Saying that qualification for public office "is no longer the ability to govern, but the ability to raise money" -primarily to pay for TV time - 60 Minutes creator and executive producer Don Hewitt told a crowd of radio and TV journalists Wednesday night that it was time to do something about it.
Hewitt, in town to accept the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation First Amendment Leadership Award, said the marriage between TV and politics began at WBBM-TV Chicago at the first Nixon-Kennedy debate. "I was there," he pointed out. "They [politicians] married for love," he said, while "we married for money." It hasn't been a bad marriage for either candidates or broadcasters, he said, but it has been lousy for everybody else. If it is wrong to cry "fire!" in a crowded theater, why isn't it wrong to cry "money!" in a Buddhist temple?, he asked.
Hewitt did not drop the other shoe of suggesting free airtime however, saying that the solution instead was to give candidates news time "when they do something newsworthy." He also said that if campaign finance was called by its real name, "bribery," things would change "faster than you can say McCain-Feingold," referring to the campaign finance reform bill.
Also saluted at the RTNDF First Amendment Awards Dinner was PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, who received the Len Zeidenberg First Amendment award (named for the late Broadcasting & Cable senior correspondent) and thanked the 680 people who had worked for the NewsHour. WTVH-TV Syracuse general manager and veteran newsman Gary Wordlaw received the First Amendment Service Award and said he was humbled by the honor. - John Eggerton