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.How could democracy function if citizens didn t wantto listen to those with whom they disagreed? Without lis-tening, what potential was there to change our minds? In1935, using the model of a New England town meeting as hisguide, Denny hosted his first episode of America s Town Meet-ing of the Air.12Each week, a voice would shout,  Town meeting tonight!Town meeting tonight! Bring your questions to the old townhall!, and listeners would know it was time to turn up thevolume on their radios and gather around.From 1935 to 1956,up to 3 million listeners a week tuned in the NBC Blue andABC networks to hear Denny moderate.13 People formed dis-cussion clubs  more than one thousand of them  to debatethe broadcast s topics among themselves.14Denny invited into the studio knowledgeable people withdifferent takes on the issues of the day and let them have itout.e first broadcast of America s Town Meeting of the Airasked the question  Which Way America? Communism, Fas-cism, Socialism, or Democracy?, and included a communist,a fascist, a socialist, and a democrat as speakers. Having it out was a slightly more civilized propositionon Denny s show than anything we would see today.Beforeintroducing his program  Should We Plan for Social Secu-rity, one of the few of which an original recording survives,Denny defined the parameters of the program:  is is not adebate.It is a joint discussion in which two qualified authori-ties, approaching the problem from two widely different view-points, discuss the subject.ese meetings are conducted 50 culture: questions or answers?in the interest of the welfare of the whole American people,and in presenting two or more conflicting views at the sametime during the same hour we believe a highly useful and con-structive purpose is served. 15As David Goodman notes in the definitive compilationNBC: America s Network, the program featured between twoand four speakers with different perspectives who read fromprepared scripts.ere were no shouting matches, no fightto get in the thirty-second sound bite before being interrupt-ed by the aggressive host ready for the next question.16 eguests on the Social Security program, Secretary of LaborFrances Perkins and George E.Sokolsky, author of Labor sFight for Power, each spoke for fi een minutes, laying out theirpositions, interrupted only by applause.It s difficult to imagine that kind of respect for the capac-ity of the audience to listen in today s media environment.But then again, it s hard to imagine Denny as a host in today smedia environment.He had little in common with his coun-terparts in today s business.Whereas Denny wanted his lis-teners to be open to questioning their positions a er hearingdifferent views hashed out on the show, Dobbs and his kindwant their listeners to agree with them.In fact, today s hostsjust assume their audience does agree with them  and theyare probably right, as I discussed in chapter 2.e restraint of the format was not an indicator, however,of a lack of passion about the discussion.e show was knownfor the active involvement of its audience; the approximately1,500 people gathered at New York s Town Hall were called spectator-hecklers. 17 According to a 1938 me magazine pro-file,  What makes [the programs] exciting is uninhibited heck-ling.e speakers heckle each other and the audience heckleseverybody.e auditors boo and cheer, are made up of therich and poor, the well informed and the ignorant. 18 Butmost importantly, no matter who they were, the audience couldask questions.is live audience questioning was considered consuming opinion 51 a significant innovation in American broadcasting. e ques-tions were to be written down, to be fewer than twenty-fivewords, and were approved by a committee.19 e best ques-tion earned the questioner a prize from Denny.20In fact, self-described  intelligent listeners of America sTown Meeting of the Air  prided themselves on.their open-ness. As Goodman tells it,  ey understood themselvesas receptive to new information and open to reasoned per-suasion. Indeed, research supported these assertions: Halfof the show s listeners  usually continued discussion a erthe program s conclusion, and  34 percent reported havingchanged their opinions as a result of listening. One in twoof the listeners in the survey preferred that no definite solu-tion to problems be arrived at in the show. ATMA sought topersuade Americans that the truth was complex and mightnot be grasped immediately, writes Goodman.21 And howcould it be otherwise, when addressing topics such as  HowShould the Democracies Deal with the Dictatorships? and What System of Medical Care Should We Have?.Denny believed that his program s emphasis on open-ness would have political implications. We ll educate theindependents  those voters who hold allegiance to no par-ty  so that political parties will have to produce candidatesthat appeal to them, he said of his program. is will tendto counteract malicious pressure groups, sickening politi-cal campaigns and, above all, the dangers of dictatorship. 22Discussion and questions  these were the things that wouldcounteract dictatorship and narrow, ideologically rigid poli-tics.Open minds characterized patriotism, not the professionof loyalty to the democratic system.Denny s job was to cata-lyze, not to proselytize.Of course, America s Town Meeting of the Air was only pos-sible because the NBC Blue network made it possible.erewas no advertising, no commercial sponsorship.e showwas considered a public service, produced a er the debates 52 culture: questions or answers?surrounding the passage of the Communications Act of 1934.ough the act did little to ease the commercialization ofradio that had taken place in the late 1920s and early 1930s,public discussion about the act did prompt media companiesto take public service programming more seriously.Accordingto Goodman,  e NBC hierarchy had a clear sense amongthemselves of the worth of the program in political capital,even as they wished to produce it as cheaply and uncontro-versially as they decently could. 23Today, political capital is a lot less important than thebottom line.And dialogue is a lot less important to that bot-tom line than is a formula of strong opinion on one side orthe other, which guarantees an audience.I wonder if Dennywould make it as a radio talk show host today.I wonder if wewould let him.A Different Kind of Media TodayOf course, a lot has changed in the world of American mediain the time from Denny to Dobbs, but the more things change,the more they stay the same.In Denny s time, NBC and CBScame to dominate commercial broadcasing, even while theformer produced a public interest show such as America sTown Meeting of the Air.24 Today, six conglomerates dominatethe media environment.General Electric, me Warner, WaltDisney, News Corporation, CBS, and Viacom rule the televi-sion, radio, cable, movie, and print media industries.25 Namea source of news or entertainment and you can bet that oneof these names is behind it.Watching 60 Minutes or readinge Secret? CBS Television and CBS s book publisher Simon& Schuster are behind those.Reading the Wall Street Journalor watching e Simpsons? at s Rupert Murdoch s NewsCorporation.Watching Batman Begins on digital cable while consuming opinion 53you surf the Web? ere s a good chance the TV and Internetare being brought to you courtesy of me Warner [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]

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