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Artieles and Research on Broadcasting Congress



Washington, D.C., February 7, 1974
To: The Honorable Claude Pepper, Attention : Jim Southerland.
From : Carol F Casey, Analyst, Government and General Research Division,

(Kenneth E. Gray, Division Chief). Subject: Radio and Television Coverage of Congress.

In response to your request, I have compiled the following information:

Presidential Television by Newton N. Minow, John Bartlow Martin and Lee Mitchell includes a history of the use of television and radio by Congress. Excerpts from Chapter 4 entitled "Congress, Court and Camera" are attached for your information

Edward W. Chester in Radio, Television, and American Politics, reports an estimated 20 to 30 million persons viewed the Kefauver Committee hearings in 1951 ' and refers to Nielsen ratings in the New York City area showing that NBC live two day coverage of the Dean Rusk testimony on Vietnam to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 1968 outdrew CBS entertainment programs aired at the same time.

The WNET coverage of Watergate drew a 7.6 Nielsen rating in New York City, the highest rating ever received by a public affairs program and second only to "Elizabeth R” in general programming."

CBS News estimates that each TV home viewed 30.1 hours of the Watergate hearings. A poll of 529 U.S. Households done by Chilton Research Assoeiates for ABC between August 2–5, 1973 showed that:

36% watched the hearings from 1 to 4 days.
15% watched between 6 and 10 days.
34% watched more than 10 days.

15% had not watched at all.
Gallup polls over the years provide the following information:

(1) Have you heard or read about the congressional investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack?? (Dec. 28, 1945).

Yes : 83%. NO: 17%.
(2) Have you ever seen a television in operation ? (Dec. 29, 1945).
Yes : 19%. No: 81%.

(3) Have you heard or read about the Congressional Committee's investigation of Hollywood ?' (Nov. 30, 1947).

Yes: 80%. No: 20%.

(4) Have you heard or read anything about the Kefauver Crime Investigating Committee ? 10 (April 27, 1951).

Yes: 72%. No: 28%.

(5) Do you think it would be a good idea or a poor idea to televise sessions of Congress in Washington? 11 (April 28, 1951).

Good: 70%.
Fair: 5%
Poor: 16%.

No opinion: 9%. (6) Have you heard or read anything about the hearings in Washington at which Generals MacArthur Marshall and Bradley gave their views on what we should do about Korea ? " (June 11, 1951).

Yes : 70%. No: 30%.

1 (Basic Books, New York, 1974).
? (Sheed and Ward, New York, 1969) page 78.
3 Ibid., pages 165-166.

Broadcasting, Aug. 13, 1973, p. 15.
8 Samuel Sorad, CBS News, telephone conversation, Feb. 6, 1974.
• Broadcasting, Aug. 13, 1973, n. 18.

7 Gallup. Dr. George H. The Gallu House, 1972: 551.

8 Ibid., p. 351. PIbid., p. 689. 10 Ibid., p. 979. 11 Ibid., p. 980. 12 Idid., p. 988.


(7) Have you heard or read anything about the congressional hearings in Washington at which Generals MacArthur, Marshall, Bradley, Secretary Acheson and others gave thele vlews on what we should do about Korea ? (July 2, 1961), Yes : 74%. No: 26%

(8) Have you heard or read anything about the Congressional Investigation of the quarrel between Senator McCarthy and Army Secretary Stevens? (April 21, 1964).

Yes : 77%. No: 28%.

(9) Have you been following the hearings (Army-McCarthy) on your televislon, radlo or in the newspapers? " (May 1, 1964).

Percent Newspapers Television Radio Haven't followe

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(Note: the table adds to more than 100% because some people gave more than one answer.)

(10) Have you heard or read anything about the congressional Investigations of labor union 1 (March 28, 1967)

Yes: 78% of all adults ; 80% of union member families.

(11) Have you heard or read anything about the congressional Investigation of labor unions 21 (Sept. 28, 1967).

Yes: 72%. No: 28%

A chart also documents the Broadcast Coverage of Congressional Committees by National Public Radlo for the period of July 1971-June 1972.79

Actual vlewer ratings of specific programs by Nielsen, Arbitron or other com panles are generally done by contractual agreement with no provislon for mak: Ing the results public.

I hope this materlal will meet your needs. For further information, please contact me at 426–5821

{The Rotarlan, September 1945)

BROADCAST CONGRESS ? A big 'Yes!" to the question, widely discussed in the U.S.A., and many com: ments : : : the debate:91-the-month:


S AYS CLAUDE D. PEPPER, V.. SENATOR FROM FLORIDA Its simplest and most famous definition, democracy is government "derlving its Just powers from the consent of the governed." "Consent," in my vocabulary, Implles understanding. Understanding Implies knowledge. Most United States citizens have no opportunity to obtain a working knowledge of the methods of Congress. Few can visit Washington to learn for themselves. The rest have to depend on reports of Congressional proceedings in the press and on the radlo which are fragmentary, edited, and only too often blased.

It all United States cltizens could listen in on Congress, learn how it works, be able to evaluate the actual performance of their own representatives, and make Judgments based on such knowledge, we would have a much more Intelligent interchange of opinion between the people and their Congressmen, and consequently a more democratic legislature.

Therefore, I have introduced in the Senate a joint resolution authorizing commercial radio stations to broadcast all or part of the proceedings of Congress, and providing for complete transcriptions of the debates. Under the resolution

13 Jhid., p. 994
11 Ibid., p. 1229.
15 Thid., p. 1232.
16 Ibid., p. 1483.
17 Ibid., p. 1516.

19 Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Congress and Mass Communications: An Institutional Perspective (A study conducted for the Joint Committee on Con. gressional Operations), Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office. 1974.

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either the Senate or the House of Representatives would have the right to withhold proceedings from the air if it chose to.

Several critics have made the objection that Congress would find it difficult to compete with Bob Hope or Charlie McCarthy. The debates would not make "entertaining" broadcasts. The press and radio, winnowing the chaff to get at the legislative wheat, it is claimed, do an essential job of editing. Complete broadcasts, these critics say, would only bore the people, making them less, rather than more, responsive to their obligations as citizens.

In this criticism there are two separate attitudes with which no true democrat can agree. The first is that the people are so drugged with "horse operas" and "soap operas" and light and grand operas that they would not listen to the serious proceedings of government. I do not have so low an opinion of Americans. They are not drugged. They are awake, and they are watchful, as the last elections showed with unmistakable clarity. They know that the future of their security and well-being are under debate on the floors of the two houses of Congress, and they are deeply concerned. They have a right to hear that debate : and they would use that right.

The other attitude is that of certain newspapers which hold that they have the unrestricted right to "predigest" or "clean up" the debates of the national legislature. They do indeed have that right. But only too often it is used as if the blue pencil were wielded by a censor rather than an editor. Freedom of the press becomes a method of abridging the people's inalienable freedom to listen and to learn. Uncensored broadcasts would serve as a check on those newspapers which sometimes delete or distort the news in order to make it fit their own bias.

The possibility has been mentioned that the privilege of broadcasting might be misused by allowing the practice of "extending remarks" to carry over to radio. It is feared that Congressmen would take advantage of this loophole to "extend their remarks” by radio transcriptions, and would flood their local stations with an endless series of purely political speeches which never actually were spoken in the legislature.

However, the radio audience has a low tolerance level for such material. It can and undoubtedly would turn off its radios if too many speeches of this type were “extended” over the air by their local solons. The nuisance would obviously be self-eliminating.

On the other hand, there is supposed to be a danger that the extension of Congressional immunity from libel and slander suits to the air waves would encourage demagogues to step up their campaigns of personal slander and scurrility. But the problem here is much more basic than one of mere degree. Slander is slander, wherever spoken. That its utterers should be immune from suit on the floor of Congress is no less reprehensible than that they should be immune when the floor becomes a wave length.

Congressional immunity, however, serves a good purpose in other ways, and should not be eliminated merely because a few irresponsible Congressmen misuse the privilege. In the long run, it is more than likely that the broadcast of legislative debates would lead to gathering pressure from the people which would force a greater degree of temperateness in speech upon the offending rabble rousers.

None of these objections has proved valid in previous experience with legislative broadcasts. The legislature of New Zealand, for example, has been on the air for more than eight years, and the results have been excellent. According to an article in The Empire Review, New Zealanders have developed "a largely unconscious, but very real, feeling that the actions of one's elected government should be open to public inspection." Captain Leon Weaver, of the United States Marines, commented in the Radio Daily: "Windbags who took a lot of time to say nothing brilliantly have been defeated, and members who fumbled and stumbled but who did have something to say have been reelected."

New York City's experience with the broadcasts of its Council's debates is well known. For two years these programs were among the most popular put on by the city's radio station, WNYC. Comment from the public was overwhelmingly favorable, and more than three-fourths of the letters received emphasized the very real educational value of the program. It was taken off the air, I am told, solely because some members of the City Council felt that the broadcasts damaged their political reputations.

Recently Nathan Straus, of New York's WMCA, has been dramatizing portions of the Congressional Record on the air. In a recent letter to me Mr. Straus stated :

"It is my belief that WMCA has not put any feature on the air in the last two years that has achieved a greater acclaim or a wider popular response. There is a real desire on the part of the listening public to hear the debates in the halls of Congress. . . . I have not heard one adverse criticism ... of our dramatization of the Congressional Record."

Thus, both reason and experience prove that broadcasts of Congressional debates would be a strong weapon in the armory of democracy. It would educate, enlighten, and inform the people, and result in a more responsive and responsible electorate during the crucial years to come.


J. Edd McLaughlin, E.recutive Vice-President. Security State Bank and Trust

Company; Past International Director, Ralls, Teras To wire the halls of Congress for sound would be to encourage a senseless, disruptive scramble for the microphone which could destroy what dignity our lawmaking bodies now possess. Weak members, hoping to sound large in the ears of the home folks, would vie for the floor, expanding grandiloquently on narrow themes of purely home-State interest. Surely this would be true if a legislator's votes came mainly from one class—such as farm, labor, or industry. 'Twould be a field day for crackpots and for masters of the meaningless phrase.

With the limited audience appeal which Congressional broadcasts would soon prove to have, no commercial broadcasting company could long afford to carry the feature. Would that then lead to a Government-owned broadcasting system? From there to a Government propaganda system would be but one step-the most misguided one my country could take


Wesley Haycs, Manager, Federal Security Board, Olympia, Washington

To the degree that it would promote careful speeches, I favor the broadcasting of Congressional sessions. No man can in fairness find much fault with simple windiness or silvery orazory—these are the prerogatives of any legislator who (foolishly, I think) chooses to exercise them. But every American has a right to demand responsible, factual statements from the man who represents him in the nation's highest legislative chambers.

Would a Senator or Representative be likely to "go off half cocked" if he knew 10 million or 100 million citizens were listening to him? Not very. Petty tirades, personal puffing, and partisan sniping would fall before the public demand that the gentlenen get down to business.


J. Raymond Tiffany, Lawyer; Past International Vice-President, Hoboken,

New Jersey Before me as I write is my current binder of the Congressional Record. I have opened it at random-to the proceedings of the House for April 18, 1945. Here is a summary of what I find there:

Prayer. Pan American Day resolution. Printing additional copies of President's address. Extension of remarks (9.v. appendix for complete speech). Tribute to radio industry. Tribute to Ernie Pyle. Extension of remarks. Correction of the record. Inflammable material in boys' cowboy suits. Treasury-Post Office appropriation bill with a long roll call following reading of the bill in much detail. Deficiency appropriation bills. Naval appropriation bill. Report on leaves of absence and enrolled bills signed. Time consumed : 5 hours and 10 minutes.

What kind of a broadcast would that have made! Yet it was typical of Congressional routine; it is what you would hear day after day if the proposal discussed here were to carry (and if you had the patience to listen).

Then, too, there are such questions as: Which house would you "air" when hoth are in session concurrently? Both? Would you then tie up two wave lengths? Who would handle the broadcasting-private stations or Government stations? If the latter, how would you prevent political abuses? But why go on? What ever merit the idea has in theory would be completely lost in practice.

GONE THE WIND Chester M. Knight, YMCA Beoretary, Horneü; Now York One gain the broadcasting of Congressional proceedings would almost cer talnly record would be the elimination of that foolish; childish, antiquated Institution known as the Alibuster. No legislator, knowing that his constituents and millions of other Americans were hanging upon his words, would dare to Fise and read books and magazines hour upon hour merely to hold the floor.

But that would be a somewhat negative gain. A positive one would be that the broadcasts would increase, popular knowledge of democratic processes, From that would come increased Interesta condition we must encourage at every turn it we want democracy really to work. Properly timed; the broadcasts would greatly ala parents, teachers, clergymen—all individuals and groups that are trying to develop an intelligent informed citizenry.

SHOULD À MAN DROP WORK ; A. Dean Greonloo, Boo-Products Dlatridutor, st. Louis, Missouri One of many complications which make the broadcasting of Congressional sessions impracticable is the matter of timing. When the two chambers convenė, It is noon in Washington—but 9 A.M. in San Francisco: ip adjournment comes at 5 P:M.; it is only 2 o'clock on the Pacific Coast. At these hours business and professional men in the West and throughout the nation—the very men who, it anyone, might have the desire to hear Congress through are at their desks hard at work. Even an outstanding speech could not easily be timed for the proper listening periods.

That the workings of Congress are by their very nature too complex and updramatic to make good listening is another point, and that the proposed broadcasts would slight the many earnest Congressmen who labor fruitfully but qulëtly in committees is still another but the problem of timing alone is suffcient to end further consideration of the proposal.

DON'T WORRY, THEY'LE LIBTEN! Peroy Hodgson, President, Parkin Yarn Mills; Post international Director,

Parotuoket, Rhode Island It is true that with a bit of effort ang American can obtain a copy of the Congressional Record, but how many do? Yet present that same material in the spoken voice and they will listen. On paper, the American Forum of the Air and the Town Meeting programs might make dry reading-but put them on the air and you know what happens. Miillons tune in every week.

In the proposal to "air Congress I see an opportunity to develop that in formed public opinion we speak so much about and do so little to reallze. And Informed, we shall be better able to choose leaders competent to weigh and enact our wishes.

COUNT THE COBT! Walter T. Heims, superintendent of schools; Richmond, Caufornia Those who support the plan to broadcast Congressional proceedings are fond of citing New Zealand as an example, with all credit to that splendid little Dominion and the apparent success it has made of its legislative broadcasts, i consider the instance somewhat beside the point.

What we in America have to decide is what we need and want in America. Here In our national legislature most of the real work is done in committee chambers. What you would hear were you to tune in to an average ression of House or Benate would be largely routine decisions taken on that committee work-about which you would know little or nothing. To broadcast those formal proceedings, which have great sinifcance but do not sound like it, would be to reduce popular respect for our lawmaking Institutions.

We have representative government beca use we have men of experience who are willing to make sacrifces of time and money to speak in our behalt, Let's not force those men, most of whom are modestly trying to do a good job, to become rich-volced, empty-headed radio actors.

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