Hodding Carter III talks about television's role in government
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``I conceive the show as a series of chapters in an ongoing book about Congress,'' Carter explains, ``in which none of the chapters is the final one, because that's the way it is in Congress. So we come back with new versions of the same chapter four or five times -- on the budget, the Contras, tax reform, for instance.Skip to next paragraph
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``But we are trying to break through the usual way that TV deals with Congress -- a fractionalized 20-second bite, which leaves you wondering what they are really doing with the issue. We try to go into depth in one concrete area on each program. That risks, of course, leaving a lot of people uninterested in the subject.'' He grins and shrugs his shoulders, as if to say ``So be it.''
As an ex-government spokesman, Carter has great compassion for those in similar jobs today. ``Bernard Kalb [the current State Department spokesman] is one of the great old guys of television news. He has flash and flair as a human being, and I often wonder how he deals with the necessity of living within the constraints of an administration that really doesn't want the State Department spokesman saying very much. He's really under wraps. To go to a state department briefing now is largely to hear, `I don't have anything for you on that subject today.' He's an old friend, a great guy, a bright man, and he may be enjoying it but I don't know how.'' Does Kalb know more than he is allowed to reveal?
``He knows. He's simply being told not to say anything. That's a perfectly legitimate position for the government to maintain.''
Carter, who has moved from private newspapering into government and back into electronic journalism, feels that such movement can be of use to both sides. ``I think rather than being what is often referred to as a subversion of honest journalism, it's of use to both the public and journalism. ``I have to work twice as hard now to be straight because everyone knows I have an old agenda. But the guy who never had that identification can get away with a lot more, disguising a series of beliefs, prejudices, what have you, behind the mask of objectivity that's not really there. Nobody is completely objective. So I welcome being heavily scrutinized.
``Also I take into my job now a lot deeper understanding of the government I am trying to cover than I had when I was simply a reporter on the other side. A lot of what I understand is that most of it is a lot less incoherent than you might think.''
Might Hodding Carter run for political office?
``My congressional district in Alexandria, Va., can't find a candidate to run against the Republican incumbent; so there has been a brief focus on me. But it was ridiculous. I have a contract, and I'm under moral obligation to stay where I am. I made that very clear from the beginning, but once a week now one of the regional papers will still write about me `lurking in the wings.' I mean, I quit lurking the first day I heard about it.''
He smiles and turns to immediate plans. ``Right now, we have no underwriter for `Capitol Journal,' and when the season ends in mid-January it will be all over unless a funder can be found. PBS and WETA [the producing station in Washington, D.C.] cannot afford to carry us alone beyond this season. That would be a shame because the program does more than add a large element of understanding of the specific issues under discussion. It helps viewers to understand this instrument of government called the Congress, which is probably the most caricatured single institution in the country. And, I think, unfairly so.
``I've gotten to know many congressmen, and, with rare exceptions, they are at least trying to think things through and responding in a real world sense and not just simply reacting to big bucks here or pressure there. They try hard. I believe it is important that a show like ours makes certain America know about it.''