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I think if we had the TV actually well Congress is in session that the people themselves would probably find are or would let's say be shocked to find that many of the seats are empty at various times or they may catch someone napping here or there. Well that is understandable from this party here but I do think that what all have to be explained to the people the average person in the streets to doe it every day why is senators not there and as we know there are many things that course do not pertain to him and he probably wouldn't be on the job in those particular days or they may catch him napping or something else it certainly would if nothing else keep some of our senators on the ball and and probably a good deal on would have many red faces. Mr. Spencer if I or any other senator spent all of his time sitting on the floor of the Senate listening to the debate
he would never get his work as a senator done participation on the floor is only a minor part of the complicated job of a senator today in the first place there are many agencies in the country developing campaigns writes your senator and we are flooded with mail which must be answered that in my own case I spend more time in my office. And Ling my mail and my other administrative problems than I can possibly spend on the floor of the Senate. Then legislation begins. In committees or the main work in the development of legislation is done in committee and much committee ward. Maybe most of it is done while the Senate is in session. There are means by which we can be called to the floor when it becomes important. So we sit and work. Through they more or less unimportant parts of the debate.
Actually I have discovered as I'm sure you have all my colleagues that you can read the speeches involved in an important debate in much less time than you can sit and listen to the debate itself and remember that we have a copy of the congressional record available to us by 8 o'clock on the morning after the debate has taken place. So actually we can be more effective reading those things than we can listening to them. In many cases and then too there are people who come to Washington who insist on being seen. To have problems and they are entitled to visit their senator wall on to the senator who refuses to say them. It's been my impression that it takes 12 hours a day six days five days a week at least for a senator to keep up with his various responsibilities. And while it
may seem shocking not to see him there on the floor when you call Actually he's probably a better senator if he's working somewhere else. Here's another person who wants to talk back Senator Bennett. She's a young Boston secretary and sculpturing student Ellen timer. Well there's one part of this problem of televising Congress. Senator Bennett that disturbs me particularly and that is the fact that a member of the Congress can get up and make any accusation that may have no foundation at all against an individual or individuals. And this would be broadcast to millions of homes and it would become sort of a trial by public opinion. But in any court trial both parties have a chance and in this kind of a trial the accused person would have no way of coming back and denying the charges or and
proving himself innocent. Do you have any thing to say about that or any comment to make Senator. I'm not sure whether you're referring to a situation that might take place in a committee hearing or whether you're referring to debate on the floor of the Senate. If the latter as you know. Debate is a privilege. Every member of the Senate has the right to say anything he pleases on the floor of the Senate and cannot be held for liable or liable under it. I haven't seen very much of that since I've been there in fact I don't think I've seen any. But unless the Senate rules were changed it would be possible that either by insinuation or direct accusation a person might be pilloried in a speech and under the rules of the Senate unless he's a member of the Senate. He can't come personally on to the floor and defend himself. Otherwise the Senate would just become a public free for all forum and
we never get any of our work done. I think that is one of the risks and one of the reasons why we should. Be very careful to propose the general broadcasting of our procedures but I don't think it's an important one. You may recall Senator Bennett that while back Harrison Shaw of Ames Iowa brought up the question of equal rights for press radio and TV. We're going to hear more on this question now from E.R. had a ball Kerr president and general manager of W S Y R and W o s y our TV in Syracuse New York just about a bunker is also a member of the radio code committee of the N A R T. B The National Association of Radio and Television broadcasters representing the commercial industry just about a banker was interviewed in the lounge of W s y r by Ed Jones of the radio and television center of
Syracuse University Center by the way Senator has its own television studio and equipment and originates both commercial and educational programs each week over ws Why are TV just about a boxer. Rough summer Ben and I think the first problem we have and answering your statement and this will give you a chance to answer me a bit later as I don't believe you put the question as the question really exists. The only question involved is whether Congress shall deny to radio and television the right to broadcast proceedings of Congress and committees of Congress. That's the question that's involved in that case and looking at it from that viewpoint you have no problem of determining who shall decide what should be broadcast and who will decide how much of it shall be broadcast and who shall decide how to clear time and channels and lines so it can be broadcast. The broadcasters will decide that and they will not really decided
what they will decide and only under the pressure of the public which means the public will decide it when there's an issue or a point of an issue of sufficient public interest then the people are going to want to hear it and see it. And radio and television will make it available. Now this actually had been done that had been done in radio many times now so far as television is concerned. We have already done it and done a what no harm and with great education to the people. The United Nations Security Council debate on Korea was one of the most educational things and one of the greatest public service the service of any communications medium ever provided to the American people. It becomes quite simple. What we're talking about here only is whether or not radio and television have a right at moments of high interest to go into the Congress and let the people hear and see through their microphones and their cameras. That's the only question involved. It's my opinion Mr. vagabond Kerr that radio and television are not denied that it's the same right that
newspaper people have in the first place everything that is done in Congress at least on the floor of both houses appears in the Congressional Record newspaperman have to reduce that or work it over for their own medium and radio and television commentators now have the same rights. It's true that there have been a number of occasions in the past two years joint meetings of the House and the Senate which were to be addressed by an outstanding personality General MacArthur Queen Juliana Winston Churchill and these have been televised and broadcast by radio but of course that's not a part of the regular legislative process. It's my point that the material the raw material represented by the debates in Congress is just as available to radio and television as it is to the newspapers. What you're asking is that these people be
given a radio and television be given additional rights. In the case of the one the right to reproduce the actual voice and in the case of the other to reproduce the scene of what happens. You say that we shouldn't worry about who is going to decide when it would be broadcast that could be left to the broadcasting companies. In other words we don't permit the broadcasting companies to shall we say interject themselves in the legislative process at their will. And if you think the process would go on. In a vacuum without being colored or changed by their presence then I'm afraid I can't agree with you. I've seen a lot of people who can talk across the table with a friend who completely freeze up when they're handed a microphone or a television camera is focused on them and I think Congress would be inclined to act the same way. SEN.
Senator Bennett couldn't it be argued by the broadcasters that you're not allowing radio and television to explore their real potentialities of broadcasters idea of reporting. Congress is to get their microphones and cameras in there not come in with a pencil. Well that might be true but because of the very nature of their reporting I think they interject a force an extraneous force or influence in the process of legislation which would be harmful. In your first statement your initial statement Senator Bennett you raised the question of who would decide which congressional proceedings are important enough to be broadcast and which are not and how we can ensure fairness to all. A number of people in Ames Iowa Norman Oklahoma and Syracuse New York suggested the dinner that an advisory board could be
set up. This board or committee could be composed solely of members of Congress if you wanted that way along the lines of the Australian parliamentary committee or the board could be composed of members of Congress the public and the broadcasting industry and I would want to include educational broadcasters as well as commercial broadcasters. What do you think of these proposals Senator Bennett. Well I don't when you do that you begin to put all of these processes into motion which tend to spotlight the important individuals tend to give party control and to weaken the right of a single senator to get up and express himself at a particular time on a particular subject. Now the House has rules which would be more easily worked into such a television program but remember the Senate is proud of the fact that it is the last parliamentary organization in the world with complete fall and free debate. And when you come down to that I don't think
they would welcome any device which would put either way. Informal group inside the Senate or a group outside the Senate in a position to say today. Gentlemen we're going to talk about Thailand's plan even though Senator Bennett or somebody else thought he wanted to talk about to the price of eggs or the tax situation. I don't think it will happen. Maybe I'm wrong I know I sound like a must buy to many people who feel that television and radio will open a great new field and and educate all our people in the process of legislation. I've been in the Senate now just two years and I still don't understand the process of legislation completely. Even though I've been a part of it and I think whatever impressions might come would tend to be shallow and probably confusing rather than otherwise.
Thank you Senator Bennett for giving your time and thought on this issue of broadcasting and televising important debates and votes of Congress so that people could hear you and talk back to you. That was Parker Wheatley including the recorded discussion with Senator Bennett. Now that we've heard the pros and cons of the case we're in a better position to make two kinds of final observations. First of all I must have struck you as it certainly did me that in the course of discussing the central issue should congressional debates be televised or broadcast. Senator Bennett yielded a good deal of information on other subjects which don't seem immediately and directly connected with this issue but which are of considerable interest in their own right. And second that's interesting and very effective tactics of
persuasion and arguments were developed in the course of the discussion. I'd like to consider each of these points in turn. Evidently when the people talk back to a public figure and question his views on a subject they induce him to let them in on a good deal of information and experience which he is head and which provides a context for understanding the issue under review. Now in this case Senator Bennett seems to me has provided us with an extraordinarily vivid and compact picture of the occupational life of a senator and the internal workings of the Senate. I wonder if you found it is interesting as I did hear of Senator Bennett's account of how it is that the seat of the Senate often don't see senators that there are empty places on the
floor of the Senate. That this in many cases simply means that they are conducting there and activities elsewhere in the office looking after the affairs of constituents working on committees and the like. It's been my impression that it takes 12 hours a day five days a week at least for a senator to keep up with his various responsibilities. And while it may seem shocking not to see him there on the floor when you call Actually he's probably a better senator if he's working somewhere else. Or again. How many of us had had the immediate idea of the important role of the Congressional Record and enabling Senate Jews to keep up with discussions which they did not hear directly. Also you will recall his notion that one of the best ways of learning how a senator stands in this general political attitude
is to notice his vote on amendments rather than on the original bill. Usually you can judge the attitude of a senator or representative. Let's say a senator because I know more about that on a given bell by his votes on amendments than you can judge it by final passage. Of course we're all familiar with the tradition of unlimited debate in the Senate. But again he gave us some inkling of the conditions under which the unanimous consent device operates to limit debate to perhaps the most striking observation from the standpoint of looking at senators as live human beings is the picture he gave of the workings of the political party. You know when and if television were to come to the Senate and pretty soon we debate developing teams like they do in football we'd have we'd have platoons we'd have television heroes who were
brought forward on a particular subject. To me all of those things interfere with the legislative process and put motives into the situation. Purposes that are foreign to it. There's quite another kind of byproduct which results from a serious and honest exploration of a major issue such as the one we've just heard. It almost leads us to see that each major issue of the day is involved with other current issues. But no one of them exists in the kind of social vacuum. For example I wouldn't have supposed that there was any direct connection between the matter of televising congressional debates and the existing controversies about the PC or other matters of civil rights. Yet when Senator Bennett was explaining that he feared one of the results of televising of broadcasting
congressional debates might be that it would tend to limit the traditional right of unlimited debate. He was in fact linking up the one issue with the other. He was relating the television issue to what's often been called the filibuster issue. Or again we had a linkage between the television issue and an important issue of civil liberties. You may remember the individual who raised the question as to whether televising debates might not result in injustices for certain individuals who against whom some perhaps unfounded charges were being made on the floor of the Congress under congressional immunity. This would be broadcast to millions of homes and it would become sort of a trial by public opinion. But in any court trial both parties have a chat. And in this kind of a trial the
accused person would have no way of coming back and denying the charges and proving himself innocent. Once again one would have seen no direct connection in advance between matters of civil liberty and the issue of televising Congress. The import of all this I take it is that any significant issue of explored far enough will be seen to be interlocked other basic issues of the time. We might end our little review of this discussion by examining the tactics for persuasion an argument adopted by the critics of center Bennett on the one hand and by the senator himself. Of course in the case of the dozen or so people who have been putting questions to Senator Bennett's position what we must do is evolve a
kind of composite picture of the tactics since if there was no relation among their among these various people and what this seems to amount to is a folly they start off. First of all the judgment that the people have a right. Two of the televising of broadcasting a congressional debate that Wright resides in the fact that they should know about what is going on that they foot the bills that the democratic process gives them a right for access to all manner of information that is available about the legislative process. Second not only do they have a right to it but they can profit from it. So the argument runs they can profit from it in terms of increased understanding increased interest in governmental and legislative affairs. And thirdly in a kind of progressive pyramiding of their argument they
not only have the right they not only can profit from it but they can profit from this in ways in which they can't from the use of other media such as magazines and newspapers which may be reporting the proceedings. And what you get here almost inadvertently since as they say there is no relation among these various discussions and critics. When the people talk back is a progressive pyramiding of argument. Now as we would expect Senator Bennett has an even more intricate set of tactics in putting forth his views. It seemed quite clear to me that Mr. Bennett to approach this whole situation spontaneously and without anything to go on except his genuine feelings was obviously stating his case with complete sincerity and conviction. And therefore it's all the more fascinating to see. But in addition to this matter of conviction he had a kind of
generalship in the marshalling of his arguments. And I would simply like to examine what his strategy as it were consisted in. First of all in his case he suggests that the people don't really want the televising of broadcasting congressional debate that they have no genuine interest in it. But should this turn out not to be the case. He has a second line of argument. If they do want it it can't be done effectively in any case. There are all manner of technical difficulties based drag on for months. Much of the crucial developments are in committees and the like. If these are not accepted then he has a third line at the fence. Namely that even if it can be done it shouldn't be done. And here you recall his argument
runs that the primary responsibility in the primary task of legislators is to legislate and not even to educate or certainly not to entertain the American population. And fourthly if these. Lines of argument are not accepted. He has one final observation to buttress his point. Namely if people do want it and if it can be done and if it should be held that it should be done. Nevertheless it won't be done because the Senate will vote against it. I don't think the present senators will vote for that kind of a change. Maybe out of tradition maybe out of self-defense I don't know. Now this systematic marshaling of arguments this deployment of argument in depth as it were can only evoke our great
admiration. And it may be that the persuasiveness of Senator Bennett's discussion rests largely in this intricate pattern of deployment of arguments in depth. That was Robert K. Merton professor of sociology at Columbia University with his analysis of the recorded discussion between Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah and the people talking back to him. Professor Burton is author of mass persuasion and is associate director of the Bureau of Applied Social Research Columbia besides acting as clarifier. He was serving as a consultant for the people talkback series the series is produced and edited by Ralph Tang. The recordings of people in different parts of the country were made possible through the cooperation of any AB member organizations and producers. You mix w o n a d. The University of Oklahoma Norman B Cleary W. Well I am a state
college and Edward S. Jones W. E. R. of Syracuse University also WNYC New York and WGBH Boston. The Australian citizens were especially recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. These programmes are prepared and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters and are made possible under a grant from the fund for adult education an independent organisation established by the Ford Foundation. This is the network.
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People talk back
Radio-TV: In the halls of Congress?, part three
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
In this program, the third of three parts, citizens talk back to Sen. Wallace F. Bennett of Utah about the debate over whether or not to broadcast sessions in Congress over radio and television.
Series Description
This series presents a series of questions posed to politicians about current affairs.
Broadcast Date
Politics and Government
United States. Congress. House--Television broadcasting of proceedings.
Media type
Funder: Fund for Adult Education (U.S.)
Host: Merton, Robert King, 1910-2003
Producer: Tangley, Ralph
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Wheatley, Parker, 1906-1999
Speaker: Bennett, Wallace F. (Wallace Foster), 1898-1993
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 53-13-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:00
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Chicago: “People talk back; Radio-TV: In the halls of Congress?, part three,” 1953-03-05, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “People talk back; Radio-TV: In the halls of Congress?, part three.” 1953-03-05. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: People talk back; Radio-TV: In the halls of Congress?, part three. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from