Did you see Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explain how he would advise a niece who was date raped? Or the Mayor of Atlanta say how he'd deal with a possible Ebola scare? Or Dan Rather admit that fear of competition affects sound journalistic judgment in every newsroom? These and hundreds of other memorable, insightful moments are the legacy of a series of compelling public affairs programs created by the late Fred Friendly, a pioneer in television journalism.
The Fred Friendly Seminars, which have won major broadcasting awards, have probed a broad spectrum of knotty ethical, legal, and public policy issues by encouraging panelists to "talk to each other, rather than shout past each other." Prominent participants in the Seminars, ranging from Supreme Court Justices to former Presidents, journalists, scientists, political figures, and corporate CEOs, have been forced by this unique format to put their rhetoric aside, and put their principles to the test in the gripping dilemmas drawn from real life.
A Unique Format
The Fred Friendly Seminars are distinguished by the thorough research process employed to find and frame issues. A crucial goal of the research is not only to explore every aspect of the policy debate, but to understand exactly how the issues play themselves out in daily life. The Seminars then bring together a panel of participants that represents virtually every perspective on the issue at hand. The participants are assigned roles in what Fred Friendly called "the hypothetical"—a situation that brings the issue down to human scale. By introducing twists and turns in the hypothetical story line, a moderator forces the panelists to take a hard look at their own beliefs and listen to the points of view of those who disagree. As panelists wrestle with the hypothetical, the drama created helps the audience to consider the issues in all their complexity.
About Fred Friendly
Fred Friendly is a towering figure in the history of broadcast news. He joined with Edward R. Murrow to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy in their weekly program, See It Now. Later, as executive producer of CBS Reports, Friendly tackled such controversial issues as civil rights, the dangers of tobacco, and government secrecy. He was named president of CBS News in 1964, but in 1966 he resigned in protest when the network pre-empted the Congressional hearing on America's involvement in the Vietnam War to air reruns of I Love Lucy and other "soaps."
©Gabriel Amadeus Cooney
Friendly then joined the Ford Foundation, where he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of public television. In 1974, using Socratic dialogue in a unique format, Friendly created the Media and Society Seminars. As an outgrowth of these Seminars, he began the Media and Society public television programs, which he directed from Columbia University. These programs were the precursors to the Fred Friendly Seminars. When Fred Friendly retired from the Seminars in 1992 at the age of 76, he repeated on the air the familiar words that defined the purpose of these seminars as he saw it: "...not to make up anybody's mind, but to open minds and to make the agony of decision making so intense that you can escape only by thinking."