CBS 2 School: Foreign Policy Wasteland

Fifty years ago Newton Minnow, as Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, called television “a vast wasteland.” In a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961 Minnow contrasted what TV had become versus the public interest it was meant to serve. Minnow stated:

“Broadcasting to serve the public interest must have a soul and a conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of people, as well as to expand the gross national product. …By no means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest. …But a much better job can be done, and should be done.”

Today our State Department has taken note of Minnow’s words. After almost ten years of engagement in Afghanistan the latest foreign policy assessment sees no apparent end game in sight. A new strategy has been tacitly endorsed. This one may in fact change the way modern warfare is fought.

The State Department has leant its financial support to the production of an Afghanistan TV show. Available throughout Afghanistan, the show Eagle Four is one of the highest rated shows in Kabul. Like Law and Order, Eagle Four is a crime drama that takes place in the streets of Afghan’s capital city. The program dramatically showcases brave and courageous policemen who weekly solve crime and disarm IEDs. The central characters are honest, trustworthy and always reliable. The show looks a lot like most any other crime drama but its central purpose is to model for Afghanis the type of police force needed if they are to sustain a civil society.

Afghanistan television is serving the public interest.

The State Department has put a unique spin on its own brand of reality TV. Jennifer Pozner has recently written in the book Reality Bites Back:

[Television is] “our most common agent of socialization, shaping and informing our collective ideas about people, politics and public policy.”

Where the military with all of its muscle has proven inadequate, our foreign policy now has in part resorted to using television to achieve its strategic goals.

Wonder if such strategies would work back home?

At the next press conference on Afghanistan perhaps President Obama will choose to show reruns of “Rat Patrol” in place of taking questions.

On second thought, maybe he should show “Mission Impossible.”

One things is certain, when we do finally pull out of Afghanistan, the people there will know what Newton Minnow was talking about when he used the words “vast wasteland.”

  • Unluckiest Kid in the School

    TV?! Mr. Conneen would say, “That’s for old people!” In all seriousness, TV is a great way of reaching the public, and it is certainly a way of persuading the public to come on board with governmental policies. Don’t believe me? Just turn on the TV every other year in the month of October. Every other commercial is a political ad that reaches the people and persuades them to vote for one candidate over another.
    TV also informs people of what’s going on via the news. This is where I would prefer if TV would change. Although some stations are great at giving the news to the people without bias, there are major networks (mainly FOX on the right and MSNBC on the left) that are clearly biased. Their job seems to be to warn the public of how scary the world has become, feed them half truths, and tell them how awful the other side is. Almost every single day when you turn on the news you can see “Breaking News” or some terrorist threat. It has gotten so out of hand the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert led a march in Washington D.C. to protest such news. Our newscasters owe it to the people of America to provide them the truth, regardless if it is beneficial to the people they support. American viewers have become the Unluckiest Viewers in the World

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