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.”