public affairs director for WBEZ television in Boston. Discussing our mass media assault on the American mind. Your host has been Joe so
- Urban Confrontation
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- Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
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- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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Producing Organization: Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
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University of Maryland
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