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Chairman METCALF. There are only a few Democrats still around that have lived through administrations that the executive and the legislative was in the hands of the other party. When you and I came to Congress, Dwight Eisenhower was President, and our committee chairmen were Republicans. We were the minority, and Joe Martin was the Speaker.
Representative CLEVELAND. It did not last very long, did it?
Chairman METCALF. I was not going to mention that. But the point is that we have lived through administrations where we have been on the minority on all sides. We have lived through periods when we have been the majority in Congress and the other party has been in control of the White House. We have served during periods when our party was in control of both the Congress and the White House.
Senator ROBERT C. BYRD. Yes.
Chairman METCALF. So we have had almost every kind of experience you can have.
Senator ROBERT C. BYRD. So, Mr. Chairman, as I said, I do not state this critically, but in any such situation, the minority party naturally is going to take the side of its President in many instances.
Chairman METCALF. Why, of course, as we did.
Senator ROBERT C. Byrd. Of course, in connection with issues that divide the parties of the Congress, so we have one-half of the Congress, or a very sizable side of the Congress making war on the other half of that institution of which that minority is a part.
We would do the same if we were, as I said, the situation were reversed, but this does have a bad impact on the Congress because all too many of us are running against Congress, and running Congress down, pointing the finger at Congress, because I suppose it may be popular to do so, but this is one of the reasons where I think the American people have indicated such a low opinion of this branch of the Government, some either overtly or by implication, half the Members of the Congress join in the criticism of Congress.
These are also times when scandals dominate the news, and cynicism dominates the attitudes of Americans. The Presidency has suffered greatly, and it should not be too surprising that Congress, the pressin fact, even the churches have also suffered because of this public cynicism.
Yet, a large part of the reason the legislative branch is given such low marks can be found in the way Congress is presented to the public in our newspapers and magazines and on our radio and television stations.
During the Lincoln Day recess, for instance, when Congress was out of session, I held several day-long meetings with top committee staff members discussing budget reform legislation. Reform legislation, which came out of your Committee on Government Operations, legislation that if it is enacted, if it works and if it is useful, will probably be the most important piece of legislation enacted by this Congress. Indeed, it may be the most important legislation enacted during my 22 years in the Congress.
Chairman METCALF. I concur. I recall during that same recess, I testified before your committee.
Senator ROBERT C. BYRD. Yes, exactly; you did. You had very considerable input into that legislation, and it is on the Calendar of the
Senate, and the report of the Rules Committee was submitted yesterlay, but during that recess, the Lincoln Day recess, several long meetngs with top committee staff members were conducted by me, under ny supervision in discussing this budget reform legislation.
I suspect most other Congressmen were likewise occupied with work n Washington or in their home States. Yet, I also suspect that most ther Congressmen read editorials in papers from their States—as i read one in a West Virginia paper-criticizing Congress for taking a ecess. The unavoidable impression left with the reader is that, when Yongress is in recess, the legislative branch goes en masse to a beach esort.
Obviously, the charge is unfair. But how do we go about setting he record straight?
With 535 Members representing all conceivable points of view, Yongress cannot speak with one voice. Nor can it, with a collective nap of its Members' fingers, command exclusive air time as can the President.
The legislative branch, if it is to get its story across, must ultimately lepend on the 1,708 magazine and newspaper correspondents and the 26 radio and television newsmen who are accredited in the congresional news galleries. These are the primary conduits through which he story of Congress reaches the American people. It seems obvious o me that the full story is not getting through.
At first glance, 2,235 newsmen accredited in the congressional news galleries would seem to indicate that Congress is being fully covered. Yet, given the range of congressional activities and given the coninuing practice of herd journalism, it is clear that much of what goes on in Congress goes unreported by the media. This is due, in large part, to the manner in which Congress is covered. For instance:
Too much attention is centered on the floor actions of the Senate and he House, and not enough on the work being done at the subcommitee and committee level. As Harold M. Evans noted in the January/ February 1972 issue of Columbia Journalism Review: “* * * the information industry must do more than merely record diverse judgments of what people say * * * it must not just wait until someone speaks. It must be making inquiries and trying to find things out before then.” By heavily concentrating on the floor activities, newsmen are waiting "until someone speaks,” they are missing the genesis of legislation and, thereby, missing the opportunity to explain a complex measure to the American people before it becomes law.
Newsmen are assigned to cover either the House or Senate, or the congressional delegations from a certain number of States. Assigning a reporter to cover either the House or Senate tends to keep him from becoming an expert on any given issue. Since practically all legislation passes through both Houses, and since many newsmen cover it in only one of the bodies, there are very few comprehensive stories done on any but the most dramatic pieces of legislation. Likewise, assigning newsmen to cover individual legislators rather than issues results in perpetuating the names-make-news syndrome about which so many journalists themselves complain. Reporters thus assigned become experts on personalities, rather than on issues.
The media avoid complex issues in favor of spot or easily explained news. In 1972, a Twentieth Century Fund Task Force study of the relationship between the Government and the press found that: 6* * * All too often, the performance of journalists, particularly in dealing with governmental affairs, has been marked by a lack of basic understanding *** and by a misdirected passion for the headline or scoop.” I agree with the editors and news directors who note that readers and viewers are, as James Reston said, “* ** more interested in dramatic spot news, the splashy story, than in anything else.” But I also believe that the media, if they are to fully inform, have a responsibility to tackle the complex issues in more detail than they have up to now.
I think, Mr. Chairman, that if the media altered their approach to congressional coverage-if editors and news directors dropped their demands for their correspondents to cover only the dramatic news, and curbed their paranoia about having stories identical with their competitors, then the full story of what Congress is all about would have a better chance of being told.
The so-called Watergate affair is a prime example. I feel that the Senate Watergate Committee has done a good job informing the American people through its televised hearings, but the heavy media concentration on that committee to the exclusion of the workings of the 152 other Senate standing committees, subcommittees, specia] and select committees created a great deal of misunderstanding about the work of the Senate. My mail reflected-and I am sure the correspondence of other Senators showed—that a significant portion of the electorate thought that all of Congress was tied up with Watergate, and yet the work that was going on in the other 152 committees and subcommittees of the Senate, and there is a somewhat similar number in the House of Representatives, was not being covered by radio broadcasts and by television as was the one committee, the Watergate Committee, composed of seven Senators.
The blame for that misunderstanding which was reflected in those letters that came to you and came to me, saying get off Watergate, get on to the business of the country, get on to the important business of handling the peoples' affairs, that misunderstanding does not rest solely with the media.
Far from it. We ourselves are mostly to blame for the fact that the public has a low comprehension of the activities of Congress. How many of us made the effort to explain to our constituents that, while seven Senators were doing the job that needed to be done on the Watergate Committee, the rest of Congress was dutifully working on other, less newsworthy committees? How many of us have allowed criticism of Congress—not of individual, legislative acts, but of Congress as an institution—to go unanswered ?
Not only have we allowed it to go unanswered, but so many of us poke fun in our public speeches at the Congress because it gets a laugh out of the audience, but it does more than get a laugh out of the audience. It plants a seed that grows, a seed of disaffection for it, discontentment with and a lack of confidence in a Congress of the United States.
How many of us have shied away from proposing steps to get the story of Congress out to the people, for fear that the media would criticize those steps as public relations?
The Harris poll should be sufficient evidence that all Members of Congress are going to have to make a greater effort to explain the workings of the legislative branch to the electorate.
Now, I do not suppose any Member of the Congress can be charged vith being purposeful in damaging his own image to the people of iis State or the district. We all do that. We try not to do it, but what I have a reference to here, I think we failed in speaking up for the nstitution of which we are a part, and in connection with which it is
high honor for each of us to have been elected by our own constitunts as a part of that institution.
The Harris poll should be sufficient evidence, as I say, that Members are going to have to make a greater effort to defend not only our >wn image, but more importantly, the image of the institution of which we are a part; to defend Congress against unjustified attacks; ind, if needed, upgrade our own facilities for communicating with he American people.
By upgrading our own facilities, I mean, first of all, expanding che congressional radio and television galleries. I am not familiar with the galleries on the House side, but the Senate galleries used by radio and television correspondents fall far short of being adequate.
Chairman METCALF. They have certainly taken better care of themselves since you and I have left, have they not?
Senator ROBERT C. BYRD. I think they should be complimented on doing it.
Chairman METCALF. I do, too.
Senator ROBERT C. BYRD. As I walked down the halls I said to my staff man, how clean these corridors are, how impressive they are, how bright they are, and the committee rooms, they reflect a pride in the institution that I think ought to be reflected, and I think that that pride is an infectious pride in that the people who come here from the various States of this Union to meet their Representatives, and to appear at committee meetings, cannot help but be favorably impressed as they ought to be by the committee rooms in this building, which, by the way, were constructed, as you have pointed out, subsequent to our service on the House side, but the Senate galleries used by radio and television correspondents fall far short of being really adequate.
In fact, the cramped quarters out of which 526 correspondents are expected to operate have not been expanded since 1945, when only 104 broadcast journalists were accredited to cover Congress. Only incomplete statistics are available on the number of interviews conducted in the galleries, but those sketchy figures clearly show the need for expanding the facilities. In 1953, 196 interviews were conducted in the Senate Radio-TV Gallery. That number rose to 1,214 in 1962, and to 3,019 in 1967. Obviously, the possibility of increasing the space for the radio and television correspondents should be carefully considered.
Putting Congress recording studios to better use should also be considered. Those studios are the only means through which many Congressmen can reach the growing portion of their constituents that has come to depend primarily upon radio and television for news. It should be noted that, despite the accreditation of 526 correspondents in the congressional broadcast galleries, 96 percent of the country's television stations and 99 percent of its radio stations have no Washington correspondents. These stations depend, instead, on network coverage, which, by necessity, concentrates on national, rather than on local or regional issues.
There is no question about the importance of Congressmen communicating more frequently with their constituents through media in their home States or districts; and neither is there any question that more attention must be paid to the facilities we have at our own disposal. What must be decided is how to closely oversee any expanded operations to assure that the facilities are used for legitimate communications purposes and not abused for the purpose of political gain.
From reading the excellent background study prepared by this committee, along with the informative 2-page letter circulated prior to these hearings, I am pleased to note that this is an area in which the committee intends to become involved. I hope that, in examining the communications tools of Congress, the committee will keep in mind that the task before it is to improve the methods through which the legislative branch tells its story, and not to attempt to give Congress a competitive edge over the executive branch.
I think all of us agree that there is simply no way that the legislative branch is going to demand more media attention than the President. Even in 1860, when Congress established the Government Printing Office and thereby killed the "party press” system that gave the President unchecked power to mold public opinion, the Executive continued to speak with a stronger voice than did the legislators. In “The Mass Media and Modern Society,” William L. Rivers writes that:
* * * Even Henry Clay—daring, magnetic in debate, a thin, molten figure before a crowd and a man greatly gifted at exciting intense personal enthusiasmcould not fight through the network of newspaper animosity ***
Fortunately, none of us in Congress today faces widespread news. paper animosity. The problem confronting us is our own inability and/or reluctance to put forth the needed effort to fully explain the legislative branch to the American people. And that problem has been compounded by the changing nature of the media.
These issues which concern Congress are becoming more comples, and, therefore, need detailed explanations. Yet, at the same time, radio and television news—which depend on capsule summaries—have become what Norman Swallow, in “factual television,” refers to as, "the principal mass informers.” Newspapers, too, seem to be adopting this capsule format, with columns that wrap up world or national news in a series of brief paragraphs. This trend could result in a public that has only a peripheral knowledge of issues on which they should be fully informed.
I believe there is a significant step that Congress can take to increase public understanding of what goes on in the House and Senate namely, floor debates of Congress ought to be televised and broadcast.
On June 30, 1973, I introduced a resolution that would authorize the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to study the possibility of televising and broadcasting sessions of the Senate. I hope to hold hearings on that resolution during this session of Congress, but I, of course, welcome the suggestions I am certain will come from the hearings you are now conducting.
I not only congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of this committee in conducting these important hearings, in this important vital area of communications, but I will, in return, welcome the sug. gestions from you and members of this committee.