Newstalgia Reference Room - Privacy, Controversy and TV - the moral question over news gathering and what is journalism and what is exploitation for prurience sake in 1957.
October 19, 2010

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In 1957 there was worry TV was heading straight into shameless exploitation. Well, they weren't that far off.


When you consider just how tame Television was in the 1950's compared to what it is now, it's hard to imagine any controversy could be generated by what was such a benign medium at the time.

But no. There was fear - big fear. Fear that Television and Television News was going to become one big cesspool of exploitation and prurient interest. That TV had managed to invade the privacy of most people and was completely capable of getting away with it was a frightening prospect for such an otherwise genteel society.

There was the argument though, that TV was wallowing in complacency and needed a kick in the ass. That some controversy was good. That a little bit of titillation was good for the soul and that invasion of privacy was the price one paid for notoriety.

So a panel of journalists got together via the Open Mind program of September 15, 1957 - Marya Mannes, Gilbert Seldes and Chet Huntley (of the Huntley-Brinkely report on NBC News) spoke to moderator Richard Heffner about the current state of affairs on the Tube.

Marya Mannes: “Well I was going to use the word roughage to describe what is so terribly needed on Television, which is a bland diet, and which these interviews do provide. But there is another area which I think you were probably going to throw at me ultimately, and that is when somebody is interviewed purely for the sake of sensation or prurience, like . . I want to say a Private Detective working on a confidential case or let’s say, a strip teaser or something. This is done, not to stir controversy, not to stir excitement, but to appeal to the Peeping-Tom instinct in human beings. And that I think is exploitation . . .”

Richard D. Heffner: “Well, why do you say not to stir excitement? That’s why I picked up what Mr. Seldes said, because I had the feeling that it was the excitement, that kind of roughage that . . “

Gilbert Seldes: I meant the excitement of the mind, not . . ."

Mannes: “Intellectual excitement. This is a different . .what I’m talking about is . . uh, well it’s very hard to say the word on television, but it is an excitement of the senses and not very good senses.”

Seldes: “I’m defending the Peeping-Tom instinct in the human frame. I go that far. I think I’m defending the satisfaction of sheer curiosity.”

I don't think in the 1950s we had all that much to worry about. I mean, The Kardashians hadn't even been invented yet.

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