("Same as It Ever Was . . . .Same As It Ever Was")
Believe me, I'm not singling out 1974 as a focal point for things gone wrong. But with all due fairness, most indications point to this being around the time of the Great National Nervous Breakdown and the long painful assessment of "where did we go wrong?". Call it Navel Gazing, call it Overwhelming Guilt, America was truly bothered by a lot of things - and Television News was viewed as a biggest culprit.
The problem then, as is the problem now with Mainstream News, particularly with Network News, is getting any useful information out of the half-hour format that's been the standard since the inception of Television News in the early 1950's. The problems were wide and varied, from advertising influence to the nature of Television being a visual medium and some news stories just weren't visual.
It hasn't changed and, if anything has become less and less relevant over the years as news has become more focused on entertainment, rather than a place of hard (and useful) information.
In this broadcast, again part of the National Town Meeting series, features New York Times Correspondent Harrison Salisbury, Journalist David Halberstam, former FCC Chairman Nicholas Johnson and former head of CBS News Sig Mickelson from November 3, 1974. The audience consists of Yale University students (where the Town Hall was held) who ask a number of pointed questions.
Bruce Burke (Student): “I kind of wonder about the whole notion of the Fairness Doctrine. As I understand it, the Fairness Doctrine tends to apply to hard news broadcasts . And it seems to me that, while the Fairness Doctrine to apply to Editorial type content would in fact be a wise thing, considering the immediacy of the impact and the availability to other speakers outside those of the Network organizations. It seems to me questionable for the various networks to be monitored, by either private organizations or others as to the fairness content of their hard news broadcasts. I was wondering what the speakers would think about the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine as it concerns hard news.
Sig Michelson: “I think the Fairness Doctrine is about as required for the human being as a tail, which we long since got rid of when we quit living in trees. I think as long as our broadcasting is operated on the basis of a trusteeship principle which was written into the Federal Radio Act back of 1927 and under the Federal Communications Act of 1934, that the licensing process in of itself is quite adequate to keep a reasonable degree of fairness as long as the broadcaster is a trustee of the public interest. On the other hand, I think it’s a very dangerous commodity as Mister Whitehead tried to use it in his speech out in Indianapolis in 1973 when he suggested that this was a wedge, a weapon the local stations could use to force the networks to knuckle down with their news broadcasting. I think it’s a very dangerous weapon and I would like to see it eliminated, and I’d like to see us go back to where we were before 1949, and operate on the Trusteeship Principle and maintain our fairness on that basis.
Bear in mind that this is before the wave of deregulation during the Reagan years gutted the FCC, converted entire networks into propaganda outlets, turned the Fairness Doctrine into a worthless piece of paper,obliterated newspapers, dismantled Broadcast News Divisions, converted the Trusteeship Principle into a very bad joke and replaced much useful news with team coverage of celebrity rehabs.
In short, made anything you could use pretty much impossible to find.