« PreviousContinue »
The CHAIRMAN. Changing the subject a little bit, what do you think is the value of permitting broadcasts and movies to be made of congressional hearings? Does that serve any useful purpose; if so, what?
Professor BURDETTE. I am inclined to think that the purpose is a very significant one. I think it is much more important to permit broadcasts and movies of the hearings than of general sessions. I think the public generally does not understand that the decision-making in the initial sense in Congress goes on in committees, and that only the final polish is accomplished in the legislative chamber. As a consequence, if one goes to a legislative chamber, he is often disappointed at the seeming lackadaisical performance. That is true of most legislatures all over the world.
I think that if people can be led to understand how important the work of committees is, we shall make progress in civic education, and I should be for it. I do think it is probably necessary to follow very closely a pattern of advance testimony and understand what is going to turn up in a hearing. If civic education is to be served, of course
Senator THYE (interposing). May I interrupt right in that connection, before we get off the question of whether there should be newsreels or movie showings of portions of public hearings or Senate committee hearings. I should like to know from your observation of such news-reel showings whether you felt that the public got a fair picture of what took place at a hearing from that film release?
I can readily see it could be very easily discolored by cutting in on a certain phrase of a statement or just certain words in a witness' testimony, and then getting a certain expression and just showing that isolated incident and not giving a general and objective picture of what took place. I should like your comment on that, because I am quite certain that you must have seen such news reels recently.
Professor BURDETTE. I think that is a danger that I was just about to touch on when I was going to suggest that obviously commercial news dispensers would like to portray the most dramatic, which might be the most unfavorable, moment before a Senate committee. Therefore, I think, arrangements should be made that the hearings portrayed should be representative. I believe that can be done in an informal way. If it can't be done in an informal way, then, of course, some authoritative action has to be followed. The difficulty with using the authority of a committee chairman to indicate that this or that is unrepresentative is obvious and would be very embarrassing, but I think that a careful planning with the staff, as well as with the members of the committee who deal with news dispensers will cause them to be cooperative, if they are to get the privilege of showing news-reel reports of Senate committee hearings.
I think the educational value would be immense. However, news dispensers must recognize their responsibility, for by distorting the information which they are dispensing they may be doing a grave damage, against which the committees ought to defend themselves.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Doctor, let me suggest this to you. I think every member here, and probably everybody present, has had experience which will enable them to understand what I am getting at, whether they agree with me or not. I have seen any number of times people whose names command headlines come in and testify, and their testimony is either good, bad, or indifferent—often the most indifferent and the most illogical testimony is given by people who can command publicity. That testimony may be completely blown out of the water by some fellow that the country never heard of who comes in and gives testimony that is so utterly sound and so utterly fair that it is really powerful. However, when the fellow comes in that nobody knows, there isn't a corporal's guard in the room to listen to him. Unfortunately, sometimes, he doesn't command the full attendance of the committee, but his testimony may be very much worth while.
Now, under the present arrangement or attitude, commercial publicists of one kind or another want to publicize things that will sell, things that in one way or another will command attention immediately from the connotation of the whole set-up. But how are you going to get Joe Doaks' testimony in? Joe Doaks may have a lot of testimony that is just right on the button and completely intriguing. I mean nobody would pay any attention to it; his name wouldn't mean anything; nobody knows anything about him. You have to read his testimony before you would get the value of the thing.
Senator THYE. I think what you have in mind, Senator, would be that if you could film a real documentary record of everything that took place at a particular hearing, then you would have the facts to be shown by sound and by screen. Otherwise, an operator would just pick the sensational, whether because of the name of the witness or the sensational charge that is made and that becomes flashy, accepted news on the screen. My reaction is that the former would be an informative document, and the other would be a sensational effect.
The CHAIRMAN. Professor Burdette, I think it is a fact that every man and some women have a certain amount of vanity. They like to have their work appreciated and like to be recognized in the press and on the air. It is unfortunate that whatever they do of a sensational manner gets the play. Their constructive work is usually found on page 37, and quite often never found out at all by the public except through certain students of government, like yourself.
Do you think that a legislator can do his best work or that there is any great inducement to do constructive work when he knows that the lighter affairs, the more sensational affairs, the personal affairs, are the ones that will get the play before the public? How can the constructive work of the Congress be put before the public so that it will be recognized and take away the tendency to ridicule the Congress, which has a deteriorating effect upon our form of government?
Professor BURDETTE. I have a suggestion for you. The suggestion I have concedes at once that the sensational, in the sense that we mean the interesting, the dramatic, will get the play. My thought is: Can't we do something to make the important more interesting?
What do you think of a suggestion of this sort: that when testimony from an unknown witness, but nonetheless testimony of great importance and of great value, is given-and when that hearing is of sufficient public interest that the sensational parts of it are going to get a playthat an effort be made to emphasize to the press the significance which has been found in the testimony by the unknown person?
I suggest doing it in this wise: that if we put it at its worst, as Senator Hickenlooper has done--very few members of the committee have been present when the unknown witness has testified and, therefore, don't know how significant the information is, that the committee members—perhaps the committee chairman-might suggest to the staff preparation of a digest of anything unusual in value which has turned up. I think we all have to confess that what witnesses have to say is often not valuable, and we can understand why Senators are not present at hearings, aside from the fact that they are very busy. But when something of immense value has been brought to the attention of a committee chairman, but is nonetheless from a source which will not get publicity, why would it not be feasible for the committee staff or the Senator's staff to call immediately & newspaper conference at which the Senator adds emphasis. It is then not the testimony of the unknown witness about an important discovery which has the news value, for added to it is the Senator's impression or his recognition of significance.
I realize, too, that there are times when members of the committee do not care to comment on testimony because they fear they might be misunderstood.
Senator Thye. Mr. Chairman, might I interrupt?
Professor, you speak about a sort of news digest of what took place. The press would be present at the hearing and, therefore, naturally would be getting the news story at the time.
Now what you would attempt to do, of course, would be to convey the message to the other members of the committee who were absent that this was very excellent testimony. I can conceive of a situation where the chairman would want to single that out and comment on it in a statement for the press at such a press conference as you describe. Then we might say that the chairman should be charged as having been biased, because he tries to bring out certain points in the man's testimony. In that manner, the other witnesses might say, “Well, I wish he would have given consideration to some of my testimony with the same emphasis that he gave to this testimony.” In that manner, you might find the chairman criticized for having been biased on the question.
Professor BURDETTE. I don't think it can be a universal practice. I would think that everybody knows, however, that Senators are going to take positions on some matters, and that when comment is possible, it would be effective. I am trying to substitute the news value of the Senator's emphasis for the lack of news value in an unknown witness' important testimony.
The CHAIRMAN. What I had in mind, Professor Burdette, is this. You take our colleague here this morning, Senator Hickenlooper. He is chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. He holds literally one of the most important posts in the world today. Its importance cannot be exaggerated. But do you suppose that i person in 10 in this country even knows of the existence of that committee? I don't think so.
Yet if Senator Hickenlooper should charge somebody in the Treasury Department with stealing $100,000 and state that he was going to investigate that individual and put him in jail, he would get streamers across every paper in the country. He wouldn't even have to carry out his threat to investigate. The news value would be in stating what he was going to do and not in the importance of it to the Nation as a whole or in whether he ever did it or not. I think the public has a rather light view of congressional action at times which ought to be corrected if it is possible to do so.
Senator HICKENLOOPER. Would you say a light view or a dim view? [laughter.]
The CHAIRMAN. You are right, Senator. It is a dim view. They get the sensational affairs, where personalities are brought into the picture. I think probably the public has developed its taste along those lines. People can visualize what happens to a person or two or three persons, whereas what happens to a hundred million persons or two million persons is rather hard to picture. It is the same difficulty they have in distinguishing between $50,000 and $50,000,000,000.
Mr. Van Horn, do you have a question? Mr. VAN HORN. I wanted to ask Professor Burdette whether he did not think we have a problem that we cannot solve; that all we can do is wring our hands.
This very hearing is an example of what the Senators have been talking about. The reorganization of Congress and its efficient conduct is perhaps as important a question as there is before the Congress—it is probably as important as the Marshall plan.
This committee is conducting hearings on the evaluation of the Legislative Reorganization Act, and the day we opened, Senator LaFollette was the first witness. The only notice we received in the newspapers was to the effect that he had recommended home rulethat was in a Washington newspaper. Far down in the column appeared the statement that he had been testifying before this committee and that the subject was the reorganization of Congress, and not home rule at all. So there isn't much that we can do about it, is there, Professor?
Professor BURDETTE. I wouldn't give up. (Laughter.]
Professor BURDETTE. I have been thinking in connection with what Senator Aiken was saying, that perhaps Senators would often do well with the assistance of press agents. Probably some of them are employed and, of course, they are affected by the kind of publicity Senators want. I believe that when we have conscientious Senators and conscientious committees working, it might often pay to plan for dealing with the press and with communication facilities in the way that experts in public relations would advise. I have felt, as we have talked it over, that a public relations counsel can often find a way to solve the specific problems which we have been discussing.
The CHAIRMAN. Have you any further questions?
Mr. Van HORN. It has just been pointed out that in this morning's Washington Post, there is an editorial that does comment on the hearings being held here, and praises this committee for its action in promoting thinking on the subject. The editorial appears to be a very valuable contribution. So maybe we are getting a little more attention, Senator, than we thought.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, possibly we are making progress after all. When we get discouraged looking ahead, I find it is often a good idea to see where we have come from. Then we get a little more encouraged.
We thank you, Professor Burdette, for appearing before us this morning.
We will now call on Mrs. Kathryn H. Stone, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
of follow in the Organi3 years aguilege to
STATEMENT OF MRS. KATHRYN H. STONE, FIRST VICE-PRESI
DENT OF THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON, D. C.
Mrs. STONE. It is a great privilege to be here this morning. I had the privilege almost 3 years ago of testifying before the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, and have had the privilege of following the enactment of the law and the working of the law in the last session of Congress.
I should like to pause, parenthetically, before I start the broad subject, to comment on the very interesting discussion you have just been having. It seemed to me for a few moments that you were really discussing a sense of values that we can't legislate and can't bring about by any other than educational means.
I should like to just pass on the feeling that I get from responsible radio men with whom I have been talking in the last few days that they are undergoing now extensive reorganization of their educational departments, and they are trying to put much more worthwhile material on the air. I should like to comment also on the plan followed over at the home rule hearings in the House, the joint hearings held recently, where they took the transcript, then edited and rebroadcast it in the evening, at an hour when all could listen. A half-hour's rebroadcast of that testimony was exceedingly interesting and very valuable. Those who couldn't have been there during the day could hear it. It seems to me that that is the right direction.
I certainly agree with you that the little “flashes” of what is happening in the important work of the committees are unrepresentative and likely to be unfair, but I believe that the radio companies and the newspapers are very responsive to public opinion, and that a citizens' group such as mine has a special responsibility to encourage the right kind of educational work along these lines.
The League of Women Voters of the United States, a citizen group with 550 local leagues in 33 States, strongly supported the Legislative Reorganization Bill and follows with close interest the progress which is being made since its enactment. It is our belief that nothing is more important to the fate of the Nation than that the United States Congress be great of stature. Mature deliberation by Congress as a whole, and by important working groups in the committees, is, we believe, dependent in large measure upon the organizational framework and tools which you shape for your use. The better the organization, the more precise the tools, the freer you will be for deliberation. We believe that the reorganized committee structure has appreciably facilitated and will in the future contribute even more to the legislative function.
The smaller number of committees and the fewer committee assignments per member have, as was anticipated, contributed to the prestige of the committees, as well as reduced the jurisdictional difficulties. The seeming proliferation of subcommittees is not, upon analysis, necessarily a tendency to backslide toward more committees. The League suggests, however, that as adequate staffs are built up for the committees, it should become possible to reduce the number of subcommittees in order to attain the great advantage of having the minds of more representatives focused upon more of the major problems at the important committee stage.