January 2000

From The Halls Of Congress To The Halls Of Ivy

Some 46 years ago, shortly after graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in journalism, I went to work for the National Wool Growers Association, as assistant editor of their trade publication. My starting salary was $250 a month. I knew little about sheep, although I had spent summers during the war on a family farm in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. There I learned to sleep while riding Shorty, who also slept, as together we operated the derrick during haying season.

Some five years later, hoping (but failing) to increase my salary to $450 a month, I learned of an opening as assistant farm program director at KSL Radio. I applied and got the job and a salary increase to $550 a month. I had taken speech classes at the U from Louise Hill Howe and had always been interested in broadcasting. About a year later, Von Orme who was the farm director left and I became Director of Agricultural and Economic programming, a fancy title, and as Farm Director I traveled the state getting interviews and covering various agricultural events for our radio programs that ran as part of John Barlowe’s morning show and also for our noontime programming.

Six years later Arch Madsen selected me to take over both news operations at KSL radio and television. Until then they had operated as separate divisions of the corporation. Not too long after that, I was greatly pleased the Florien Wineriter became part of our news team. I can’t recall the exact year. When you get to my stage in life, you begin to forget a few things. You know you’re growing older when everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work or when you get winded playing chess. Your children begin to look middle aged you know all the answers but nobody asks the questions. Your favorite part of the newspaper is “25 years ago today”. You sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going your knees buckle, but your belt won’t. Dialing long distance wears you out. Your back goes out more than you do. You burn the midnight oil after 9 PM you sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there or the best part of the day is over when the alarm goes off.

Television was still rather young in 1964. Videotape was not yet available. We shot everything on film, black and white film, and most of what we shot was with hand-held cameras and not sound. That soon changed. Color became available. But video cameras and satellite transmission were still a few years off.

Although I knew little of television, I was greatly supported by Arch Madsen and had the safety net of Nourse, Weiti, and James. For Arch had lured Paul James and Bob Welti from Channel four to channel five the same time he appointed me as their boss.

Working for the LDS Church I was often asked if I was constantly told what stories we could and could not cover and how we should cover various stories. The editor of the New York Sun at the turn of this ending century said, “we are tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Out talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.” That was the 1900 opinion of editor John Swinton. But I found no such “controls” despite what some might have forecast. I recall, for instance, our ongoing coverage by Louise Degn, of the planned (and then the actual) demolition of the Coalville Tabernacle. I am certain that some of the “powers-that-be” were not pleased with our hard-hitting coverage of that story. To add to my concerns about that story: I had to decide whether or not to run the film we had that included my mother and my wife demonstrating in front of the LDS Church offices against destruction of the Coalville landmark. We did run the film.

On another occasion, a well known Salt Lake Advertising executive came barging into my office–receiving no satisfaction–then went to Arch Madsen’s office (again no satisfaction)-wanting us to kill a story we were ready to air about contamination of milk in Delta, Utah. He represented Utah dairy producers and was fearful we would scare everyone so they wouldn’t drink milk. We ran the story, milk sales dropped in certain parts of the state, but quickly recovered when we ran subsequent stories later on about the problem being resolved.

This was then–and still is, I think–a relatively good television news market. That is, competition is keen. The former owner of Channel two, George Hatch, was never willing to roll over and play dead against the heavy weight ownership of KSL. That was terrific for those of us who worked at both stations. We usually got what we wanted in equipment and in good people. Channel Four, with outside ownership was not then, but I think is now, willing to compete.

Thinking that one should change jobs about every seven years or so when the opportunity came to go to Washington, D. C. in 1972–with the urging of and strong support from–my wife I “jumped” at the chance. Wes Vernon, who was earlier our political specialist and primary radio news anchor at KSL and had become Bonneville International’s first bureau chief in D.C., decided to go to work for CBS Radio’s owned and operated stations. So Arch asked me if I wanted to go to Washington. Thinking that a journalist should have tomb stone recognition for having worked at the seat of world power, I did, as mentioned go.

I arrived in Washington two weeks before that “second-rate burglary” at the Watergate Hotel. That was how the event was first described to me by Kem Gardner who was then Senator Frank Moss’s Administrative Assistant. Of course the break-in turned out to be much more than that, and did in my opinion, have a significant impact on journalists and journalism in the decades since.

My first visit to the galleries on the day I arrived in Washington allowed me to hear the great (but about to depart the Congress) Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana who was saying something about crash landings and not being involved if you are not in on the takeoff. It all made sense. To be sure “sense” was not always the outcome of a gallery stay. One does, I think, have to agree with a Russian visitor to the spectator galley in the House: “Congress is so strange,” he said “a man gets up and speak and says nothing. Nobody listens–and then everybody disagrees.” That, I fear, is often the case.

My job in Washington was to cover congressional delegations from the states and surrounding states where Bonneville owned 14 radio and television stations. It was a daunting task. Quickly I learned that hearing the “Gentleman from California” called ill informed and totally out of touch, or much stronger words, meant little as the combatants would leave the hall arm in arm for the nearest watering hole. Coming from Utah in the early ’70’s, I was used to a high degree of civility and had to learn that although words were important in the halls of congress often certain ones had no meaning.

Early on, while visiting with Congressman Richard Bolling, a democrat from Kansas City, I was schooled in important definitions. “Politics,” he said, “is the art of the possible. Compromise,” he went on, “is not a dirty word” Bolling, a protégé of Sam Rayburn’s was very astute and very helpful as were many others. I wonder how many of our Utah politicians, locally and nationally, believe in the “art” of compromise.

Many reporters and perhaps a majority of voters make it difficult nowadays for politicians to indicate there may be two sides to issues–and that sometimes a middle ground is the only one possible–or even the best one. Extremism seems to have won the day in much of the media, especially talk radio. One wonders if many that call in have it all together. Many such callers (and often the hosts) remind one of the hecklers who confronted Theodore Roosevelt when making a political speech during one of his campaigns. “I am a democrat,” said the heckler with a repeated and somewhat inebriated cry. Roosevelt was a dangerous man to heckle. Pausing in his speech and smiling with oriental unction, he leaned forward and said, “may I ask the gentleman why he is a democrat?” The voice replied “My grandfather was a democrat, my father was a Democrat, and I am a Democrat.” Roosevelt said, “My friend, suppose your grandfather had been a jackass, and your father had been a jackass, what would you be?” Instantly the reply came back “A Republican.” Not to be quoted–I think this may have been one case where the heckler was right.

In all truth, I learned in Washington that many (perhaps even most) of those in Congress were well motivated. At that time, the Senate was not exclusively the millionaires club it is today. At that time it did not take selling of the soul to get enough money to be elected to Congress. When Gunn McKay first ran for the House around 1970–he told me he spent a total of$14,000 to be elected. Joel Pritchard a moderate republican from the University district in Seattle told me he spent about the same amount to be elected. And Joel said he would not seek reelection after five terms and at that point, he quit.

Senator Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson of Washington State–who had served in Congress for over three decades–told me that he wasn’t there primarily to pass laws. But instead to watch over the bureaucrats–the young BMW driving lawyers–whose job was to implement the will of the congress. For that, and other reasons, I am not a strong proponent of term limits. It takes several years to learn the ropes in Washington, whether you are a member of congress or a newsperson.

Astute politicians not only properly oversee the bureaucracy, but they know how to deal effectively with the media. I recall, as an example, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee being interviewed by CBS’s great Roger Mudd. It was in the Senate radio and TV gallery during the Watergate hearings. Roger wanted to know what exactly was on those White House tapes. This was before the committee had gotten to that portion of their hearings. Baker effectively sidestepped the question–went on to something that was known and was to him significant. Roger then asked the same question in a slightly different way–tried again after that. But Baker–with no rancor–won the day.

Earlier I said that Watergate changed journalism and journalists. Too often since, young inexperienced reporters, hoping for air time or front page placement, instantly see blood when there is a slight scratch or no scratch at all. Too often sources are not adequately checked and rechecked, statements taken out of context, cubbyholes found for ideas and actions that require giant cupboards. I’m not sure I entirely agree with Oscar Wilde who said, “Instead of monopolizing the seat of judgment, journalism should be apologizing in the dock.” But he may have had a point.

The technological revolution began in earnest while I was in Washington. Videotape replaced film. Satellite transmission replaced couriers running our film to Dulles hoping to make the early–or even the late news–in Seattle or Salt Lake. “Live” shots became de riguer and, as silly as they usually are, are still the order of the day. But television–challenged for viewers time by the world wide web, by video tape movies, and the increasing demands on human time and energy–has changed the world–perhaps, in ways, not completely for the better.

You have all heard them: the startling, some would say frightening–even deplorable–statistics regarding the use or misuse of television. The TV set is on for 7 hours and 50 minutes each day in the average US home. In families with children, it’s on even more–an average of 63 hours each week.

Not only young people watch television, but also old people. I’m reminded of a story of two elderly people who were sitting watching television together one evening. She was knitting and was sitting close to the television set because she was a bit hard of hearing. He, seated in his recliner a few feet away from her, watched her carefully as they viewed a television drama. The elderly gentleman looked lovingly at his wife and thought back over the years they had spent together and how much he loved her. He said to her in a kindly tone, “I’m proud of you, darling.” She put her knitting in her lap, turned her head to face him squarely and said, “I’m tired of you, too.”

Well, television can bring people together or, I suppose, drive them apart. Television has done, is doing and will do many marvelous, wonderful, even magical things. It has also been, is and will be, for many of us, a menace. Television binds us together as a people, a nation, even humanity as a whole in ways that were unimagined only a few years back. Television spelled the beginning of the end to widespread segregation. Television provided national support for the historic space program that allowed men to walk on the moon. Television has had much to do with bringing about the possibilities of long hoped for freedom in Eastern Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world where people are exposed to free and open debate, to the exchange of ideas. There is great hope for freedom. Television can provide that exposure.

So, yes, television can, indeed, work magic. Its impact is enormous. It shapes the way we see ourselves, our neighbors, and our institutions. Our perceptions of the world are filtered through the prism of television.

Yet, despite its great potential for change, for educating, for allowing us to know and understand each other, thus creating an environment for world peace, despite this great potential, the highest rated programs on television are those like the Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, the Newlywed Game and so forth.

Edward R. Murrow said of television, “It is a sword rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.” Not everyone, of a course, would agree with Murrow’s opinion but those of us who do are attempting to do something about it. We are attempting to take the sword out of the scabbard.

Rather than curse the darkness of mediocrity and lowest common denominator programming–the University of Utah has lit a candle, as have many other universities and public television stations nationwide. We operate a regional telecommunications center serving six states

All of these marvelous “tools of information and education” will soon be housed in one building in the Dolores Bore Eccles Broadcast Center, a marvelous new facility–much needed–that will allow us to provide even greater benefits to all of the people of our state and our region. A building that will allow students to receive more adequate “hands-on” training in broadcast media. A building that will allow cooperation of all our communication efforts–something that has long been needed to take KUED out of the basement of the old union building, now Gardner Hall, and KUER out of its totally inadequate facilities in the basement of Kingsbury Hall. We are in the process now of launching a capital campaign to raise the remaining amount that will allow us to realize this long sought after dream.

And so for us–as with the rest of the industry–the great television revolution continues. Involved are cable, VCRs, direct broadcast satellite, low-power television stations, and who knows what might yet lie ahead. The three major commercial networks’ prime time share continues to decline. That, of course, has been brought about by the extreme competition provided by the technologies that I referred to a minute ago–especially cable television. About 55 percent of all US households now have cable. Salt Lake has the highest VCR ownership market in the nation at 60 percent.

So with all of these great tools capable of delivering magic, what is or what should be the role for PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service? Some are saying PBS and most all of public television, as we now know it is no longer needed. As you might expect, I certainly do not agree. In fact, soon after having been elected chairman of the PBS Board, I determined after many years of rejecting the idea that we should have cable television in our home. We now do. I spent some time flipping through the plethora of channels, fearful at first that I would come down on the side of those who say that because of all that is available in our television offerings we no longer need public television. I have come to quite the contrary conclusion. I am more convinced the more I watch what is on cable television that public television is essential to the well being of our nation.

Public television is reexamining its charge, and I think we must. We cannot compete with the American Movie Channel in presenting old movies every night or with Ted Turner’s many offerings. We cannot and should not attempt to compete with the Disney Channel and all that it does for young people–although there are some public television stations who think their niche is in this field. We cannot, in my opinion, compete with MTV–nor should we. There are areas of overlap with such channels as Discovery, Arts and Entertainment and Bravo. But even there, the realities of the commercial world require those channels to not only carry commercials but also to try and broaden their audiences with a common denominator that may not be of the quality that PBS should be and I think usually is.

–Ted Capener


What Freedom is Found in the Local Culture?

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

In a lecture in the University of Utah Great Issues Forum in the early 1960’s, Professor Waldemer P. Read of the University’s Philosophy Department addressed the question posed in the title of this article.

In preparing himself for the talk, he said, he, who had been born and raised a Mormon and had left the church, had asked himself the question, “Why should I have the effrontery to talk to my own people about their bondage?” Then he on one occasion heard the sound of the Nauvoo (Illinois) bell and heard the announcer declare that this bell had special significance. It rings for freedom? But his own reflections had led him to this conclusion: In Utah we enjoy the political and civil liberties that are characteristic of America as a whole. “In themselves,” he states, “they scarcely justify the distinctive claim made for the Nauvoo Bell. Such justification would seem to require that this culture and its people have a greater than usual appreciation of these freedoms, and a greater than usual zeal for their protection, preservation, and enhancement. It has been my impression that such has not been the case”

During the rise of Nazism, Utahns were neither distinctively clairvoyant nor concerned about the nature and seriousness of its threat to freedom. Almost boasting reports came from missionaries in Germany and their mission president that, though the Catholic and Protestant clergies were having difficulties with Hitler, the Nazis saw nothing in the activities of the Mormon missionaries to alarm them. Perhaps the claim that the Nauvoo Bell tolled for freedom had an eschatological (i.e., an otherworldly) reference and had nothing to do with the political freedoms and civil liberties of the here and now, Read suggested.

In his opinion, McCarthyism had been the most serious internal threat to freedom to which Americans had been exposed, at least during the previous half-century. Local leadership, in both church and press, had been woefully silent on this subject.

Reid put forth a definition of human freedom as freedom of the mind. The ability to pursue one’s desires is a condition of freedom. Increase in the ability to do increases freedom. Therefore, the literate man is more free than the illiterate. All increase in mental powers is an increase in freedom. Other conditions being equal, the individual who can think new thoughts–thoughts that no one before has thought–is freer than those who cannot; and the society whose membership includes individuals who can think new thoughts is free–to a degree which varies directly with the proportion of its membership having this capacity. Excessive stability in the degree of channelization, stabilization of the patterns of imagination, of conception, and of judgment and belief is the foe of creativity and “the friend of the status quo, of sameness, monotony, and death,” Read said. He quoted A. P. Ushenko: “Perpetual endurance of the actual status quo degenerates into stagnation.”

William F. Allbright observes, “A group may be so completely integrated that it exhibits little internal friction, a high degree of efficiency in accomplishing its purposes, together with self-sufficiency and smugness–but it will accomplish little of value for the world.” And Bertrand Russell adds, “…those who believe that the voice of the people is the voice of God may infer that an unusual opinion or peculiar taste is almost a form of impiety, and is to be viewed as culpable rebellion against the legitimate authority of the herd. This will be avoided if liberty is as much valued as democracy, and it is realized that a society in which each is a slave of all is only a little better than one in which each is the slave of a despot.” John Stuart Mill made an eloquent appeal for freedom of thought and speech, freedom of action, taste and pursuit as essential conditions for freshness, vigor, vitality, and the continued enrichment of the life of the human spirit. Von Humboldt supported the idea of individuality “as one of the elements of well-being.”

Also vital to our well-being, said Read, is independence of judgment and belief. We can discern truth from falsehood only if we have an adequate sense of evidence, i.e., a sense for what sorts of consideration should guide the attempt to identify the true. It is not clearly recognized that belief is not in itself an indication of truth, that subjective certainty is of no evidential significance. Faith is no substitute for evidence. Nor is the comfort that an idea gives a mark of its truth. Only two sorts of considerations are legitimate for the identification of true propositions: considerations of empirical fact and of logical relation.

Human beings can be controlled through control of their minds–thought control. The more sophisticated of us have known that since the beginning of human society men and women have been committed to beliefs, policies and practices without knowing why they were committed. Logic texts have pointed out a group of fallacies that often lead people off-track in the search for truth. These fallacies are generated when by the arousal of the emotions the critical faculties are thrown off guard, the attention is diverted, and the idea being advanced gets past the censor without being examined for its credentials–and once accepted by the mind will be defended by the mind. A process of “conditioned response” has occurred, which is logically invalid though psychologically effective. It is what is back of tenacious beliefs that cannot be intellectually justified. It is often used as a means of manipulation, an instrument of control of people. Individuals become members of society, not through reasoning, but by conditioning. Through conditioning, every family and church group recruits and controls its members. This is not necessarily bad. It is good up to a point, for we are institutional animals; but beyond that point it is deadening. Institutional control is good if the institution is open at the top so that the individual may transcend the very forms that lifted him. But, if the institution is closed, then the control is bad. It shields him but limits him and uses him as one of the elements in the truss which holds him up. Institutions of the first sort liberate the human spirit; those of the latter kind imprison it.

Read made two points about the local culture: 1) that the controls in this culture are excessive; and 2) that they are unfortunately so. There is a stifling uniformity of belief. Imagination is not stimulated and judgments are not challenged by conflicting opinions. Rather the belief of each reinforces and sustains the belief of others. A condition that is requisite for the cultivation of freedom is diversity of opinion, making possible habituation in the search for and examination of possible alternatives. In Mormonism the beliefs tend to reinforce the uniformity. They tend to insure that no discussion will get out of hand, that no heretic will run away with the argument that The Truth will always prevail. Three such beliefs are: 1) belief in the absolute certainty of the doctrine (the dogmatic attitude); 2) belief in the wickedness of doubt; and 3) belief in the authoritative hierarchy–all three conditioned responses. Dogmatism is inimical to freedom of thought. It denies the need of inquiry–for further research. On the adoration of faith and the distrust of doubt, Read says, “The free mind recognizes that the question of truth…is prior to the obligation to believe. The insistence upon faith begs the question of truth. The local culture penalizes the reluctant believer by holding him suspect as to character.” The virtue of deference to authority is thought to be one of the strongest assurances of salvation, but it is an abnegation of individual responsibility in thought. Another factor of control is the highly articulated ideology. One begins with acceptance of the scriptures as authoritatively interpreted, and from there on all is clear sailing. Not many members are fully aware of the extent to which their conclusions rest ultimately upon psychological grounds rather than logical grounds. Finally, a feature of the culture that makes for excessive control is the monopolistic nature of the program. The home is a conditioning agency for the church. Meetings, suppers, socials, lessons, dances, celebrations, testimonials, fellowship, fireside meetings, seminaries and church institutes, and the church basketball league, are conditioning agents dedicated to the psychological sale of the central beliefs. There is a persistent attempt to get every individual involved for as many of the waking hours of his life as possible in church activity, even often at the expense of other legitimate individual interests. As in all cultures the cords that bind the minds of people do not chafe or gall like the chains in the ancient dungeon. Rather they warm and comfort. The sweetness of the bondage is its greatest strength. As Rousseau said, “They love their servitude.”

If the people, then, love this control, why, then, is it unfortunate? For one thing, there is the monotony resulting from a successful perpetuation of the status quo. We would seem to be headed for Russell’s “new prison, just, perhaps, since none will be outside it, but dreary and joyless and spiritually dead.” However, whether we like it or not, tomorrow things will be different. “There never was a time when the world, and, particularly the United States, had greater need for new ideas,” says Read. What is to be regretted is …that the local culture is so geared to preserve its theology that it is incapacitated to contribute or support needed new insights and conceptions bearing upon national policy and action. The people under the local culture are saddled with the following ideological hindrances which make it unlikely they will contribute anything of significance to the solution of the problems that confront this nation and the world: 1) an antiquated doctrinaire economic conservatism with business-corporation mindedness which incapacitates people for solving the problems of human well-being; 2) a built-in isolationism which prevents enthusiastic participation in efforts to establish world peace; 3) an “exclusivism”–the “we are right and you are wrong” attitude requiring that the world be made over in their own image instead of a vision of peaceful coexistence, preserving and protecting the distinctive values of each culture; and 4) a built-in racial prejudice. This last item has been somewhat ameliorated since this speech was given, but I would suggest adding in to the list of hindrances a built-in sexism.

One might wish that Utah’s contribution to solving the great problems could be more than foot-dragging, Read says; “…but such would require a quality of inner freedom that we do not have, and that we are not about to develop.”