Worth Watching: Newton Minow, 50 Years Later

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/worth-watching-newton-minow-50-years-later/238644/