Good evening. Welcome to The Advocates. Each week
at this time The Advocates looks at an important public issue in terms of a
practical choice. Tonight the issue concerns government regulation of
television. Specifically the question is this: Should television news be
exempt from the fairness doctrine? Advocate Howard Miller says
The United States government has the power
to remove from the air any television station it disagrees with. That power
is justified under the deceptive label of the fairness doctrine, a
bureaucratic name for the power of censorship. So the government, which
should be criticized, has the power to silence those who should criticize it
most. With me tonight to urge that television news have the same freedom of
speech and press as newspapers and magazines have and that that power of
censorship be removed are communications attorney Ted Pierson, distinguished
documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, and columnist and radio and
television commentator Jeffrey St. John.
Advocate William Rusher says no.
television network news is one of the open scandals of the American society.
Yet, to date, not a single effective step has been taken to bring a little
balance into this crucially important area. On the contrary, the forces that
favor the present slanting are on the offensive tonight. They actually want
to abolish the one existing check on their empower to slant the news as
they please. With me tonight to oppose this proposal are Edith Efron, author
of "The News Twisters," television news producer Arthur Alpert, and
Professor Paul Weaver, of the Department of Government of Harvard
Thank you gentlemen. And now, ladies
and gentlemen, for some background on tonight's question. It is the
so-called fairness doctrine which, more than anything else, distinguishes
the first amendment protection afforded to broadcasters from that enjoyed by
newspapers and magazines. The fairness doctrine evolved over a period of
forty years as a guiding principle in assuring the public an opportunity to
hear contrasting views on controversial issues of public interest. The
doctrine requires each radio or television station, when it treats a
controversial subject, to seek out and provide an opportunity for the
expression of contrasting views. The object is to assure that all points of
view on controversial issues are aired, thereby fostering what the Supreme
Court has called "uninhibited, robust, wide-open debate" on public issues.
The Federal Communications Commission, which issues broadcast licenses and
acts on license renewals, also judges the performance of stations in meeting
their obligations under the fairness doctrine. Critics of that arrangement
contend that it represents implicit regulation in areas of program content,
in short, censorship. The last major revision of the fairness doctrine
occurred in 1949, when television was still in its infancy. Since then,
television has become the principle means by which the American public is
informed. As such, it has enormous power and influence.
V. P. Agnew (film): As with other American institutions,
perhaps it is time that the networks were made more responsive to the views
of the nation and more responsible to the people they serve. The American
people will rightly not tolerate this concentration of power in government.
Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a
tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men elected by no one and enjoying
a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government. The views of a majority of
this fraternity do not, and I repeat not, represent the views of
CBS Newsman Walter Cronkite saw in Vice
President Agnew's speech a carefully planned program to reduce the
effectiveness of a free press and to intimidate broadcasting. The Federal
Communications Commission this summer announced that it would conduct a
general review of the fairness doctrine in all its applications. And this
fall Senator Sam Ervin's Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights is holding
hearings on the application of the first amendment to television. So it's
against this background of continuing debate that The Advocates considers
tonight a proposal to exempt broadcast journalism from the obligations of
the fairness doctrine. Now to the cases. Mr. Miller tell us why television
news should be exempt from the fairness doctrine.
Suppose there were a federal newspaper commission and it monitored and
investigated every newspaper in the United States and had the power to
cancel the publication of any one that it decided was not reporting the news
fairly. Then we'd know that we were talking about naked censorship. Suppose
that, instead of the Federal Communications Commission, there were the
Bureau of Censorship - and that's what's involved in regulation of
content-and it put forth the thought-control doctrine, then I would supposed
that even Vice President Agnew would oppose that interference in the freedom
of the press. What's in a name? Everything. Because of the government
regulation of the content of television news, it is not to television but to
newspapers that we look for first-rate investigative reporting teams, for
columnists, for editorial opinion, for the clash of ideas. And in television
what we get is bland if it is not frightened. But, it is said, television is
different, because there are a limited number of frequencies, so it needs
more government control. It's not frequencies but finances that determine
access to the media. In every market in the United States, there are more
television channels than newspapers. The printed word is clearly governed by
freedom of speech and press and so also should be the spoken word over the
With me tonight to urge that
freedom of the press for television is Mr. Ted Pierson.
Good evening, Mr. Pierson. We're glad to have you on the
Mr. Pierson is a distinguished
communications law attorney Mr. Pierson, what has been the result of the
Well the principle result
over'-forty* years has been to gradually diminish the quantity and quality
of the product that journalists could give to the television viewers if
Initially this very nice sounding
phrase was said to mean that a broadcaster had wide discretion in
determining, like any journalist, the content of his bit. However, the
Commission was also asserting the right at that time to exercise its
discretion as to whether broadcasters acted reasonably and in good faith.
And recently the Court of Appeals has decided to monitor the Commission to
see whether it's acting within its discretion and acting
Have those judgments of the Federal
Communications Commission, people in Washington, and the courts actually
inhibited the kind of television news we get?
They have, because the broadcaster will tend to stay away from those
programs that, because of their nature or complexity, are highly
controversial, will put additional burdens upon them; and they are real
Does it also have an influence not
only, we think, in terms of the network, but also on the local stations and
the small broadcasters?
Well, the smaller the
station, the more influence it has. Because money is the name of the game if
you're going to have a highly competent journalistic production. And small
stations just can't afford all of the problems that are created by the
If there is bias in television news
reporting, and I suppose there is in other media, is that any reason to
regulate its content by the government?
word bias seems to me to describe an intelligent person. I think bias - all
people have their biases. And it's the professional responsibility, the
ethical responsibility of journalists, to work against that bias, and that's
what they try to do. I don't think the same thing exists in the people who
are reviewing their judgments or trying to substitute their judgments for
those of the journalists.
How do we deal with
the question of bias in other media? Do we regulate it or simply let the
Well, the way is not to eliminate
the bias but to have many biased people talking.
All right. With that let's hear from another attorney, Mr. Pierson, who
has a question for you.
Mr. Pierson, do I
understand that - just off the top here - that you do concur that there is
such a thing as bias in television news?
indeed. Well, wait a minute. I said that broadcast journalists have their
biases as well as any other people. I said that their professional
responsibility is to try always to eliminate those. I wouldn't think that
unless they can walk on water that all of them succeeded all the
In point of fact there is some bias in
television news, even at that?
I think I've
answered your question. It's bound to seep through.
Mr. Miller said one thing in his opening statement that I
would appreciate your clarifying for me if you can. He complained, or at any
rate he said, and I took it to be a complaint, the government has the power
to remove a station from the air by revoking its license. That was, I take
it, the implication.
I didn't understand him to
Well, it does have, in any
Oh, yes, they do have that.
Do you object to that? Should government get out of the
licensing business? I'm rather encouraged by that if that is your drift and
his. Should the government simply have no voice in the matter of who gets
Well, I would suspect it would be
impossible to have broadcasting unless there was licensing.
You do favor licensing? And that involves the right to
remove, doesn't it?
Well, of course it does,
but for proper reasons.
Precisely. Now you -
Mr. Miller also said that there's, there are more television channels than
newspapers in every outlet in America. That carefully overlooks magazines,
though, doesn't it?
Well, add them in. It makes
Oh, it does. It makes a very
Well, how many magazines do
you suppose there are.
Let's just find out. I
happen to be the publisher of one. I know something about the
Well, that's one.
Yes, that's one, and there are others. There are as a
matter of fact, hundreds upon hundreds of national magazines in this
country, as well as about eight thousand newspapers.
I represent the Magazine publishers Association. My
understanding is that they have four hundred.
The Magazine Publishers Association doesn't have all the magazines. It
didn't even have us for quite a while. It may not again as far as that
I hope you don't pay much dues.
Let me ask you, though, if you include magazines, take a
city, take Boston, where we are. How many versions of the news, with
interpretations of the news, would you say are available in print in the
I have no idea, I don't live
Well, it would certainly be in the
Of course. Well, consider all the ...
if you want me to assume your number for some question, all right.
Well, all right, if you disagree, would you say hundreds,
then? There are quite obviously an awful lot. But how many are available on
television in Boston?
How many versions of the news with
I don't know that.
Well, it sure as heck isn't hundreds, is it? As a matter
of fact, I'll tell you, because I've researched the matter. There are about
four or five, depending on how you count. And three of those are the
national network news programs. Now you mean to tell me that there is any
fair comparison between the amount of news and interpretation you get
through print in Boston, because it is a medium which anybody can get into,
and the very tightly limited amount of news and interpretation which you can
get over television in the same area.
know if I told you that, but I will tell you that.
You think that there is actually, what, more or less.
Well, your numbers are very misleading. I would suppose
that circulating in Boston general news magazines would not number over
Oh, there are many more than that. They
don't have to be…
Gentlemen, no more numbers
games about magazines and television.
Palmieri, may I make the point simply this way, that the argument that there
are as many television outlets as there are magazine and newspaper outlets
is nonsense. There is a potentially infinite number.
I'm sorry. Mr. Pierson, I have to interrupt the
examination, and we have to move on with the show. I thank you for being on
The only comparison to make, of
course, is to newspapers of general circulation, and they and all other
sources that would circulate around Boston and any place else will get their
news stories from the wire services. And there are two wire services. There
are simply not that many versions of the news. There are in every outlet -
in Los Angeles seven stations, two major newspapers. That goes to the major
question of what we're concerned with - harm to the news. And to talk to
that I've asked to join us Mr. Frederick Wiseman.
Welcome, Mr. Wiseman.
Mr. Wiseman is a
distinguished maker of public affairs documentaries for television. His
documentary "Law and Order" won an Emmy. Mr. Wiseman, is there today
adequate public affairs coverage on television.
Not in my view, no. There are all kinds of issues that should be covered on
television that I never see on the air.
The activities of local government, for
example. School committee meetings, city council meetings, what goes on in
the mayor's office in the city, how decisions get made, the activities of
local police forces, all the various relationships between the individual
and the state on a local level, which are bound to be controversial in any
one community, hardly ever get explored in any detail.
Does that have anything to do with the fairness
I think it does, yes, because the
networks, and educational television, too, to some extent, seem to be
fearful of getting into controversial issues precisely because of the
fairness: doctrine. This seems to have had the opposite effect from that
which was originally intended.
Are there any
risks, however, in giving television news the same freedom that other media
I think there are certainly risks. But in
presenting these kinds of reality issues on television, you're really just
competing in a market place of ideas, and I'd much rather take the risk of
the competition and all ideas coming forward rather than run the danger of
some ideas not coming out because of fear on the part of the
And would a repeal of the fairness
doctrine make a difference in the quality of public affairs
Yes, I think so, because in many ways
it couldn't be worse.
All right, Mr. Wiseman. Mr. Rusher.
I agree with you that in many ways it couldn't be worse,
but let's see what we do to make things better, Mr. Wiseman. From your
remark about risks I take it that there is in fact bias in television
I think that any kind of reporting is
And you complain, I
believe, that television is afraid now to get into controversy or into ...
what particular types of things are they afraid to get into?
Well, I wouldn't ever resort to a sweeping generalization
of television. I think there are issues that I would like to see explored.
For example, I'd like to see, we're in Boston, I'd like to see regular
meetings of the Boston School Committee televised.
Is it your contention that the fairness doctrine is preventing
I don't know whether the fairness
doctrine is preventing it or not. I know that there is some reason why in
most communities that I've visited many controversial issues are never
regularly explored on television.
words, there's some reason and you without really being sure sort of think
it's maybe the fairness doctrine?
If I had to
assign any one reason I would assign the existence of the fairness
On what basis would you assign it?
Why do you draw this conclusion?
On the basis
of my subjective judgment.
Have you ever worked
as a newsman or a producer for a commercial television station?
Then how do
you know what causes ... you're judging their subjective
Well, because I've read a variety
of books about it, I've talked to people who told me off the cuff what the
real problems are, or off the written record, maybe on the cuff.
They've spoken to you in private and you're now relaying
their views from out of the ...
Well, I can't
really say I'm relaying their views. I'm summarizing views I've
Can you tell me, sir, I'm still having
difficulty understanding what is going to happen if we exempt television
news from the fairness doctrine. To begin with, we're talking, you
appreciate, about television news, and we are therefore confining ourselves
to that. Now what television news is going to be covered that isn't covered
now because of the fairness doctrine?
course, you can't say with precision, but it's the kind of thing that good
investigative journalism in newspapers and magazines covers.
Can you give me an example?
Oh, some of the - I've never seen television's equivalent of Lincoln
Steffens, for example.
You think the fairness
doctrine is preventing you from it?
I think so,
yes, because I think that television station: in most communities that I've
observed are afraid to get into very controversial issues.
So you've said ...
interrupt at this time, because I think, Mr. Wiseman, that some subsequent
witnesses may be furnishing exactly the examples that Mr. Rusher is asking
about, or at least I think Mr. Miller may be asking them about those
examples, and so I'll move on now, Mr. Rusher. Mr. Wiseman, thank you for
being on The Advocates.
Thank you, Mr.
For our purposes we understand
television news includes public affairs documentaries, and it's the absence
of powerful ones of those as well as the news department that Mr. Wiseman
was talking about. Those in power, of course, always oppose free speech, for
it's a function of freedom of speech to criticize those in power. We've
built up this curious distinction between print and the word on the
broadcast. As Mr. Rusher mentioned he is the publisher of the National
Review, and it is quite natural to ask, if the government cannot monitor the
content of the National Review and cancel it because it is not fair, why
does it get the right to monitor the content of every television station in
Thank you, Mr. Miller. We'll be
back to Mr. Miller for his rebuttal. Now let's go to William Rusher to find
out why television news should not be exempt from the fairness doctrine.
America is rightly proud of its free
press. There are about eight thousand newspapers in the United States and
many hundreds of magazines. Out of this rich array of materials, you and I
can choose anything we like and glean almost any imaginable political
opinion. But television is different. Because, in the present state of
affairs only a few channels are available for commercial broadcasting in any
given city or town. These channels in turn, 576 of the national total of 689
are monopolized by just three huge national commercial networks. The result
is that when you turn on your TV set to hear the national news, you have
just one of three choices, NBC, ABC, or CBS. I need not tell you, then, how
vitally important it is that the news broadcasts on these three networks
should be free from political bias or slanting. The newscasters on these
evening news programs are talking to 40 or 50,000,000 people, who count on
them to make sure that both sides, or all sides, of a story get told. If
they don't, we have just one recourse, the so-called fairness doctrine of
the Federal Communications Commission, which the Supreme Court has already
ruled constitutional, which requires that if a newscaster tells only one
side of the story, time must be given to somebody else to tell the other
side. Note that there is no censorship here. The newscaster can slant all he
wants to. All that is required is that time be given to the other side of
the story as well. The FCC has done a very poor job of enforcing the
fairness doctrine, as you can tell by listening to the seven o'clock news
any night. But evidently the commercial networks find it burdensome anyway.
And tonight we are told that the fairness doctrine must be abolished as far
as television news is concerned. To tell us why, on the contrary, it's
rigorous application is essential for the time being, I call first upon the
author of the exciting new book, "The News Twisters," Miss Edith
Welcome, Miss Efron.
Miss Efron, I'm going to be asking you just how fair
network television news is. I know that you have made a special study of
this, which is the subject of your book. As I understand it, you taped every
word on the prime time evening news programs of the three networks,
Cronkite, and Reynolds, and Huntley and Brinkley in the last seven weeks of
the 1968 presidential campaign and taped all of those words and transcribed
them. Then what did you do?
I selected the
three major issues of the period, the presidential race, the war, and racial
conflict. These were highly polarized issues with very strong pro and con
opinion in the country about them, and that pro and con opinion appeared in
the transcripts. I analyzed the material, I pulled out the pro and con
opinion on each of the major controversies, and then, using an equal time
standard as the ideal, I tallied the number of words of pro and con opinion
on each issue. The result was very dramatic. The opinion was virtually all
concentrated, loaded, on one side of the controversies. And, with almost no
exception, it reinforced or was massed on the Democratic, liberal, or left
side of the controversies.
Now, let's take
from your study the biggest issue of them all that year in those seven weeks
of 1968, Nixon versus Humphrey versus Wallace. Hoi/ was opinion distributed
on the networks among those three candidates?
Well, let's look at my chart. Here you will see black is antagonistic
opinion, white is favorable.
And this is the
Wallace chart, I believe.
This is the Wallace
chart, and you will see that on all three networks the antagonistic opinion
dominates the totals, but not catastrophically.
The number of words on top of the columns are the number of words spoken
pro or anti on that network.
How about Mr. Humphrey? How did he
fare with the network!
Well, let's see that
chart. Here you will observe that the first two networks, ABC and CBS, some
degree more favorable than antagonistic opinion. On NBC, antagonistic
opinion was greater than favorable. But, taken as a group, one might say
it's close to fair and somewhat friendly.
how did Mr. Nixon fare with those three networks?
All right, put that chart on, please. Your laughter speaks for itself.
The bias is absolutely drastic. It was around 10 to 1 anti-Nixon on all
three networks, this during a period when, until the last week, Mr. Nixon
had a commanding lead in the polls.
the other two big issues you mentioned in 1968, the Vietnam war and the
racial issue, and very briefly tell us what you found with regard to those
Well, briefly, there was a principle
in common, and that was that the prevailing attitudes of the majority at
that time were either given short shrift or were omitted from the coverage
altogether, and what was on the news, the opinions transmitted on the war,
for example, was minority, antiwar opinion. And on the blacks, black
militant, black separatist attitudes, with heavy rationalization of
violence, which totally contradicted the majority black views of the
And, lastly, then, can you tell us
briefly what in your mind the solution to this problem is?
The ideal solution to be enacted as soon as technology
permits is to blow the government out of television altogether.
What kind of technology did you have in mind?
I see. I
just want to make that clear.
To expel the
government totally from the confines of an intellectual medium. Until that
is done and the public, Congress, and the various vested interests are
educated thereto, the basically monopolistic situation that exists can't be
deprived of the only hedge against this kind of thing,
And that's the fairness doctrine?
All right, let's hear
from Mr. Miller on cross-examination.
Efron, if the networks are consistently giving out information against the
majority wishes of the American people, one of the things the study may
prove is the remarkably little influence they actually have.
Yes, that's true. Whenever the bias is that gross, even
idiots can see it.
Let me ask you, though, in
fact there are other sources, I mean, you simply looked at one source of the
news, many other sources are received with biases on other sides, isn't that
You mean in total network
Total media coverage.
The network prime-time news shows ...
No, media, newspapers, magazines, total media coverage,
many sources of information to the viewer, who may get a bias from one side
All studies indicate,' Mr. Miller, that
the majority of the American people receive their primary political
information from those three shows, which is why I did that study.
But, in fact, during an average week, there is more
local programming across the country and local news than there is network
In terms of the understanding of the
nation, this is the source of understanding of the nation for most
But where does that lead you ...
well, how can it be the major source of understanding if it's consistently
against what the majority of the people believe?
I don't understand your question.
let's ask another one. What is your solution? Let me talk about your
solution. What would you do, for example, in a one newspaper town? Of all
the cities in the United States, there are 1300 cities that have only one
newspaper, and that's all. Would you impose a fairness doctrine on that
Well, I don't understand.
Because there's no town in the United States where, if you fill out a
postcard or go to your local news dealer, you can't have at your fingertips
the publications of the entire world.
you say that, isn't that equally as true for network news? There's no town
in the United States where you can't get the same thing against the monopoly
In other words, you wish to
justify the flaws and the bias of network news by pointing out that it can
be supplemented by other things?
No. You wish
to justify the flaws and the bias of the one newspaper town by demonstrating
it can be supplemented by other things. Why do we apply a different standard
to what may be natural bias inherent in reporting?
There is no dependency on, by the individual, on any
print medium. He can solve the problem quickly. This is being poured into
the nation by three gigantic corporations, a triple-headed monopoly, with
which allegedly is fair, which declares itself to be fair ...
Let's go back over the reason and let's understand it.
One newspaper towns, the only newspaper in the city, 1300 cities in the
United States like that. You think that does not present a problem of
fairness because there are other sources of news for people who read that
newspaper. But you do think the monopoly of television presents a
Because people can get alternatives
and the whole spectrum is available if they wish to buy it. You cannot find
the whole spectrum on network television. It is not there.
But you think that getting other media information can
counteract the bias of a newspaper, why can't getting other media
information counteract the bias of the television station?
I'm not too inclined to push this argument, but it's
significant anyway. People prefer television. It has the greatest amount of
impact, the greatest amount of vividness. It consequently has the greatest
effect. Also, may I say...
Do you know that
from your study?
My own study? No. It's
As a matter of fact, your
study was simply a gross estimate of the words used, there was no study of
the influence of those words on the audience?
For example, one of the
things you mention in your study is the crowd reactions. You list - for
example, crowd reaction against Nixon is listed as anti-Nixon when its
As public opinion.
As public opinion, yes. Would you say the crowd reaction
against President Nixon in San Jose, where he was stoned, and later saw that
that was publicized throughout the entire country, would you categorize that
in the 1970 election as pro-Nixon or anti-Nixon?
Public response was anti-Nixon.
despite the fact that the president himself went on all three major networks
to show that again and again because he thought it helped him, and you would
categorize it as anti-Nixon?
categorize that as anti-Nixon, you mean?
the stoning in San Jose before the 1970 election.
In fact, are you asking how I would classify it in my study? There would
be various classifications, because obviously it would be Nixon opinion as
No, no. In other cases you assume that
every crowd reaction against the candidate is anti the candidate, you said
If the reporter says so.
well, the reporter says it. So in this case the reporter
says it, which he did. You categorize it as anti-Nixon. The president didn't
think so. He had that shown all over the United States.
No, the president had other purposes which would be
Which would be
which would be pro-Nixon,
Yes, of course. So the same event could
be anti or pro depending on the bias of the viewer looking at it.
Different aspects of it would have different purposes
objectively that could be named and classified.
Exactly, and who decided the categorization for each of these events
that you categorized?
The reporters in most
The reporters in most cases. Pardon me. The reporters in most cases. In
the gross ...
Miss Efron, may I interrupt you.
I want to thank you for testifying here tonight. Mr. Miller.
I'm afraid Mr. Miller's going to have to work harder
than that to make those figures go away. We'll next hear from a man who has
worked in the television news industry, Mr. Arthur Alpert of New York
Welcome, Mr. Alpert.
Mr. Alpert is news director of WRVR-FM radio in New York
at the moment. He was formerly a television news producer and in fact is now
doing a regular program analyzing the news media. Mr. Alpert, is television
news in fact biased, as Miss Efron's book indicates?
Well, of course it is. It's run by humans. Many of them
are liberals. Liberals seem to drift into the news media. They’re welcomed.
I was one of them. And the news media are not, frankly as open to - I should
have said white liberals, and middle-class, white, middle-class liberals -
television is not as open to women, to blacks, to poor people, to people who
are chess fanatics or are in some way very different.
May I add to that great list "conservatives”?
about the argument, though, that the fairness doctrine winds up scaring
everybody and thus prevents robust journalism?
Well, if you are a manager of a local television station and your aim is to
make money and your newsroom is full of liberals, you may very well adopt
and impose upon your news people a cloak of objectivity - it turns out to be
phony objectivity - so as to protect yourself. On the other hand, I don't
know that that's the only way to go about it. I can conceive of hiring a
varied bunch of journalists, letting them go, giving them air
Lastly, then, why not let this happen?
Why don't the stations do this on their own?
think that for one thing it takes effort and it takes money. For another, I
think the stations have a difficult choice. They can give up the current
situation in which a small amount, or some amount of corporate liberalism
sneaks in to this overtly objective frame. Or they can admit that that
happens and admit that everybody's human and get all different kinds of
views. It's a tough choice for reasons I don't fully understand, but I
suspect that they're in part financial and in part ideological. They choose
Let's explore that on
cross-examination with Mr. Miller.
you didn't tell us what you thought of the fairness doctrine. What do you
I think as long as the television
system is a monopoly, we need the fairness doctrine.
What do you mean, as long as it's a monopoly? Suppose we
had extensive cable television throughout the country?
Cable television's shape is yet to be determined. Cable
television may well turn out to be as democratic and open and full of access
as is conventional television, meaning not a bit.
And your test, then, is if it's a monopoly. So in any medium where
there's a monopoly you would favor a government regulation of
No, I wouldn't go so far ... I would
say merely that when information is involved that this country is dedicated,
at constitutionally and so on, to John Stuart Mill, a free market place of
ideas, and we don't have any in television.
Let's see what kind of a monopoly. I'm interested in the distinction between
monopolies. Let me ask the same question, and pardon me for repeating it,
because it's so critical, of the one newspaper town. If the basis is
monopoly, there's the basic media monopoly in the United States, that is the
basic situation in the United States, one newspaper towns. Shouldn't we
impose a fairness doctrine on them?
don't think so. As I've indicated, I think the fairness doctrine is a
necessary evil as long as television is a monopoly. I don't see any reason
to extend it. When, in fact, and I agree with Miss Efron, when in fact we
end the television system and start all over again ...
We'll still have the newspaper monopoly.
I think, I agree again, I'm sorry to agree so often,
because I come from another part of the political spectrum, but in fact I
think Miss Efron is quite right, there are many sources of information in
print. There are not many sources of information in television.
Well, let's look at a specific market and test that out
then. In the city of Los Angeles there are seven television
Excuse me, Mr. Miller. The city of
Los Angeles, the city of New York are very great exceptions.
Oh, are you willing to say the fairness doctrine should
not apply in New York and Los Angeles?
bit. I merely want to point out before you go on...
Well, let's talk about them ...
You're taking an atypical situation ...
Well, but let's see if it's atypical as to the fairness
doctrine. The city of Los Angeles, the city of New York, have seven
television channels. They have many news broadcasts, very strong independent
news broadcasts, besides the three networks. They also have in Los Angeles,
two major newspapers, in New York more. In those markets would you apply the
I would still keep the
Why? There's no monopoly of
network news in Los Angeles.
Well, first of
all, as long as no other competitor can come in, there is a monopoly, and
there are no unused channels.
Have you ever
tried to start a newspaper in New York City. Do you think other competitors
can come in?
I do know people who have just
tried to start a newspaper in New York City and some others who will try
shortly and I wish them the greatest of luck.
We all wish them the greatest of luck.
conceivable at least. At least they don't have to get a channel. In Los
Angeles there are no empty channels. But perhaps more importantly the
corporate interest of everyone of those television stations is pretty much
But why is it if it's so difficult,
if it's a Question of access to a channel, that's really phony. If it's so
difficult, why is it that there are more television stations than there are
There are more
television stations than city-wide newspapers?
Yes. In every city in the United States.
number of television stations is the result of a table worked out by the
But, no, that would be true if there were
many more newspapers. If the limitation is technical, why are there
everyplace more television channels than newspapers?
Gentlemen, Mr. Alpert, I'm going to interrupt at this
time. I'm sorry. I want to thank you for being with us. Mr. Miller. Mr.
Rusher, will you continue.
I have my thirty
seconds, and I'm going to use them to address this matter of the one
newspaper town which so bothers Mr. Miller. The one newspaper town is a one
newspaper town because nobody else has bothered to come in and start a
second newspaper and make it good enough that anybody there could buy it. If
anybody wants to do it, it can be a two newspaper town or a twenty-two
newspaper town, but as Mr. Alpert pointed out there are just so many
channels available, and the government has long since allocated to itself,
with the entire approval of Mr. Pierson, the job of allocating those
channels. And as long as that monopoly situation exists, where only three
gigantic networks exist for news in this country, then the fairness doctrine
is needed to watch over them. I think we may have gotten before
Well I thought you - I think
there's no problem - I thought you felt the need to make a statement at this
time and take your witness afterward.
And I was so anxious to do it that I neglected to call on one other witness,
to discuss the matter from the standpoint of the government itself,
Professor Paul Weaver. Professor Weaver is professor of government at
Harvard and teaches a course in media. You know, I'm glad I did take those
thirty seconds then because while I lose my wrap, I will save you a certain
amount of trouble on cross-examination. We've taken care of that.
Do you believe
Miss Efron's book is basically sound in its methodology and its
Yes, I do. When I first read the
book and when I saw its rather startling conclusions, of course I had my
questions about its methodology. And so I took myself, as Miss Efron invites
any reader to do, I took myself to New York and spent some time going over
her documentation. I went through the various opinion files pro and con that
she had pub together, analyzed the decisions that lay behind them, and
satisfied myself that it was a substantially competent, valid methodology,
and that the conclusions are equally competent and valid.
Turning now directly to the fairness doctrine, does the
fairness doctrine, or does it, as has been contended sometimes, I believe
most recently and unsuccessfully by Mr. Miller's witness Mr. Pierson,
violate the first amendment of the constitution?
Well, the Supreme Court has considered that question recently, and it
decided that in fact the fairness doctrine does not contradict first
amendment rights of free speech. It should be pointed out that the point of
the fairness doctrine is to prohibit those few men who have access to and
control the three great national network news operations from excluding all
opinions other than their own from the news. It does not prevent them from
putting forward their own views as long as they also give access to the
views of those who disagree.
Now, if the
fairness doctrine, though, is as even-handed as all that, it sounds as if it
should work and yet manifestly it doesn't work, because look at the results
that Miss Efron got in her research study, how do you explain those results
if the fairness doctrine is what we want it to be.
I think the answer is very simple. The networks have not
followed the fairness doctrine and the FCC has not enforced it. I think what
is required now is for the networks to begin taking seriously this part of
public policy and for the FCC now to see to it that the networks do in fact
take it seriously.
Can you tell me briefly how
you would have the FCC go about this?
think the FCC is only a part of the answer. The first place where this now
effort should be made is of course within the network and news operations
themselves. They are the people that produce the programs from day to day,
and they are the people with the primary responsibility. They could, for
example, compile a content analysis of their own news coverage along the
lines that Miss Efron's book pioneers. The FCC could do the same
Professor, I'm going to ask for Mr.
Miller's cross-examination, and I think he may be pursuing the question of
your suggestion with you.
there arc two wire services, basically, two major wire services in this
country, Associated Press and United Press International. They send their
stories out over wires generally leased from Western Union, which itself is
regulated by the FCC. Should we have a fairness doctrine for the AP and the
Well, first of all, I don't think I would
accept your formulation of the way things are. Yes, those are the two
principle news services. On the other hand, there's the New York Times wire
service, which reaches over 200 newspapers; the Washington Post-L.A. Times
service, there are various foreign services, Reuters, and so forth, there
are a large number of wire services available.
Certainly no more than half a dozen. It's a kind of monopoly. Most small
newspapers rely on the AP and the UPI. Suppose they were the only two.
Suppose there were four, so it's a monopoly situation. Would you impose the
fairness doctrine on the wire services?
I think one point to be made, the first point and the most important, is
that indeed these wire services have imposed just such a doctrine on
How do we know? Has anyone like
Miss Efron done a study on the wire services?
No, but other people have. There's a large literature on the subject and let
me tell you about it. When in 1848 the AP was first founded ...
That's 122 years.
long time ago - the question of fairness and the acceptability of the news
they gathered came up immediately. And the resolution that the governing
board of the AP came upon was something almost precisely analogous to the
fairness doctrine. It remains the guiding principle of the AP and other wire
services to this day.
That still leaves the
question. Because it's also the guiding principle of the networks. If
someone were to show that the AP and the UPI had the same kind of - let's
use the word for the sake of the question - biased coverage, that the wire
services indicated bias in their coverage, would you favor a fairness
doctrine for the wire services?
Well, I think
that's a very "iffy” question. It depends on the hypothesis.
Why don't you answer the question? Because the answer is
no, you wouldn't.
Wow, wait a minute, are you
interested in my answer to the question...
Yes, your real answer.
... or are you
interested in my view on this matter.
answer to the question.
OK. The answer to the
question is that the cases are dissimilar. They're dissimilar because the
nature of the monopoly that you have posited for the wire services is not
comparable to the monopoly possessed by the network television
OK. For a number of reasons. First, the government has created the
monopoly that the network news programs enjoy. It has had nothing to do with
the monopoly - it's not in fact a monopoly, but let's assume there
You think the government should not
regulate monopolies that come about financially rather than by government
regulation? That's no distinction in monopoly law. If you get together and
form a monopoly because of your financial power, the government steps in
just as well.
That's right, and of course
there are famous cases concerning wire services the government has stepped
And we both know it, so why not apply
the fairness doctrine to the wire services?
Because they don't possess a monopoly, and that's what I was trying to
Well, gentlemen, that brings us -
professor, I think you've made that point very clearly.
There are two more parts of it yet.
I have to say thanks now for being on The Advocates and
return to Mr. Miller.
Everyone, of course,
wants to shy away from the consequences of what's being done, but censorship
is censorship, whether it's applied to the print media or to a voice on a
broadcast. And if you begin to regulate the content of television news and
public affairs because it goes out over the airwaves and there are only
three networks, despite the exception of Los Angeles and New York, then you
set the principle for regulating the content of the wire services and one
town newspapers as well. Is that what we mean by freedom of speech? To talk
to that question I've asked to join us Mr. Jeffrey St. John.
Welcome, Mr. St. John.
St. John is a newspaper columnist and a radio and television news
commentator. Mr. St. John, is the fairness doctrine a censorship that's a
threat to the freedom of the press?
Particularly if the government is empowered to at its own will to intimidate
those who are the transmission belt for ideas, whether we agree or disagree
with those ideas.
And is there in fact a real
threat that this fairness doctrine, now that we have it in television, will
go on to newspapers and other forms of communication?
There's no question about that. As a matter of fact,
current FCC commissioners and past FCC commissioners have said publicly that
there should in fact be a fairness doctrine for newspapers to which Clifton
Daniel, the former managing editor of the Now York Times and now in a higher
position with the Times, said in effect that if you begin editing newspapers
by judicial fiat you no longer have newspapers but transmission belts for
those ideas of those people who hold the coercive power of
Why do people think of the
fairness doctrine? Are they afraid that people who read and see the news
can't make estimates on their own of what's going on?
I think that's partly it. It's a kind of intellectual
arrogance on the part of people who don't trust a country with an enormously
high literacy rate to make fundamental judgments, to use their own minds.
But I think there's also the belief in the doctrine of coercion, that is,
that instead of arguing for your ideas in the marketplace of ideas, as I
think I have tried to do personally, what they believe is that somehow you
can either command creativity or that you con command fairness. You can't
command fairness and the fairness doctrine illustrates that
In your view, has the fairness
doctrine intimidated what otherwise would have been good public affairs
No question about it. It's not only
intimidated, it's put a restraint on them, broadcasters, to essentially get
into presentation. By the way, there's one issue that I think is very
important here. We tend to forget that the fairness doctrine deals with
opinion, not news, and I think that's a crucial distinction to be made. And
what is being advocated here tonight is essentially the extension of that
doctrine to include news judgments, as opposed to opinions, as I represent
in the various commentary work that I do. And I consider that insidious and
We've heard that all the
networks are populated by liberals who are out to tell us what to think. Is
there a vast liberal conspiracy in the news media?
No, there's not a liberal conspiracy, but there is a
predominant liberal bias in broadcasting today.
Is that a reason to regulate its content?
No, no. The way that you get at that particular problem is that you argue
for your particular values to change that through peaceful, persuasive means
and not by government coercion.
Mr. Rusher has
some attempted persuasion now on cross-examination.
Mr. St. John, when did you begin your current series of
broadcasts on CBS radio?
And you'd been asked to do that about
when, can you pinpoint it for me?
As a matter
of fact, I was not asked, Mr. Rusher, this serves to illustrate my point
about going into the marketplace and persuading people to accept your
particular point of view in terms of presentation of opinion that is
lacking. I wrote a letter to Mr. Richard Salant, President of CBS News, and
I said, I have the professional credentials to fit the criteria that you
have now laid out with respect to the CBS series spectrum, two from the
right, two from the middle, and two from the left. I received a letter which
said to contact Mr. Emerson Stone, and that's the way I got this particular
assignment. I've done this also in other ...
That was January 1970.
What a felicitous coincidence that Vice President
Agnew's speech we saw was in November 1969.
take the view, Mr. Rusher, simply that the Vice Presidents speech performed
a very valuable service. It flushed out the buzzard called bias. It does
exist. I think the real question here, Mr. Rusher, is simply how do we deal
with this issue. Do we deal with it by coercion? Do we deal with it by
government imposed standards, or do we deal with it in a genuine
intellectual debate of ideas?
I couldn't agree
with you more. But you say the American people ...
wail, how can you justify the fairness doctrine,
Just a moment, I'm about to tell you,
please, I'm asking the questions, remember?
Suppose the people on - you
say we don't have sufficient confidence in the American people exercising
their judgment. But what if they are given basically just three prime time
news shows per night on which to exercise their judgment and they don't care
for any of them. What do they do then? Listen to you on CBS radio?
No, what they do is - again you're scrambling your
categories, you're assuming that essentially the issue is one dealing with
news. And I say that you've got to differentiate between news presentations
and opinion. Now, I would say that the way that you deal with this is that
you examine the complexity of this problem. Host people who share a
particular point of view such as you may hold or I hold, tend to go off and
not write books they tend to become businessmen. There's a whole complex
issue there in terms of the intellectual bias. Now how do you use the
government's coercion and powers to rectify what is essentially an
intellectual choice. Now, I don't understand that.
Since you’re asking, Mr. St. John, I'll tell you. You
are yourself in point of fact an example, perhaps the principle example, of
the tokenism of the major networks.
me tell you something.
They have, now let me
finish, they haven't put you on television and they're not about to
Gentlemen, it really helps for one of us
to be talking at a time, and you're getting more than your share, because
it's Mr. Rusher's turn to ask you questions on cross-examination.
formulations are so outrageous that one can't keep still.
You haven't heard anything yet.
I'm beginning to be very grateful that the fairness
doctrine stands between me and Mr. St. John, I'll tell you that.
I'm very worried that the government stands between you
and me and liberty.
Well, so am I, Mr. St.
John. I think that we are going to do very well in containing it if only we
can keep the monopoly which has developed of liberal opinion on the major
television networks in this country from overwhelming all of us. I don't
think the fact that you're on CBS radio really reassures me sufficiently.
Let me ask you ...
I'm also on NBC
But not on prime time in a network
Oh, yes, I am, on the NBC Today show
every two weeks.
Way up there in the morning,
but how about the evening.
people watch the Today show.
Mr. Rusher, would
you believe it if I said last question
believe it; I think I'd welcome it. You imply that the fairness doctrine
somehow implies government control. How?
imposes government control simply by the fact that the government is
empowered to grant or deny a license. The WPIX television case now before
the commission is an example.
has never once denied or revoked a license because of bias in the
Sir, as a matter of fact, right now, the
FCC is deciding just such a question in the WPIX television ...
Deciding, yes. And if they decide as they decided in the
others, there will be no revocation.
John, with that I'm going to thank you, thank Mr. Rusher, we're going to go
to our summaries. Thanks for being on the program.
Mr. Miller, you have one minute to summarize your
Every generation has to learn anew what
freedom of speech is. Freedom of speech was only, once, applied to the
print, and now we have new media, and we're faced with a major challenge to
it. The limitation on television channels is not the limitation of
frequencies but the limitation on media is the limitation of money. There
simply are no other newspapers that have been started in major markets. In
all places there are more television channels than newspapers. Does that
mean that fairness must be imposed on newspapers? Does that mean it must be
imposed on wire services?
The questions have been
constantly evaded, but once freedom of speech has been invaded, those
questions cannot be evaded. Basically, to believe in the freedom of speech
you have to believe in what is true, that the clash of the biases in the
marketplace of ideas that the clash of everyone's opinion, to be judged and
valued by all the people.
Thank you Mr.
Miller. Mr. Rusher, you also have one minute for your summary.
The biases will be allowed to clash. You are watching
this program on your television set, and I can't think of a better person
therefore to ask, do you fool that these three huge commercial television
networks in their news programs, are giving you the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth? Mr. Miller's own three witnesses, not one of
them, said so. These newscasters are just as human, just as prejudiced as
you and I. And, if so, given their virtual monopoly, what on earth is wrong
with a fairness doctrine that requires them, if they slant the news, to let
someone tell the other side of the story. Is there any sane reason why such
a simple requirement should be abolished? Until that happy day when pay TV
or a scientific breakthrough in the number of available channels can break
at last the monopoly of the big three. You watch The Advocates. I assume, I
hope you like it. Would it be a better program if you heard only Mr.
Miller's side or only mine? How would the cause of freedom conceivably gain
by such a change? I urge you to vote against tonight's proposal.
Gentlemen, thank you both. Well, now it's time for you
at home to act. Express your views on tonight's question. Write us, The
Advocates, Box 1971, Boston 02134. The question on which you'll be voting:
Should television news be exempt from the fairness doctrine? Send us your
vote on a letter or postcard. We'll tabulate your views and make them known
to members of Congress and to the White House and to others concerned with
this issue. Every one of your votes is important. Remember that address: The
Advocates, Box 1971, Boston 02134. Write us tonight.
Thanks to our advocates and our witnesses. I'm Victor
Palmieri Please join us again next week at this same time. Thank you now.
The Advocates as a program takes
no position on the issue debated tonight. Our job is to help you understand
both sides more clearly.