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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review May 12, 2011 / 8 Iyar, 5771

‘Vast wasteland’ speech 50 years later

By Glenn Garvin



http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | TV trivia: What's the dumbest show in television history?

A. "My Mother the Car," in which a small-town lawyer suffers an oedipal crisis at the hands of a used 1928 Porter.

B. The fairly self-explanatory Jerry Springer episode titled "I'm Happy I Cut Off My Legs."

C. The one FCC Commissioner Newton R. Minow put on for broadcasters 50 years ago this month.

The correct answer is C, and it's likely to remain so even in some decade in the dim future when we're all watching "The Real Housewives of Tucumcari, New Mexico." In a just universe, the words "bah, humbug" would conjure up not Ebenezer Scrooge but Minow for his infamous speech lambasting television as "a vast wasteland." It's not that Minow was entirely wrong — but instead of shaking his finger at TV executives, he should have been pointing it at himself.

Minow's much celebrated speech was delivered at a National Association of Broadcasters convention 50 years ago this month, soon after President Kennedy named him head of the FCC. Nervous TV executives were fearful he would lay into them over a still-simmering scandal about the rigging of quiz shows. Instead, he launched on a scathing attack on the entire medium of television.

"When television is bad, nothing is worse," Minow said, ripping the industry's programming as "a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons." He swore he didn't believe in government censorship, then threatened it anyway. "There is nothing permanent or sacred about a broadcast license," Minow said. "I say to you now: Renewal will not be pro forma in the future."

What made Minow think he had been appointed Minister of Television Criticism, and why he believed he had the authority to order TV networks to program ballet instead of wrestling, remain questions to this day. The FCC had been in business for 27 years and nobody had ever suggested it was in charge of elevating American culture. Many of the shows Minow ripped — Westerns, detectives, soap operas, quiz shows — had been a staple of radio programming for decades without arousing government complaint. (And imagine the furor if Minow had ordered the U.S. publishing industry to stop printing so many Zane Grey and Raymond Chandler novels.)

But there was one point on which he was unquestionably correct: Television programming was distorted by the lack of competition. Most American cities had only three TV channels from which to choose; smaller towns had just two, or even one. "With more channels on the air, we will be able to provide every community with enough stations to offer service to all parts of the public," Minow said. "Programs with a mass market appeal required by mass product advertisers certainly will still be available. But other stations will recognize the need to appeal to more limited markets and to special tastes. In this way, we can all have a much wider range of programs. Television should thrive on this competition, and the country should benefit from alternative sources of service to the public."

That sounds like Minow was predicting cable TV, the explosion of channels that would eventually allow viewers to watch almost anything they want, from Rachel Maddow to Bill O'Reilly, from music videos to Catholic theologians, from oversexed New York yuppie chicks to philosophical New Jersey mobsters, at any hour, day or night. Certainly the technology for cable existed and had been demonstrated at TV trade shows as early as 1951.

But cable wouldn't take off for another 20 years after Minow's speech. What prevented it was the FCC itself. Despite Minow's brave words, his agency had, from the beginning of television, been a lackey of the three big radio networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) who wanted to control the new medium. (One former commissioner would describe the early days of TV, when the FCC was writing rules that effectively granted the three networks a monopoly, as "the whorehouse era.") And it continued to do so while he was chairman.

The FCC ruthlessly regulated the microwave relay stations that cable systems need to pass along their signals. For years, it refused to license microwave companies that did business with cable. When the ban was lifted, cable was nonetheless blocked from the largest 100 TV markets and forbidden to offer original programming. The FCC openly said it wanted to prevent cable from "siphoning off" viewers from broadcast TV. When it became apparent that cable could evade the microwave rules by using satellites, the FCC tried to ban private communications satellites. It wasn't until federal courts and other agencies intervened that the FCC was forced to back off.

It's fashionable these days to view Minow's "vast wasteland" tirade as an example of successful government jawboning, a public scolding that resulted — eventually — in an explosion of programming creativity and diversity. The truth is that Minow made only a single significant contribution to television: The boat of the inept castaways of Gilligan's Island, the SS Minnow, was sarcastically named for him. They didn't have cable, either.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

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Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald

Previously:


04/13/11: Bay of Pigs fiasco offers lessons for Obama's Libya adventure
03/03/11: Inconvenient truth for teachers' unions
07/10/10: Still looking to score
06/22/10: Ripe for fraud and abuse
05/25/10: Big Brother picks your pocket
11/04/09: Have conservatives scored a stealth prime time drama?
08/27/09: Left's been out for blood, too
08/13/09: What's not being celebrated
07/31/09: Pay-or-play means more lost jobs
07/16/09: OAS turns a blind eye to violations by left
07/02/09: Nothing so shocking about this coup
06/22/09: Libs' darling strikes out
06/03/09: Yes, America should read Sotomayor's speech in context
05/20/09: ‘Bloody’ mission goes awry
05/07/09: The problem is they aren't just goofin'
04/30/09: Why can't students say ‘guns’ in school?
04/08/09: When non-U.S. citizens vote
03/2e/09: Of course the AIG bonus boys — the ‘best and the brightest‘ — deserve their loot
03/12/09: No choice in Free Choice Act

© 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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