Hodding Carter III talks about television's role in government
Some Washington observers believe that there will be wildly eccentric changes in the deportment of Congress when the Senate begins televising its proceedings on a trial basis, June 1. Not Hodding Carter III, host of ``Capitol Journal,'' a weekly review of Congress which airs on about 145 PBS stations. ``Major figures in the Senate are already blow-drying their hair,'' he tells the Monitor. ``They live in a television world right now, rushing out to talk to the cameras right after a vote. Almost all senators have already become television human beings; so televising Senate proceedings won't change anything.Skip to next paragraph
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``Oh, there may be one or two congressmen who will start talking in shorter verse, but there are only a handful of senators left who treat the Senate as a place for extended debate anyway. Certainly the television coverage of the House has not affected the procedural rules, and I don't think it is going to affect very much in the Senate either.''
In a wide-ranging interview here in New York, where he has come to celebrate the first anniversary of his television show and to look for underwriters for a second year, Mr. Carter talks about his former job as State Department spokeman during the Carter administration, the benefits and hazards of moving between government and journalism, the popular images of Congress, and the caliber of people he has encountered there.
When asked if the televising of Senate sessions might not affect such traditional procedures as the filibuster, which might be too slow for television, Carter says, ``The filibuster is not going to die as long as there are minorities in the Senate who feel it is the one way they can get hold of, obstruct, or alter the course of legislation.
``Besides, a filibuster is an invaluable asset to a politician with his own constituency. He doesn't care if he looks silly to the people who oppose it. If he looks good to the people he's represenrting and he does that in a filibuster, then he'll go at it forever. Television will only help him there.''
According to Carter, there's only one aspect of the House TV coverage that has raised any concern. ``It has made the formal set-aside period for discussion under the House rules into a rather elaborate staged theater,'' he says. ``You have a series of two-minute statements that are usually pure propaganda. But for those who protest what a terrible thing that is, I offer the Congressional Record, which is often the receptacle of ungiven speeches or extended remarks and supposedly an official record of what happens in Congress. It's not. It's an official record of what people wish to have established as being their positions. Now [they] are simply televising the Congressional Record.''
Until 1977 Hodding Carter III was an award-winning editor and publisher of his family newspaper, The Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Miss. From 1977 through 1980 he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Carter administration, functioning as the department's spokesman during the Iranian hostage crisis. From 1981 to '84, he was anchorman and chief correspondent for PBS's ``Inside Story.'' Now, in addition to serving as host for ``Capitol Journal,'' he is a regular participant on ABC's ``This Week with David Brinkley.''
He is concerned about ``Capitol Journal,'' because about half the PBS-affiliated stations do not air it at all, while the other half place it wherever they wish in their schedules, most often on Friday or Saturday evening, when many viewers are looking for entertainment. The series format includes interviews with congressmen, discussions with newsmen, background from experts.