Worth Watching: Newton Minow, 50 Years Later

I'm just back from an extraordinary event at the National Press Club, in Washington. Fifty years ago today, Newton Minow, then John F. Kennedy's young chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gave his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters on the "vast wasteland" of commercial media.

Minow.pngToday that same Newton Minow appeared with the current chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, and Frank Sesno to talk about the state of the media 50 years later. Minow is a remarkable person -- enlisting for World War II at age 17, public servant in about every venue imaginable in the years since then, the man who hired the young Barack Obama as a lawyer (at the recommendation his daughter Martha, then one of Obama's Harvard Law professors and now the Law School's dean), and a person whose lucidity and insight in his ninth decade puts most of his actuarial juniors to shame.

C-Span carried it live, and I see that the full video is now up on their site (though not embeddable). It is very much worth watching there -- now, or sometime. Introductions, including a detailed and affectionate one by Genachowski, occupy the first 21 minutes of the clip on the site. Minow comes on at time 21:00 and leads with an anecdote about riding in a car with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Alan Shepard, just back from his launch as the first American in space. He goes on with considerable drollery to describe the unhappy reaction of the NAB nabobs to his speech.

Oh, yes, Newton Minow is a recent Atlantic author too. (Subscribe!) Check it all out. His is an example to reflect on, in many ways.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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