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from the election year straitjacket of section 315 of the Communications Act—the equal-time provision. This objective deserves our support, as do the goals of an informed public evoked by Senator Metcalf in his announcement of these hearings, and by Senator Chiles in proposing the Government in the Sunshine Act.
There are other proposals, however, that I believe would only make the problem worse. In 1970, Senator Fulbright sponsored a bill that would have required broadcasters to provide time to authorized representatives of Congress to discuss issues of public importance. As you know, Mr. Chairman, Senator Pastore conducted extensive hearings on this matter, at which CBS outlined its strong opposition. Currently, a proposal put forth by a study group would require all networks to broadcast simultaneously, at least four times a year, special primetime evening sessions of Congress. At these sessions, what it calls the most important matters before Congress would be debated. There is also Senator Muskie's bill, S. 2699, which would require broadcasters to provide the national committee of the opposition party with response time to Presidential addresses during Federal election campaigns.
These and other voices in the Congress, indeed a multiplicity of voices, are seeking either to mandate simultaneous broadcasts on all networks, or to dictate how much time should be devoted to certain Members or to issues. Such proposals, besides raising serious legal and constitutional questions, in my view, fail to reckon with the diverse nature of a legislature that speaks with as many as 535 voices. Congress has thus far, in my view, wisely recognized that you cannot deal with so complex a situation through Government-mandated and unnecessary formulas. We think that the overall record of CBS, and particularly our Presidential reply policy, indicates not only a high level of representation of congressional points of view on the air, but also a continuing search, a search which will continue into the future, for ways to do the job even better. Indeed, that is how our Presidential reply policy was developed.
The healthy pluralism that now exists—with the multiplicity of congressional voices and the variety of broadcasting outlets—would be foreclosed by any Government-imposed reply requirement, whatever formula or device was used. Such mandated coverage would be in our judgment, an affront to the constitutional process, amounting to a major, unprecedented and improper intrusion into journalism by Government. It would be one which, far from remedying a purported communications gap, would make real communication less likely. For the public's attention simply cannot be mandated.
One of the problems faced by this Joint Committee is that, ironically, while some Senators and Representatives and others are seeking to mandate broadcasting time for Congress, the doors of the House and Senate themselves remain closed to our cameras and microphones. Despite notable progress in recent years in opening certain committee proceedings to broadcast coverage, Congress still places in our view unnecessary restrictions on broadcasting-restrictions that it does not place on the print media. And this is done despite evidence in the polls for the past several years that television news has become the preeminent source of information for the American people.
Far better than the current situation, or some of the proposed remedies, and in the best tradition of American journalistic freedom, is the simplest and the most logical solution of all: Make the proceedings of Congress available to broadcast coverage on the same basis as they are available to other news media. Give broadcast journalism full and open access to the important events taking place in the well of the Senate and on the floor of the House-access to what Jefferson called 6* * * the great commanding theater of this Nation.” For it is precisely that aren: in which Congress acts and speaks, the Chamber of each House-indeed, the very heart of the legislative branch of Gorernment—that is denied to broadcast coverage.
What I propose will not guarantee coverage of every congressional proceeding, or simultaneous coverage by all the networks, or any of the other absolute guarantees that some may wish. Much of this broadcast coverage will probably take the form of excerpts of congressional debate for use on regular news broadcasts. Free access of broadcasting to Congress will allow broadcast journalism professionals to do what I believe they do best-apply their best news judgment to the selection of what is most vital, interesting, and newsworthy to the American people. And in my judgment this is the best guarantee of genuine public interest and attention—not forced public interest and attention—that the Congress can have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman METCALF. Thank you so much for a most impressive statement.
I have wanted to discuss some of the questions you have raise, but before I do so, I will recognize Congressman Cleveland for his interrogation.
Representative CLEVELAND. Mr. Taylor, this is indeed a splendid statement.
I am not sure if it addresses itself to precisely the problem that this member of the committee had in mind.
There is no question you covered Congressmen and Senators in congressional activities, but the concern of this committee is that following a study by Senator Muskie's Committee on Government Operations, we found that Congress as an institution--not individual Concressmen and individual Senators, this institution of Congress-enjoyed a very low repute. And more recently when Mr. Harris came out with his latest poll, he found that the public's rating of Congress is not only the lowest ever recorded, it is 21-percent approval, 69-percent negative, it was very much less than the public's rating of the President.
Now, these hearings, as I understand them, are going to address themselves, if anything, to what the Congress can do to improve its image with the public and the public's confidence in Congress. If you were at the hearings yesterday, I think you would have noted that most of the witnesses, the Senators and the Congressmen, were very humble about this situation, very self-effacing, and we admitted many of our mistakes.
You apparently have not made any mistakes, because I do not detert in your statement any admission of shortcoming and I congratulate you for being in that happy position.
But we admit that we are probably wrong in not letting you bring your cameras onto the floor of the Senate, the floor of the House.
We admit we made other mistakes.
For example, in connection with the energy problem, you point with some pride to the fact that you heard from 45 Senators. As a Representative I might think your proportion is a little out of whack, but we recognize in the House that the Senate is where the action is. I think it would be meaningful to these hearings, and more meaningful to the point we are addressing ourselves to, if somewhere along the line your reporters would have taken the time and trouble to point out to the public that there are no less than 17 different committees and subcommittees in the Senate and the House dealing with the energy problem, and in fact that is part of the problem.
Now, I would like your comment on whether you understand what I am trying to say, when I am distinguishing between coverage of individual Congressmen and Senators and of Congress as an institution.
Mr. TAYLOR. Yes, Congressman.
First of all, to our shortcomings. It did not seem to me the committee wanted to take the time to discuss all our shortcomings. We would be happy to do this at some other time.
Chairman METCALF. If the Congressman would yield, what we want you to do is tell us about some of our shortcomings which may have prevented you from doing a better job.
Mr. TAYLOR. Let me respond, as I have written down the points, Congressman Cleveland, that you have made.
First of all, as to the low repute of the Congress in the polls, of course the polls are also showing that this declining approval among the American people for the Congress and for the Executive, is not isolated to the political arena. In fact, all of our institutions are showing a decline in terms of the approval of the American people.
I am personally very concerned, and we at CBS are very concerned as to the view the American people have of Congress as an institution.
It seems to me, for example, if one reads the history of this country, that one of the important aspects of that history is that the Congress not only stood as an institution, but that part of the strength of that institution has been the people who comprise it; individuals of enormous substance, and enormous stature, who have illuminated the way, and illuminated the future when the White House was unable to do so. It seems to me that is a very, very important ingredient in assessing Congress as an institution.
We believe, as I tried to indicate, that the coverage of the Congress is much more extensive than many people realize.
The assumption in the excellent report by John Stewart, and also in the study group report by Messrs. Minow, Martin, and Mitchell, seems to be that there exists an imbalance and in terms of the coverage of the Executive vis-a-vis the coverage of the Congress as an institution. I was trying to indicate in the early part of my prepared testimony that I do not believe, at least from our point of view and our statistics, that that is an assumption that ought to be accepted automatically and without challenge.
There is a great deal of coverage of Congress. The problem of course comes
Representative CLEVELAND. Excuse me. I admit there is plenty of coverage of the Congress and the bills we pass, and the statements of the different Congressmen, but again I am getting back to the first request we made in our letter to you concerning the institution of Congress.
Mr. TAYLOR. I will get to that, sir.
Our answer to that is the best possible way to deal with the problem of the American people's understanding of the Congress as an institution is to open the floor, is to open the committee hearings, and to the major source of news the American people have, mainly the broadcast news.
I can think of no better way to convey this, and at the same not distort the institution of the Congress.
Representative CLEVELAND. Are you prepared to give us your recommendation if we do open-as you know, committees where much of the important work is done, are now open—if we open the floor of the Senate or the House to the electronic media, are you prepared to give us your suggestion as to the operating rules or guidelines under which this should be done?
Mr. TAYLOR. I think that first of all we ought to agree on the principle that it is desirable to be done.
The technical aspects of how it will be done ought then to be turned over to the people who are more expert than I on that subject.
The Stewart report makes several suggestions in this vein. I think it would be wrong to think in terms of gavel-to-gavel coverage, but it does seem to me perhaps some kind of pilot light arrangement, or some kind of pooling arrangement, could be worked out so that important moments in debate and important moments in hearings, could be recorded for the American people.
It is important from my point of view, as we move to redress the situation, that the true nature of the Congress with its plurality of voices, with its multiplicity of voices, not be distorted.
I think we accomplish very little if we create in the American mind the thought there was a unanimity of opinion in the Congress, when I believe the framers of the Constitution wanted to emphasize the plurality, the multiplicity of voices.
This is why it seems to us that the ability to look at the actual functioning and working of all that disagreement, of all that process of adjustment, is the healthiest thing that could be done at the present time.
Representative CLEVELAND. Don't you agree that there is a role and a newsworthy role for at least some attention being given to the functioning, good, bad, or indifferent—and many of us feel it is mostly bad and sometimes indifferent—the actual functioning of Congress as an institution? For example, take the Supreme Court. Everyone understands that that is an institution that decides decisively, but the role of Congress is not quite as simple as that. I think it would be newsworthy if after you have done one of your celebrated exposés, you followed up on it, and did a story on how much mail this engendered in the congressional and senatorial offices, and how this was handled, and how the Members responded and followed through. Because part of the loss in confidence by the people is that they feel we are not responsive, and many times when one of your blockbuster special programs comes out, the mail it generates has to be handled, and has to be answered. But you see the point I am making. There is a difference between publicizing Congressmen or Senators as individuals, and publicizing the role of Congress, the function that we are meant to be performing that we are addressing.
Mr. TAYLOR. I do see the point. The point, I believe, has to do with television performing an educational role, as to the place of Congress within the governmental system.
Do I read that correctly, Congressman ?
Representative CLEVELAND. I do not think so. I think we have responsibilities ourselves in that. I think it is more a question of taking those aspects of our functions as an institution that are truly and interestingly newsworthy. Mr. TAYLOR. Which aspects specifically would you have in mind?
Representative CLEVELAND. Well, as I said, I do not know if it was your network or one of the others, but they got up in an airplane and circled around and showed a lot of tanker ships presumably hovering offshore waiting for prices to go up before they came into port and fleeced the American public.
True or false, we will not go into that, but this generates an enormous amount of mail to the Senators and Congressmen, and I think it would be newsworthy to know how that was handled, what it does to an office, and I think it would also be newsworthy to perhaps report on some of the followup information that we obtained as a result of those inquiries.
Again, this is the function of the institution, the institutional function of Congress as a representative body.
You people occasionally do your thing and then you leave it, but it does not stop there.
As you pointed out, more people rely on electronic media for news than ever before.
In fact, more than half the country does. So when you create one of these situations, I think it would be newsworthy to at least sometimes follow up and see what some of the results were, and whether or not the reporters were correct, or what the answers were if they were not correct. But this is not to publicize Congressman Cleveland or Senator Metcalf; this is the role of Congressmen and Senators within the framework of the U.S. Congress as an institution. Mr. TAYLOR. I understand completely, Congressman Cleveland.
I am happy to have that suggestion, and we certainly will review it. I do know in our interviews of Congressmen and Senators that discussions of the things they do and the mail they receive are often a part of the interviews.
I am not aware of a specific programing effort where that particular aspect of a Congressman's or of a Senator's activities has been minutely explored. We are attempting, as I think you know, on our children's programs to give in a way which is comprehensible to our young watchers, an idea of the functions of the various portions of the Government, but I do appreciate your making the point, and I will consider it carefully.