Last Monday the lights were off and the shades down in many a Detroit home. Furniture was deployed in neat semi-circles around family TV acts, and Detroiters were all prepared to view the opening of the House Un-American Committee's big Red-hunt in Michigan.
But the curtain never went up. Speaker of the House Rayburn had nailed it down earlier that day by barring Radio and TV from sessions of all House committees. What might have been a great show turned into nothing at all.
According to Rayburn, there was no connection between events in Detroit and his ruling; it was merely a matter of House regulations. Since these regulations have nothing to say about radio and television, Rayburn reasoned, radio and television should be banned.
Despite the dubious logic behind it, this ruling should have a salutary effect on the proceedings of many House committees. In the past, the everpresent snouts of a dozen or so TV cameras have diverted many committee members from their main task: fact-finding. Knowing that several million people are watching them, these representatives have felt it necessary to prove their opposition to Communism, influence peddling, and tax frauds again and again. Telecasts give them a chance to get their names and faces before the public, and their concern for making a good impression has overridden their interest in impartial investigating.
Moreover, since the networks cannot televise or broadcast the full proceedings of any committee, committee members have had to chose what portions of their inquiries the public could see and hear. This has usually meant full play for dramatic accusations and oblivion for the more lackluster denials.
By attacking one of the main causes of this sensationalism, Rayburn's ruling will minimize the circus element in committee session. But it raises a problem of its own. Immediately after Rayburn's announcement, Representatives Martin, Shafer, and a host of others--mostly staunch Republicans--began howling about censorship. They defended broadcasts and telecasts as highly democratic and educational. Although they have reasons for protesting other than democracy and education, their insincerity does not reduce the cogency of their arguments.
To reconcile these points of view, the House--and the Senate as well--must determine some committee procedure that will insure thorough and impartial investigations, a code that would at least guarantee the accused their rights of defense, limit accusers to facts, and shut off the windy politicking.
By banning TV and radio, Rayburn has taken the easy way out, and like most such decisions, his is hardly the best solution. What is needed is not more censorship, but a way to make censorship unnecessary.