Robert Donovan
Robert Donovan
Unsilent Revolution:  Television News & American Life
ISBN: 0521428629
Unsilent Revolution: Television News & American Life
Mr. Donovan and Mr. Scherer discussed their book, Unsilent Revolution: Television News and American Public Life, published by Cambridge University Press, and its main themes. They each commented on their personal experiences with the media. They also described the impact television has had on the American public. They said that events such as the civil rights movement, the famine in Africa, the McCarthy era, the Vietnam War, and the space program were influenced greatly by television coverage.
Search Audible
Video Clip Search is not available for this video.
TRANSCRIPT
Unsilent Revolution: Television News & American Life
Program Air Date: August 9, 1992

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert J. Donovan, co-author of "Unsilent Revolution: Television News and American Public Life." What's this book all about?
ROBERT DONOVAN, CO-AUTHOR, "UNSILENT REVOLUTION: TELEVISION NEWS AND AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE": It's about the best story we can tell, the most intimate story we can tell, of the impact of television news on American public life. Now a great many people have written on this subject, and the overwhelming literature, if that's what you want to call it, deals with the impact of television news on politics only. We give seven chapters to that subject, but we give the rest of the chapters to the impact of television on other aspects of American life -- what it's done, what it's done to newspapers, what it did to manned space flight, what it did to the Vietnam War, to the Kennedy funeral, the Ethiopian famine of a few years ago.
LAMB: Ray Scherer, what's your analysis on what this book's all about?
RAY SCHERER, CO-AUTHOR, "UNSILENT REVOLUTION: TELEVISION NEWS AND AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE": Well, pretty much as Bob has just laid out. We try to cover the horizon, and having done so, on the impact of television news, how it's affected various facets of American life, but having done so, we find that it's very hard to measure, it's unmeasurable. At the same time it's kind of immeasurable. But common sense tells you that it's there, that television has really changed things. And we're not talking about television in general. We're talking about television news -- the news that you see at night, the morning shows, the documentaries, C-SPAN, all those things that people watch.
LAMB: How many years did you spend as a television newsman?
SCHERER: Well, I started out in the '40s, and I was fortunate enough to cover the White House in the last days of Truman and then covered the White House in the Eisenhower days, Kennedy days, Johnson days, so I was there, if I can brag a minute, when television started. I was able to see it grow from a baby in a basket to something pretty gargantuan.
LAMB: Working for?
SCHERER: NBC.
LAMB: The whole time.
SCHERER: Yes.
LAMB: Did you ever work for any other television operation?
SCHERER: No, I never did. I covered a lot of other things in this town -- the Pentagon and Congress off and on, and I was sent to Europe as London correspondent, but I spent my whole time with NBC.
LAMB: Bob Donovan, did you ever work in television?
DONOVAN: Never.
LAMB: Where did you work most of your life?
DONOVAN: Newspaper work. I feel as though I've been at it, and I'm not far wrong, for about 60 years, if you consider the work, the writing I still do. I went into newspapers. I became a night copy boy in the Buffalo Courier Express right out of high school in the early '30s because of the Depression. I had to go to work. And here I am.
LAMB: And you spent most of your life at the LA Times?
DONOVAN: No. Most of my life was on the New York Herald Tribune. I was on the Herald Tribune from 1937 and a few years in the Army until '57 or fifty -- no, pardon me, until '63 when I went with the Los Angeles Times.
LAMB: And when did you retire? From the Times.
DONOVAN: In '77.
LAMB: And where did you get the idea for this book?
DONOVAN: The idea for this book came to me because of the experience I had when I went to the Los Angeles Times. In all the years I had been in newspaper work, in Buffalo, in New York, and in Washington for the Herald Tribune, no editor, no one ever to me had mentioned television news, or the competition of television news, and because I was a morning newspaper man and didn't get home very early, I never saw the regular news shows on television. But when I got on the Los Angeles Times, I found that Nick Williams, who was a great editor of that paper, the founding editor of the modern Los Angeles Times, was very concerned about television, very concerned about the competition and the first person I know who was determined that things had to be done differently.

Los Angeles, I believe, is the biggest television market in the world, or in the United States certainly. And the Times -- Williams could just see how they were beating the papers to the breaking story. And it was a rather difficult -- you wouldn't think so, but it was a difficult job to make that change from stories that give the news to stories that do a great deal more and are treated differently than the old news-style stories, because most reporters then had not been trained for this kind of writing; was more the kind of training that was needed with more Time or Newsweek or The Wall Street Journal. And, furthermore, editors weren't trained for it. Nick Williams knew what he wanted, but his editors were used to the old way of doing it, so it was a very difficult turnabout. And this is what got me -- I knew that Ray knew broadcasting and I knew newspapers, and that's what sort of started the book. We really had no idea what we were getting into when we started.
LAMB: Who did it? I know you give Wilson Center in here credit for doing what?
SCHERER: Well, they gave us a place to work. They gave us researchers. They gave us a lot of help. They were enormous help. We also had a lovely grant from the Schuman Foundation.
LAMB: Who’s Schuman?
SCHERER: It's a foundation that does a lot of things in the realm of the public interest, and they gave...
DONOVAN: It's old Watson IBM money. Their headquarters is in Montclair, New Jersey, and Bill Moyers is presently the acting head of it.
LAMB: Cambridge published this. Who's Cambridge?
SCHERER: Well, that's Cambridge University Press, a British institution which has a large office in the United States, and they publish what you might call heavyweight books. I don't think you'd ever -- books that matter.
LAMB: Now what I've got here, and one of the things that we do on this program is it has to be a hardback, and it has to be a non-fiction.
SCHERER: Yeah. That's us.
LAMB: And you all -- I've got both of them here -- paper's already out, and you've got hardback here. This one sells for, like, 49 bucks, but then you've got this one...
SCHERER: Yeah, that's a big investment, that one.
LAMB: What's the difference, and how come the two different books at the same time?
SCHERER: Well, the hardback one is meant for libraries...
DONOVAN: And universities.
SCHERER: And universities, but very few people that I know can lay out $50 for a book, so this one was the one that's meant for people who want a good read or -- we think it would probably be used in journalism schools as collateral reading.
LAMB: Police dogs, fire hoses and television cameras, shockwaves from the South -- that's your first chapter. What's it about?
DONOVAN: It's about television's crucial role in the civil rights movement in the South. And at the time we started this book, the University of Mississippi held an extraordinary symposium in which they brought from all corners of the country journalists who had participated in some way or another in the civil rights movement. And I was there for the full three days of it, taking notes like fury, and, no thanks to me, it is just wonderful reading, marvelous, how -- the ordeal of those correspondents.
LAMB: What impact did television have on the civil rights movement?
SCHERER: Well, it speeded the civil rights legislation through Congress by who knows how many years. When people watching at home saw the police dogs and the fire hoses, they knew that there was something wrong in the South, that something needed to be changed. It put a moral imperative behind the need for legislation.
LAMB: You tell a story in there about Richard Valeriani getting hit over the head with an ax handle.
SCHERER: Oh, yeah. There are a lot of really grim stories.
LAMB: Now he was an NBC correspondent.
SCHERER: He was an NBC correspondent, and they put him on the air that day all wrapped up in the hospital to tell what he had been through.
LAMB: Who hit him?
SCHERER: Some right-wing Southerner. I don't know -- we know who hit him, but somebody that didn't want the civil rights movement to make progress.
LAMB: Your second chapter is Exit Joe McCarthy. Who was Joe McCarthy?
DONOVAN: Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, and one of the extraordinary demagogues in American public life who for years had this country stirred up and filled with emotions over what he perceived or what he played to be the Communist menace.
LAMB: How did television impact that story?
DONOVAN: Depends on what phase you're talking about. What we're stressing here was that Senator Toby introduced legislation to -- am I right? Was it to impeach or to censor ...?
SCHERER: Censor Joe McCarthy.
DONOVAN: ... to censor Senator McCarthy.
SCHERER: Because he'd been such an embarrassment to the rest of the Senate.
DONOVAN: Yeah. And there were hearings on it, and we'd rather center on that, because the hearings plus Ed Murrow's "See It Now" broadcast, showed McCarthy intimately and in a way that most people had never seen him or even conceived of him. McCarthy had sort of an evil way about him that -- I'm not saying he was evil. I think he was something of a clown, but he had a panting laughter, and he was mean and could look ugly, and without question, it began turning the people against McCarthy.
LAMB: When I read -- Go ahead.
SCHERER: The point I wanted to make was that at the time, the networks all carried the first couple of days of these McCarthy hearings, then they dropped off. But ABC, because it didn't have a lot of quality program, decided to stay with it. Bob Kenton, then president of ABC, later president of NBC, made the decision to stay with it. So all over the country, people, day after day, could see Joe McCarthy making an ass of himself. And he, in effect, brought himself down by being cruel and ugly and there was, of course, the famous episode at the very end with the attorney from Boston...
DONOVAN: Joe Welch.
SCHERER: Joe Welch -- Joseph C. Welch, which was one of the great television dramas of all time.
LAMB: As a matter of fact, I was going to read you that paragraph here...
SCHERER: All right.
LAMB: ...but the critical thing here is it started on April 22nd, 1954. There were 35 days of hearings, you point out.
SCHERER: They were on all day long, from 10 in the morning till about 3 in the afternoon.
LAMB: Let me ask you a question, though, about -- and you go on to talk about Vietnam and hearings that were held then. Was the decision to cover these hearings in those days based on the fact that people in television thought that Joe McCarthy was bad?
SCHERER: No, I think it was based on the fact that there was a lot of public interest in what he was doing. He proved himself bad. I mean, that was something he did on camera. He became an ogre in the fact...
DONOVAN: The mere fact that this was -- censure was at stake here made it a very great drama.
LAMB: Those hearings were held in 1954. How often in those...
SCHERER: Well, the hearings -- he looked into the Army. He decided that the United States Army -- there was an obscure dentist named Perez...
DONOVAN: Perez.
SCHERER: ... who had some vague left-wing connections, and McCarthy's point was that this proved that the Army was riddled with Communists. And when he landed on the Army, that incidentally got Eisenhower's dander up, and he became a little bit more militant, a little bit less evenhanded about going after McCarthy.
LAMB: Mr. Donovan, where were you in 1954? What were you doing?
DONOVAN: I was covering the White House, the Eisenhower White House.
LAMB: How did you personally feel as a print reporter about television doing this stuff? Were you...
DONOVAN: You know, in terms of what we think of today, I don't know that I had any reaction except when I had a chance to watch it, it was just fascinating.
LAMB: Has power changed over the years between print and television?
DONOVAN: Well, certainly the way of doing things, but often it's the question, who is more influential? Well, it's a continuum there. One side maybe one side, the other side maybe another day. I mean, The New York Times, for example, got the Pentagon papers, and television didn't have it. But most decidedly, it was the newspapers who had to change, not television. The newspapers had to change.
LAMB: Chapter three, Television News and the Ups and Downs of Richard Nixon: The 1960 Election. Let me read you this sentence.
SCHERER: OK.
LAMB: “But Nixon was obsessed with television. He repeatedly tried to discredit television and print journalists and menace television networks.”
SCHERER: Well, that came later. Television was in and out of Nixon's whole career, if I can sketch it briefly, at the very beginning, the Checker speech, when the Eisenhower people wanted to dump him, he made this remarkable speech, which -- which saved him. And then came his trip to the Soviet Union, when he was seen as standing up to Khrushchev. You remember that famous kitchen debate episode, the -- the preliminary of which was on television. That was good for Nixon. Then came the '60 campaign when he was matched with Jack Kennedy, and he didn't do as well because Kennedy surprised everybody by standing up to Nixon and being more secure in front of the cameras. That was bad for Nixon. Then came the famous episode when he bowed out of politics, or bowed out at least for a time, in that news conference in California, where he said, “You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.” That was bad for him. So television's been in and out of Nixon's life, one time up and one time down, and then, of course, the denouement came in 1974 and the Watergate hearings, which, again, were seen on television and were a net loss for Nixon.
LAMB: Did you feel in those early -- and did you cover Richard Nixon when you were also at the White House at that time?
DONOVAN: I covered Richard Nixon a great deal.
LAMB: Did you feel that he was anti-press in those days, in the early days?
DONOVAN: Well, the answer in a general way is yes. In my own experience, what I felt was that Nixon was suspicious of me.
LAMB: Of you personally?
DONOVAN: Well, of all reporters he was suspicious. Let me tell you a funny -- I just know a funny episode of that sort. In 1959, there was a bad steel strike in this country, which was the year before the presidential election of '60, and Eisenhower let Nixon handle the steel strike. And Nixon handled it as a buildup. And Nixon handled it very well. It was a big story that Nixon settled this steel strike. And Nixon used to have a certain group of reporters that were pretty confident, if my memory serves, who he would invite up to his office and he would talk to. And I was there, particularly because I was -- probably the only reason I was there all the time was that I was then a chief of the New York Herald Tribune Washington bureau, and the Herald Tribune was the leading Republican paper, certainly one of them.

Well, on this particular day, we went in there, and he said he was going to tell us this story of how he settled the steel strike. And someone asked if this was on the record, and he said, “Oh, yes, this is on the record.” So I started to take notes from Nixon, and I write shorthand, as very few people in this generation do. I went to school just to learn shorthand, writing for newspaper work. And so it -- I was getting Nixon fine. I got the whole thing verbatim. And I got back to the office, I called the managing editor and said, “Why don't we just run the text of this separately as -- it's a big story, interesting, and the story will lead to -- allude to it, but there is a text of what he says.”

Seven o'clock the next morning, the telephone rang, and it was Herb Klein, his press secretary, on the phone. And I could tell in a very -- he was in a very uncomfortable mode himself. And he said, “Bob, the vice president would like to know, did you have a microphone concealed on you?” And, well, I waited a minute and I said, “Why, of course not, Herb.” That's all I said. He said, “Well, how did you get a transcript of this?” I said, “Why, I write shorthand.” You never saw anybody drop off the way Klein did. But to think that Nixon would be suspicious that I would walk in his office without saying so, and with a hidden microphone. Talk about hidden tapes and so forth, it was terribly ironic, looking back over the years, about Nixon complaining about me taping something.
LAMB: Could you even -- I mean, Ray Scherer's probably more familiar with technology -- whether there were even tape recorders that small back in 1959?
DONOVAN: Yes, there must have been.
SCHERER: Not that early.
DONOVAN: Oh, there must have...
SCHERER: Oh, they were big boxy things.
DONOVAN: Oh, Ray, there must have been because that's exactly what Herb wanted to know. And so they must have had them.
SCHERER: Well, maybe so. Maybe made for spies, clandestine ones, and whatnot.
LAMB: I really wasn't questioning whether you were telling -- I just wondered what it would have taken in those years to have a hidden microphone and...
DONOVAN: I think they had them by then. They were putting them on olives in martinis, weren't they?
SCHERER: Well, that came a little later, yeah.
LAMB: Chapter five is Television's Supreme Hour: The Kennedy Funeral. Why was that television's supreme hour?
SCHERER: Because it held the country together. It was a terribly uncertain time. The president dead, nobody knew how many assassins there were, whether other things were going to happen. As you know, President Johnson was very scared, flew back to Washington, thought maybe there was a great conspiracy, but people could see what was happening on television. Television acted as the national hearth.
LAMB: Where were you?
SCHERER: I was at the White House standing in the rain all day long watching people come and go, and I was there at the moment they carried out Jack Kennedy's rocking chair, and we put the cameras on it. It was a very graphic moment, carrying it out of the White House across the street, the end of an era. And I was soaked that day, and I didn't realize till I went in the White House sometime in the afternoon for break how wet I was. It was just such a gripping story. The logistics of it are the best part of the story. Here television -- normally when television does a big event, they plan for a year for a convention or for a space shot they might plan for two months. Here was the biggest story television ever had, and it had to react overnight. Television mobile vans were brought in from all across the country. They came in from Richmond, and they drove up from Charlotte, and they came in from Chicago, and the networks got together and put this all together and provided these marvelous pictures of the Kennedy funeral. It was the period when television grew up.
LAMB: Where were you, sir?
DONOVAN: When the shots were fired, I was in a second press bus in Dallas. I was down there with the president.
LAMB: What do you remember about television and...
DONOVAN: Of course, I don't remember anything that day about television, nothing at all, but looking back on it, I think several things. One, as Ray said, it not only pulled the American people together, but it gave them confidence that they understood what had happened, that it wasn't a conspiracy. People were actually -- studies have shown that people were impressed by Johnson, that he handled himself so well, and the vice presidency was somehow -- seemed important all of a sudden. People had forgotten about how important the vice presidency could be. And it sort of brought the American people together in some kind of communion, if that's the right word, at a terrible time. And ...
LAMB: Have you ever found anybody that did not know where they were the day that Kennedy was shot?
DONOVAN: No. No, I haven't.
SCHERER: No. Everybody remembers that.
DONOVAN: But this was an enormous drama. Every bit of it was an enormous drama. We will never see anything like it.
SCHERER: The picture of young John saluting and the picture of Jackie and her daughter kissing the coffin -- these are unforgettable things in people's minds.
LAMB: If you've just joined us, we're talking about this book. It's both out in paperback and hardback called "Unsilent Revolution." Our two guests, Robert J. Donovan and Ray Scherer, are veterans. Mr. Donovan, where did you grow up?
DONOVAN: Buffalo, New York.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
DONOVAN: Lafayette High School.
LAMB: College?
DONOVAN: No, I didn't go to college. My family was smashed by the Depression. I went right into newspaper work as a copy boy out of high school.
LAMB: Your parents did what?
DONOVAN: My father one time was the leading interior decorator in Buffalo and invested his money in very expensive real estate and was just wiped out.
LAMB: Why did you come to the newspaper business?
DONOVAN: Because my high school principal could get me a job there as a night copy boy, although I did tell him that I thought I'd like to work for a newspaper. I didn't know. If he'd got me a job at Arrow shirts, I'd probably be living on the Mediterranean now, but ...
LAMB: When did you first move to Washington?
DONOVAN: Well, I was determined after a while that -- began reading out of town newspapers, I was determined I was going to work for the New York Herald Tribune. And I loved the paper, so I used to see it around the Courier Express office, and I used to, on days off, periodically take a train to New York and just pester the city editor down there until finally after about fours years of it, he hired me. So I went to work for the Herald Tribune in '37 and there was the Army. Then I came to Washington in the Herald Tribune bureau in 1947.
LAMB: What period of your career was the most interesting to write about?
DONOVAN: They've all been interesting, to tell you the truth. There was a tremendous amount of news and exciting news in the Truman years, in the Truman administration.
LAMB: You've done a book on that.
DONOVAN: To tell you the truth, I've done four books on it. But I did two volumes on the Truman presidency. The Kennedy period was very exciting in the White -- at that stage, Kennedy was very exciting. You just couldn't get enough to write about him, you know, and I got to know him, and I liked him very much. I was paralyzed in Dallas, let me tell you. People say reporters have got to be cool about everything. I was terribly shaken in Dallas.
LAMB: Ray Scherer, you grew up where?
SCHERER: Indiana.
LAMB: Where?
SCHERER: Fort Wayne. Curiously -- and I worked on a newspaper there, and one night, as we put the paper to bed, I ran into a fellow who was working for NBC in Washington, and he offered me a job. I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, television is coming on. We're opening up. We need more people.” So I came the same year as Bob did, '47. That's why I said I was lucky to be here at the birth of television news.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
SCHERER: I went to school Valparaiso University, and then I got a master's degree from the University of Chicago.
LAMB: What did your parents do?
SCHERER: My father was the business manager of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, so I had a lot of newspaper jobs before. I carried the paper. I had one summer I was a stereotyper's apprentice. I sold ads. I covered the courthouse. I did everything around that newspaper.
DONOVAN: Let me add, he was also invited to be editor of the paper.
SCHERER: Well, that was later on. By that time, I'd come to Washington, and I said no. But being at the White House in those days, '48, gave me a kind of an initial insight this new thing, television. We had little cameras -- in those days, you couldn't take a camera into the White House except on very great occasion. We had these little film cameras on the concrete in front of the White House, and they held 100 feet of film, which meant that nobody could talk more than two minutes, because that's all you had. And Truman had visitors all day long, unlike presidents now. And they all marched through the lobby afterward, and we interviewed them, and some were interesting, and some were just proforma.

But if a man was interesting, we took him in front of the cameras out in front and more or less recapitulated the interview. And I noticed something very curious, that while he might say something somewhat guarded, having just left the president's office inside, you got him outside in front of the camera and it -- it kind of unlocked his tongue, and he might say much more than he said inside. And I thought, “This is interesting. The television camera does something to people.’ People want to be in front of a television camera. Well, you know that better than anybody. And that was the first inkling I had that television was going to change things, simply because cameras were there.
LAMB: Back to chapter seven in your book, Vietnam, and you've done two Vietnam chapters, one '65 to '67. Why did you pick that particular period?
DONOVAN: Because the first period, '65 to '67, the American people, by and large, and sometimes very enthusiastically, supported the Vietnam War. In 1967 that support began to turn around very badly, and the American people turned against the war. What we have come up with here, after talking to an awful lot of people and doing an awful lot of reading, is that -- let me back up a minute. I have a number of friends, mostly in Florida, who are retired Army officers, and it is really a doctrine with them that television and the news coverage caused us, as they say, to lose that war. We came out the other way. That in the nature of television and newspapers, television and newspapers supported that war as long as the people supported it. But when the people started to turn against it, television and newspapers started to turn against it. Television and newspapers, historically don't run out in front of public opinion.
LAMB: What about the analysis by Don Oberdorfer -- I think it started with him, -- we've seen it on several occasions since then, that Walter Cronkite changed the war?
SCHERER: Well, Walter Cronkite was over there at the time of Tet, and he said that we're not going to win this war. We'd better pull out. In a nutshell, television didn't lead public opinion. It reflected public opinion. As Bob said, when the body bags started coming home in '67, '68...
DONOVAN: As in the Korean War.
SCHERER: ...and then, of course, Tet was the big turning point. When people watching television -- some of it almost live -- saw the enemy invading the American Embassy grounds and just running rampant there, then they thought, “Golly, we probably can't win this thing.”
DONOVAN: Let me interrupt you just a minute. The last person I would challenge as a reporter would be Don Oberdorfer, but I don't think it's right to say that Cronkite changed -- or whatever the word you used -- changed public opinion. Hadley Donovan had already started it ...
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: Let me restate, and see if I can be fair, because if I remember, and I just read this within the last couple months, that maybe this is what he said, that after Walter Cronkite got on the air one night and said what he said about Tet, that it had an impact on Lyndon Johnson.
DONOVAN: No question.
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: OK. Maybe that's a fairer way of putting it.
DONOVAN: Because Cronkite was Cronkite, and television was television, but just the same things that Walter Cronkite was saying had already begun to appear in the Luce publications, original early sponsors of the war...
LAMB: Time magazine.
DONOVAN: Time magazine.
SCHERER: Fortune. Life.
DONOVAN: Life. So it doesn't -- not that Walter was out there all by himself on this. The turn had already begun.
SCHERER: But I think what Johnson felt was if somebody with the hold on public opinion, the most trusted man in America as he's been called, Cronkite, thinks we're losing this war, then we're in trouble.
DONOVAN: That's right. The the ...
LAMB: That's right. Did either one of you serve for your organizations in Vietnam?
DONOVAN: I was there with Johnson, but I never served there, no.
SCHERER: I went there twice -- again, with Johnson. We were there for a day or two, which you get a one-shot impression.
LAMB: One point you make in the chapters on the Vietnam War is that television avoided showing the blood at dinner.
SCHERER: Yes, indeed. They had the networks in New York had strong ground rules about not showing too much blood. Actually, when people think back about television and the war, they think they saw night after night bloody scenes. They didn't. It was very hard to cover that war. You had to go into a helicopter and go up to the front lines and then rush back, and then the film had to be developed and shipped to New York. And there was a fair amount of blood, but much less than the average people...
DONOVAN: Less than you would have seen in Newsweek magazine.
SCHERER: Yeah.
DONOVAN: Probably.
LAMB: What impact did David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan and Peter Arnett for AP at that time have on the American people in their reporting on the war, in the early days, the '63-64 time frame?
DONOVAN: Well, I'm not an expert in that. It stands to reason that they began to implant doubts.
SCHERER: Well, in the early days, David Halberstam was in support of the war.
DONOVAN: Was in support. Yes, he was.
SCHERER: Yeah.
DONOVAN: Very early days.
SCHERER: Well, everybody was. You know, this was a patriotic thing. Communists were going to take over the world and we had to fight them. And there was a lot of public opinion behind ...
LAMB: This was...
SCHERER: ... in the early days.
LAMB: Should reporters, both on television and in newspapers, take a side either way, for or against, in a wartime situation like that?
DONOVAN: Oh, yes. I'm sure they -- oh, I'm sure they did.
LAMB: No. Should they?
DONOVAN: Oh, should they? I wouldn't say they did it -- should they take a stand? Well, if you mean an editorial stand, writing stories just to direct opinion, I say no. But if you dig and come up with what you can and report it as news, I say yes.
SCHERER: You know, there's a line between interpretation and hard news reporting, and if you do cross that line, you should say so, and it should be listed as as commentary, as is now done and ...
LAMB: Once you've crossed that line and say it's commentary, can the public expect to look at you the same way if you go back on the other side and just become an objective reporter?
DONOVAN: Well, I should suppose that careful readers would have that feeling. I mean, you didn't expect Joe Alsop to call for a truce, you know.
SCHERER: Joe was always a hawk, and everybody knew it -- on everything.
DONOVAN: Yeah.
SCHERER: You know, he was ...
LAMB: Columnist.
DONOVAN: Columnist.
SCHERER: Those are columnists. That's a little different. It's a very good question you raise, Brian. I don't know what the answer is really.
LAMB: Chapter nine, Nixon's Presidency: A Difficult Time for Television News and the Press. Why was it a difficult time?
DONOVAN: Well, it was a difficult time -- I'm really saying this from one side, but it was a difficult time because of the mistrust that Nixon had of journalism and because of his determination to do anything to dominate television, to make television come out the way he wanted it to come out.
SCHERER: And to discredit it. There were memos written to him, and he wrote media -- “We must discredit this media and go after these people.”
DONOVAN: Oh, no question about it.
LAMB: One of the first Booknotes we did here was a whole book of memos that came out of the archives by Bruce Otis.
SCHERER: We got a lot of those.
LAMB: Did you do the same thing?
SCHERER: Well, yes, sir, we went over the archives and combed through them, and we were amazed at the strong feeling he had about individuals.
DONOVAN: There was man named -- was it Higby?
LAMB: Larry Higby.
SCHERER: Yeah.
DONOVAN: What was his name?
LAMB: Larry Higby.
DONOVAN: Larry Higby. I think -- have I got the right man? Who said, “We're out to tear down the system.” Was that Higby? Am I right about that?
SCHERER: Well, Pat Buchanan was a part of that.
DONOVAN: Oh, Pat Buchanan was in it all the time.
SCHERER: Yeah.
DONOVAN: But he said, “Our job is to tear down the system.” He was talking to the Huntley-Brinkley show. So there was counteraction against the press there such as -- well, as I've never known it, but I don't know of a period when there was such.
LAMB: Where were you during the Nixon presidency?
DONOVAN: Well, I was head of the Los Angeles Times, the Washington bureau here. I didn't cover the White House regularly, but I covered Nixon an awful lot. I was writing about Nixon an awful lot.
LAMB: Where were you, Mr. Scherer?
SCHERER: When Lyndon Johnson left the White House and Nixon came in, I was dispatched to London. I became the London correspondent, and I watched it from afar. And over there, I remember in '72, 73, from that distance we had no idea what a big story Watergate was becoming. I didn't know till I came home in '73 that it was just enormous. It just dominated everything.
LAMB: The next chapter...
DONOVAN: A lot of this ante-dates Watergate, of course.
SCHERER: Of course, it does.
DONOVAN: Yeah, it does.
SCHERER: There's a lot in the book, some of these extraordinary memos. Nixon felt suspicious, and then people like Buchanan would write him a memo which just fueled the fire and...
LAMB: In the next chapter, Nixon and China and Watergate, you quote from a January '89 TV Guide piece that Richard Nixon wrote, “To President-elect Bush,” and he says -- this is Richard Nixon -- “Of all the institutions arrayed with and against a president, none controls his fate more than television.” Were you surprised or do you -- well, let me ask you if you agree with Richard Nixon when he told George Bush that.
DONOVAN: Well, an awful lot controlled the president's action. I mean, whether Stalin is in the White House or whether Gorbachev is there. I can't answer that question.
LAMB: Let me read a little more. He said, “TV reporters always claim to be speaking for the people, but they are really speaking primarily for themselves. In many ways they are political actors, just like the president, mindful of their ratings, careful of preserving and building. A president must respect them for that power, but he can never entirely trust them.” President Nixon...
SCHERER: Well, I think there's something in what he said, in the sense that TV reporters who cover the White House have become national celebrities and they have their own persona. It wasn't that way when I was there, you know.
LAMB: You were not a celebrity?
SCHERER: I don't think so, no. And in the early days we were there by suffrance. You know, we, the print reporters, they looked down on television as just interlopers. You know, they wanted to cut our cables and get rid of us. And we developed our own power as we went along, and by the Kennedy days television was becoming the dominant medium, but it certainly wasn't before that.
LAMB: John Kennedy used to have news conferences in the daytime, and Ronald Reagan had them in the nighttime, and Richard Nixon says and -- again here, “Daytime press conferences” -- he's advising President Bush -- “daytime press conferences leave the decision about what makes the evening news solely in the hands of TV editors who, unless there is a major news event, will always opt for the superficial, the entertaining, the embarrassing or the frivolous before they work their way down to the substantive.” Do you agree with that?
DONOVAN: I'll tell you, there's a better man to answer that question than I.
SCHERER: Well, that's a pretty jaundiced view, I think.
DONOVAN: I don't think TV treats news entirely that differently from other news media.
SCHERER: TV news has gotten a little frivolous and it's gotten a little tabloidish, but it hasn't descended to the depths that he sees there.
LAMB: Did you like a presidential news conference when you were there in the White House?
DONOVAN: Yes, I did.
LAMB: What did you like about them?
DONOVAN: Well, the fact that you had the president to question and that you were making news and sometimes history. They were very interesting.
LAMB: Did you -- in those days, when you were there, meet more often behind the scenes with the president alone or with a group?
DONOVAN: No, that began with Kennedy. I never saw Truman alone or with a small group. I never saw Eisenhower alone.
SCHERER: Well, but Bob, but Eisenhower would have these black-tie dinners when he would call us in.
DONOVAN: Well, as ...
SCHERER: It was ...
DONOVAN: That was very late in the game, though.
SCHERER: But it was good. You got to know him very well.
DONOVAN: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Why did you call this book the "Unsilent Revolution"?
DONOVAN: Well, I've heard so many times people saying, “The silent revolution.” Well, with Sam Donaldson, there's no unsilent revolution.
LAMB: And how did you name this book?
DONOVAN: Listen, this was a name we picked in the very beginning and never expected that it would last.
SCHERER: We kept looking for a better name. We never found one, so there it is.
LAMB: Did either one of you change your opinion about any aspect of this business after you'd done all your research?
SCHERER: I would say you didn't change it so much but hardened it. The cumulative aspect of all these instances where television changed things -- in foreign policy, in the way people see Congress, in the way the White House is seen. The White House is a big television studio. When we were there, I was saying there was one camera in front of the White House at the beginning. Now it's lights and banks of cameras, and the president does everything for television.
DONOVAN: I learned an awful lot in the research for this book.
SCHERER: I don't know that we changed things, changed anything...
DONOVAN: But we learned an awful lot.
SCHERER: ... but I think we learned a lot by ...
LAMB: How did you go about writing it, the two of you together?
DONOVAN: Well, it would depend. Naturally, if you're going to write about newspapers, you know, I write about newspapers. I was at the conference at the University of Mississippi, and there it was. But I don't know beans about television news, really. There's the insider on television news.
LAMB: So did you ...
SCHERER: We kind of divided it up.
DONOVAN: Yeah, we divided it.
SCHERER: Divided it up.
DONOVAN: It just -- it fell into sort of natural form.
SCHERER: First with the Kennedy funeral, I did that chapter, and I did the one on space, and space is a very interesting story. You know, television was locked out at the beginning. Military ran it, didn't want any cameras around. And the cameras had to sneak over the fence, so to speak, to get pictures of the early rockets. Then the NASA people decided, “Well, look, television is good for us. You know, it's making us famous and it's getting appropriations from Congress.” Then they began to invite television in more and more, and finally they were cooperating. It was this symbiotic relationship.
DONOVAN: And they knew they needed television to get Congress to put pressure behind Congress to put up these big appropriations.
SCHERER: But this is a story that I don't think anybody's told before, that it was very graduall, and the television was good for space and space was good for television. Television was growing up. It was the bar mitzvah of television. It was the first big story that it covered regularly.
DONOVAN: And, you know, that it didn't begin that television was in the good graces of the space agency. Space was originally in the hands of the airport, and they were -- the Air Force, and they were very suspicious about the coverage by television.
LAMB: You've got chapter 12 in here, The Call: Relief for the Famine -- Ethiopian Famine, 1984.
SCHERER: Yeah, I put ...
LAMB: Is that an NBC story?
SCHERER: I did the work on that. Well, it is. Very briefly, the networks had never been able to get any anybody in Ethiopia. They couldn't get the entree, couldn't get the passports. The BBC got somebody in. He got these terribly pathetic pictures of all these children dying and these long marches out on the Sahara. The BBC then put it on in London and the London people of NBC were just amazed at this story, and they called New York and said, “You've got to get this on.” New York said, “Well, thank you, but it's just a very busy night, and I don't know that we have room for it.” And the NBC man in London, Joe Angotti, saw it again that night on the BBC, and he called up and said, “Well, let me at least send it to you.” So they sent it to New York, and Tom Brokaw and Paul Greenberg, the producer, saw it coming in, and they tore out the whole last part of the program and put this on. And the money just poured in. Everybody in the world sent in money. They told where to send it, and it was just tremendous. It showed the power of television news.
DONOVAN: And from all over the world.
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: As a newspaper reporter today, what role do newspapers play today in the age of television? What's their most important role?
DONOVAN: Well, in one way or another, reporting news. But they report it -- as Ben Bradlee is quoted in this book as saying, “We no longer write stories as if we were conveying the news for the first time.” So they write in a somewhat different way. There's more of a narrative trend in news stories today. There's more investigation. They have more time for it than television.
LAMB: How much time do you spend with a newspaper every day, and what do you read every day?
DONOVAN: I'll tell you, I think I spend an hour a day on the Washington Post -- darned near an hour a day. I read The Post through every morning.
LAMB: How about you, Ray Scherer?
SCHERER: An hour on The Post and an hour on The New York Times, and I like to look at The Wall Street Journal when I can. And Bob's old alma mater, the LA Times, which now prints in this area, and you can get it up to date.
LAMB: Let me ask you something, and you and I have not talked about this: I know you worked on this Television Occupation of Capitol Hill chapter, and I know our viewers will be interested in this. I read this for the first time in your book and had no idea that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said this, and I want to ask you both about this. Is this...
SCHERER: We went to see him one day.
LAMB: And, by the way, how much original interviewing did you do for this book?
DONOVAN: Well, we didn't -- I can't exactly tell you that. Well, I wouldn't say this is a weak chapter we have here, nevertheless, I think it was a disappointing chapter to us. We thought we would find more in the way of how members connived or tried to get on television and tried to influence things on the floor of the House. We couldn't find anything like that at all. I came away with the impression that it was almost as if television wasn't there. You know, by now...
SCHERER: And these were your cameras, C-SPAN cameras.
DONOVAN: Yeah.
LAMB: Well, the cameras in the House and Senate belong to them. They...
SCHERER: Well, I mean, but you carried it.
DONOVAN: Yeah.
SCHERER: We couldn't find that people were performing for television.
LAMB: You did say this -- and I'll get to the Senator Moynihan quote in a minute, "Television has loosened party discipline in Congress. Instead of demanding an organizational support, members can use television to build their own followings and attract funds." What did you mean by that?
SCHERER: Well, everybody is now a television performer in Congress. Sometimes they go out in front of the television that's sent by satellite to their home town. They're using it all day long, as you know, regardless of what they may do on the floor or they'll call up the hometown station and say, “I'm going to be on the floor at such and such a time,” and then they'll tape from C-SPAN, I suppose, and use it on hometown. And they'll be interviewed by their own press secretaries, and they...
LAMB: Does it bother you?
SCHERER: No, it doesn't bother me, but the reason I think that they allowed television into the House and the Senate after so many years is because the White House was running away from television. The president was on it all the time and they had no way to match it.
LAMB: Running away with it.
DONOVAN: With it, not ...
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: You said from...
SCHERER: Oh, no, it wasn't, excuse me. And they had no way to match it, so as you know -- and was it '76, the House went in and you started covering, and then the Senate lagged a bit, but they just had to play catch-up in some way. But now they've devised all these other means to get on television. They have all their own little places all around the Capitol where they can go and it zips back to their home town that day, and that's given them a powerful weapon.
DONOVAN: You know, I started covering Congress in '47, the famous 80th Congress. And ...
LAMB: Why was it famous?
DONOVAN: Well, it was famous partly because Truman attacked it and ran against it, but it was also a Congress of great productivity, even though Truman called it the do-nothing 80th Congress. It was crucial. The Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, Taft-Hartley, Hiss, the Hollywood 10, the two-term amendment was in the...
LAMB: That was in '47, '48?
DONOVAN: '47, '48, an extraordinary Congress. It was the first Congress I'd seen. I watched it very closely, and it was perfectly obvious to me -- and I'm nothing like a scholar on the subject -- but the Congresses then, we began to see a few years ago, were very different from what I saw in the days before television. And the more we read, the more we see opinions of people -- experts like Rick Smith, who is telling how congressmen could use television to raise money and to be their own people, apart from parties. And it was so clear to me that there wasn't the party discipline in the recent Congress that there would have been in the '40s -- in the '47, '48 Congress. And I don't think that we were wrong in that. I think the consensus of opinion among political writers and political scientists is that that's the case, that television has weakened party control.
LAMB: What do you both find in the people you talk to out there in general -- their understanding about how the media works or television works? Do people understand how it all...
SCHERER: They don't.
LAMB: They do not?
SCHERER: They don't understand, I don't think, no. They dislike television news because it bears a lot of bad news and because it reflects this malaise or whatever you call it that a lot of people feel about the political system. They tend to blame -- tend to wrap television up with this whole disaffection that they have with politics.
DONOVAN: And it isn't only true about television. Newspapers have suffered from the objection of readers to newspapers.
LAMB: Has it changed -- the attitude on the part of the American people over the years since you-all started in this business?
SCHERER: I think it's changed. I think it's still a by-product of Watergate, where television and newspapers bore in and unhorsed a president. It set up a ...
DONOVAN: And Vietnam, too.
SCHERER: And Vietnam. It set up a bad feeling, which we're only now getting out of. I think Reagan helped to erase a lot of that, because he was a much-admired figure and television didn't attack him -- really couldn't, because of all this Teflon stuff.
LAMB: This may be hard to do, but let's put you both back in your former jobs -- New York Herald Tribune and at the White House. But right now you've got to go back in 1992 and do the same job again. What do you think would be different about your day-to-day responsibilities?
DONOVAN: Much less interest -- in those days we were really riveted to the big stories -- the big running stories. If I were back there today, I would turn to other kinds of writing, the kind you see in the Wall Street Journal or these takeouts in Time and Newsweek, or whatever -- even interviews -- unexpected interviews. I would be a reporter of much greater variety than I was then.
SCHERER: In my days around the White House, I paid as much attention to radio reporting as I did to television. If I were there now, I would be exclusively television, and I'd be on the air all day long as they are. They just plug in and there it is. In my day you had to bring in a mobile unit. It took all day to put the cables and the cameras out, and you might get on in the evening.
LAMB: Did you do the standups in front of the White House?
SCHERER: Yeah, but it took a lot of doing. You just couldn't do it like that, the way you do it now. Now something happens and the correspondent is on television 10 seconds later. In my time it took an awful lot of logistics to be able to do that. The technology has run way ahead of the reporting, you might say.
LAMB: This is really -- go ahead. Mr. Donovan?
DONOVAN: No, I...
LAMB: This is a small matter, but how do standup correspondents memorize what they're doing, or how do they edit -- are they -- is it just off the top of their head?
SCHERER: A lot of them do it off the top of their head. Another way to do it is to put it on a tape recorder, to pre-tape what you're going to say and have the thing in your ear, and then play it back to yourself and just repeat -- nothing dishonest about it, because you're repeating your own words, but then you repeat that to camera.
LAMB: How often does that happen?
SCHERER: Well, it was beginning to happen in my day. I don't know how often it happens now.
LAMB: Did you ever do it?
SCHERER: No. In my day, I'd write a script and try to memorize it. I think the people who do television these days are much better than we were. They're quicker off the mark, and they memorize and they do it all to camera. It may not be as gracefully said as we did, because we had a chance to write it out, but they're more resourceful.
LAMB: Let me go back to this Senator Moynihan thing and get your -- you both were there to interview him on this day?
SCHERER: Yes.
LAMB: Why did you pick him, by the way?
SCHERER: He's an interesting guy, and he's got a lot of ideas. And we both happen to know him.
DONOVAN: He's lively, and he's smart.
LAMB: “Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat from New York, has observed that C-SPAN's coverage of the regular sessions has less impact on viewers and members of Congress than does its coverage of committee hearings, which were usually ignored by the public in the past. Since the basic work of Congress is done in committees, viewers are now able to obtain through television a clearer picture of how decisions are reached. Moynihan sees this as a mixed blessing at times, because decisions require compromise. With television cameras staring down on them in committee rooms, members may find it more difficult to work out compromise.”
SCHERER: In front of the camera. They don't want to be seen giving something away with a whole nation looking in, so to speak.
LAMB: Why not?
SCHERER: Well...
DONOVAN: It might be awkward for them. You know, I'll confess, I was as surprised to hear Pat Moynihan say that as you are -- as you are to read it.
SCHERER: You were surprised it was in the book.
DONOVAN: It's something I hadn't thought about.
SCHERER: What do you think, Ron? Is it true or not? Do you think that you're conveying more to the viewer by putting on a hearing than you are the day-to-day...
LAMB: Well, they're two different functions.
SCHERER: Right.
LAMB: I really don't know. I mean, that's why I was so interested in what you wrote here.
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: Let me...
SCHERER: You know, I don't know how widely felt that feeling is. He obviously feels that way.
LAMB: Again, I don't...
DONOVAN: Very emphatically.
SCHERER: Yeah.
LAMB: Let me read just a little more. I don't mean to dwell on what we're doing here, but our viewers all see it, so we might as well share it with them.
SCHERER: Why not.
LAMB: “In Moynihan's view,” you write, “as government becomes more open it becomes less flexible. Our deliberations are more and more open and, in theory at least, our bargaining processes are open, but that paralyzes things. A senator can never say before the cameras, ‘I'll give you this if you'll give me that.’ Television has made it very hard to negotiate. You can't say, ‘I'll give up on the hog farmers if you give up on the commuters.’” Now that's critical. I mean, are we doing the wrong thing, do you think? Do you think that we're slowing this process down instead of helping it out?
SCHERER: No, you're not.
LAMB: You won't hurt my feelings. I just...
SCHERER: Give the people more of it. They need to know how government works. They need to know what horse trades are made, and I don't know how widely felt his feeling is. I mean, that's Pat Moynihan, but it may be that his colleagues -- I think most of them are oblivious to the cameras. They do their job and, as you know, they've gotten used to it. The bright lights, such as they are, don't bother them anymore.
DONOVAN: And not every hearing deals with hog farmers, whatever they were. I mean, you can have fascinating hearings on foreign policy that I don't think the Moynihan theory would apply to.
LAMB: Well, we'll continue to observe that and see what develops. The chapter -- well, Ongoing Impact, that's the name of the section -- two different mediums. I underlined this. You talk about -- and I'll ask you -- that some newspapers refuse to let their folks appear on television, and you say this, “On the other hand, Steven Roberts, a frequent participant on "Washington Week In Review," resigned his regular job on The New York Times when Max Frankel, the executive editor, asked his staff to limit television appearances.” New York Times people sensitive about having their people appear on television? If so, why?
DONOVAN: Well, Max's position has been, as we put it in the book -- that he was a little tired of having television ride on the backs of his own reporters. I don't know how it is now, because I'm out of the running and that, but there was a feeling among editors that, “Look, we have our reporters and we pay them, and let them write for us what they're saying on television screens.” You know, almost from the beginning, editors had begun to worry about radio, and they were very upset and pretty fast by television. And this was just giving away an advantage to your competition.
LAMB: Do you remember this story that Gene Roberts, formerly of the Philadelphia Inquirer, told about Jack Nelson in Washington?
DONOVAN: Yes.
LAMB: I mean, do you want to tell it or do you want me to?
DONOVAN: Well, about the difference between the fame of television reporters and the anonymity of newspaper writers in general. Well, the story you asked me about -- Gene Roberts? -- Gene Roberts? Yes.
LAMB: Gene Roberts.
DONOVAN: Gene Roberts, a distinguished editor then of the Philadelphia Bulletin, had contracted to make a speech in Harrisburg, I think it was, and suddenly he had to change. And he told the chairman of the speaker's committee -- he said, “Look, I can get you Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times.” And she said, “Oh, dear, I wish you could get us Jack Nelson of "Washington Week in Review."' Well, of course, the two were the same, but she only knew him -- she didn't want Jack Nelson, a newspaper writer, on because he wasn't famous.
SCHERER: You know, in the beginning a lot of reporters weren't allowed to go on things like "Meet the Press."
DONOVAN: Oh, absolutely not.
SCHERER: It was thought of as the deadly competition. Now it's the other way. Newspapers call up and, `Wouldn't you like to put our man on the show?' It's a revolution.
LAMB: We're about out of time, but of all the things you wrote and looked at and studied, what did you dislike about television? What have you come to say, “This is hurting us,” or have you done that with anything?
DONOVAN: Well, let me tell you, I must be in a great minority. I think television news is good. I'm not a great critic of television news. I watch it. I learn from it. I think the people who have gone to the top in television would, in another era, have gone to the top of newspapers. I think they're fine journalists. I must be off by myself in this, but I have no great criticism of television news.
LAMB: Mr. Scherer?
SCHERER: I think the trend toward soft news is deplorable and the trend toward what you might call tabloidization of the news. It hasn't infected the networks in a virulent way, but there's a tendency in that way, to try to entertain rather than elucidate, and I deplore that. I'm not sure television news is as solid as it was 10 years ago. Technically, it's better.
DONOVAN: I share that. On the other hand, we all know that the patterns of news change ...
SCHERER: Yeah.
DONOVAN: ... and what might have seemed the thing to do 10 years ago does not have the same interest, usually, as it has today.
LAMB: Do you both have another book in you?
SCHERER: I like to think it's there, but I ...
DONOVAN: On this subject?
LAMB: Anything. Are you writing another book?
DONOVAN: Well, yes, I'm writing another book.
LAMB: On what?
DONOVAN: Well, you know, there's a great deal of uproar over Congress today, and I'm writing a book called "Speaking of Congress, How About the Good for Nothing 80th? 1947-1948, a Political Extravaganza." And that's where I am.
LAMB: Mr. Scherer?
SCHERER: Well, if I were writing a book today, I'd have to write about this whole new thing of talk-show politics.
DONOVAN: Oh, yeah.
SCHERER: Perot, Clinton, and even Bush now -- they're going around television news and they're speaking directly to the viewers from "Oprah" and whatnot -- shows like this. It’s a new trend.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like in paperback. It's also out in hardback. It's called the "Unsilent Revolution: Television News and American Public Life." The co-authors, our guests, Robert J. Donovan and Ray Scherer. Thank you both for spending this time with us.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.