Hearing Highlights

Announcements about TV and online coverage of next week’s nomination hearing for judge Sonia Sotomayor got me to thinking about some of my hearing video highlights.

I’m not sure how many people have congressional hearing faves, as it were, but I also like reading appeals court decisions, which may tell you all you need to know about me.

Anyway, there was the “have you no sense of decency, Senator” remark that sunk Senator Joseph McCarthy. That was before my time, but I have seen it enough for it to have been securely embedded in the amber of my TV memory.

There was the white-mained, beetle-browed Sam Ervin presiding over the sometimes-riveting Watergate hearings. That was days and weeks worth of moments and became a salted-peanuts kind of summer viewing for me and some of my friends, a new kind of daytime soap opera: Days of Our Lies.

Remember Iran Contra and Ollie North, ramrod straight in his testimony about some crooked business.

In the pantheon of Supreme Court vetting, the Robert Bork hearings gave us the verb, “borked,” defined roughly as getting denied something you deserved or were qualified for, though frequently the definition is more colorfully expressed.

Then there were the Clarence Thomas hearings, which at one point focused on a thing that probably doesn’t go better with Coke.

More recently there were the MLB steroid hearings, where baseball icons denied steroid use as their needle-guys suggested otherwise.

But of all the hearing footage I have watched, the one that has stuck with me the longest is Fred Rogers singlehandedly securing a key congressional appropriation for then-fledgling public broadcasting back in 1969.

I first saw the footage in a tribute to Rogers a decade or so back. In the interests of full disclosure, I have always been a fan of his gentle approach to kids, so easily parodied, but straight from his heart. I interviewed him for the magazine many years ago, and even got a hug goodbye the last time I saw him. not long before he died.

But I digress.

Facing the initially impassive Senator John Orlando Pastore*, and the threat of a Nixon Administration budget cut, Rogers, then relatively unknown, talked of helping children cope with everyday issues like getting a haircut, then recited the words to a song he had written called “What to you do with the mad that you feel.”

By the time he was done, after only about six minutes of testimony (6:50 according to YouTube), Pastore was a card-carrying member of the Neighborhood, asking for a copy of Rogers’ show so he could see it, and declaring that Rogers had secured the $20 million.

It was a Frank Capra moment that still gets me today when I occasionally revisit it to remind myself why I still have faith in television and politicians when both give in to the angels of their better nature. Fred Rogers was certainly one of those angels.

*Not to be confused with John Orlando, the current top CBS lobbyist and former NAB lobbyist who has been floated as a possible next NAB president.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.