Newton Minow "Television: A Vast Wasteland"
"A Vast Wasteland" is what Newton Minow called television in 1961. It was a shocking accusation coming from the chairman of JFK's Federal Communications Commission. At the time, there were only three national television networks and a handful of scattered "educational" channels. The networks were mired in westerns, pro wrestling and quiz show scandals.
"Television was still fairly new," Minow remembers, "although most people, by that point, had a television in their home. But I felt that the potential for education, for entertainment, for uplifting spirits in many ways was being wasted It seemed to me that the time had come to say, 'Let's grow up.'" Minow says that today's plethora of choices for programming is good for the audience. "We created what is now called Public Television. At that time it was Educational Television. We encouraged cable. We launched the first communications satellite," he noted. "I always felt that the job of the government was to enlarge choice for the viewer."
Minow says that the 60s changed lives completely, both for good and bad. "The tragedy of the 60s, in many ways, was summed up in one thing, and that was the Vietnam War. I think that led to such a lack of trust in our institutions, lack of trust in our government leaders, cynicism. It made a whole generation of journalists confused cynicism and skepticism."
On the other hand, the struggles for civil rights made beneficial changes possible. "I was a law clerk at the United States Supreme Court when the 'Brown' case was pending," he says referring to Brown vs. Board of Education that struck down segregated schools. "At that time, a black could not eat in the cafeteria of the United States Supreme Court building.
"Think how that has changed! Think how the world has changed! Now, we have a black president of the United States. If Jack Kennedy returned to today, and he saw President Obama, he wouldn't believe it The world has so totally changed since the Kennedy era, and for the most part, I believe, it's for the better."
After his government service, Minow returned to his partnership with Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago. He has also been involved with every presidential debate since 1976 and recently wrote the book Inside the Presidential Debates.