56 Years On… Newton N. Minnow — And “The Vast Wasteland…” Speech

As I listened to the Fourth Circuit oral arguments yesterday, via an IP connection, I found myself wondering whether the now 91 year old Mr. Minnow might see the content rich media delivered by internet as at least one additional reclamation project — in his five and a half decade push to alleviate the “wasteland“.

Fittingly, Mr. Minnow was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 (by President Obama) for his life-long work, advocating for television “in the public interest“.

Here is the bit, from exactly 56 years ago this morning — during his first major speech as chairman of the FCC, under then-President John F. Kennedy — an electrifying speech that won him a leading role in the history of media in the late 20th Century:

. . . .When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. . . .

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. . . .

I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. . . .

I do think he would say, if one is willing to scout about a bit — the internet will offer much of the higher-functioning content he so craved in 1961. Of course, there is a lot of garbage out there, too — and of course, cable has given television both its share of sublimely shining moments, and all-time new lows.

So — onward, in silence, into the start of year 57, plus about seven hours — in reclaiming the wasteland (that duty falls to all of us, near and far), on this chilly gray morning here. Smiling just the same, though. . . .



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