Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with Roger J. Youman and Neil Hickey of "TV Guide"

October 09, 1976

[A few days after an exclusive interview with President Gerald Ford, TV GUIDE editors conducted a similar interview with the Democratic Presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter. It took place in the back seat of a moving sedan, on the way from downtown Washington, to Dulles airport, where a plane was waiting to fly Governor Carter to his next stop on the campaign trail, shortly before the first Presidential debate. During the 50 minute drive, two TV GUIDE interviewers, Roger J. Youman and Neil Hickey, questioned the candidate about various aspects of television. Here are the highlights.—Ed.]

TV Guide. Television is, obviously, a very powerful force, Tm wondering whether you think it has played a role in peoples distrust of government in institutions and the decline in voting.

Governor Carter. I think that the distrust that has been brought on government has been the responsibility of politicians who have not been trustworthy. One of the most dramatic contributions that I recall early in my television viewing life was in the McCarthy hearings, and I think this reestablished the confidence of the American people in their government. A second example was obviously the Watergate hearings a couple of years ago, which in a time of great national crisis had the effect of restoring the confidence of our people in our basic institutions.

Q. Governor, you were quoted as saying a few weeks ago that you would use the powers of the Presidency to reduce violence on television. You said:

"I do think there's too much violence on TV. I think the President has a right or obligation to express to the public, displeasure or criticism of programming content. I believe that it would have a great influence to the extent that the President was both forceful and trusted to shape the opinion of viewers of TV programs." Could you tell us how you would implement that intention.

Governor Carter. Well, I think you ought to be fair now and go on to completely quote that I don't favor censorship, that I think there is a sharp line to be drawn between censorship and the influencing of public opinion through the statements of political leaders. I believe that here is a legitimate role to be played by national leaders, certainly including the President, to express concern about elements in our society. And although I would new attempt through my appointments to the FCC, nor through my own actions, to censor the television, news or other information media, I would not hesitate as President to speak out as a leader of our country to deplore excessive violence in programming.

Q. Around the same time, you said that the FCC was, I think yon called it, a dumping ground for political has-beens. And also you were quoted as saying that you would appoint FCC commissioners who would in general be acceptable to Ralph Nader and consumer groups. Could you elaborate on that for us?

Governor Carter. Well, I think the question was about appointments that had been made to all regulatory agencies in the last 5 years. Over 50 percent of the members that have been appointed to all regulatory agencies in our country have come from the industries that are being regulated. And my concept of the regulatory agencies is to be responsible primarily to the consumers who are served by the industries being regulated. There's too much of a sweetheart arrangement now between the industries being regulated and the regulatory agencies themselves. And in the particular case of the FCC, you have a major responsibility to protect the constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression of dissenting viewpoints. I think a longer licensing period for radio and television stations would also be beneficial. ,

Q. Governor, the government also plays an important role in public television. The present system fpr financing public television depends largely on government financing or going to large corporations or begging viewers for contributions. The Carnegie Foundation some years ago suggested a tax on the initial sale of television sets. Would you favor such a tax, or an income-tax checkoff system, or some other solution?

Governor Carter. No, I never have favored, as a local official or state legislator or governor, the designation of specific tax funds for a particular purpose. There are a few exceptions, like game and fish licenses, and wildgame preserves, but I would not want to have a special tax placed on television sets for that purpose. I believe that our country is strong enough and that the President and the Congress, if they are working together, are able enough to allot adequate funds to support public television to a substantial degree from tax revenues. And, obviously, state governments also help to finance public television, and, as you say, private corporations and public contributions. But I would do what I could to strengthen the autonomy of public television. I think this is one of the fine opportunities in our country that hasn't been adequately realized. I watch public television a great deal and have always been very impressed with the educational contributions, at the classroom level and also for the general public.

Q. Since you do watch some television, would you comment on the quality of television in general, particularly commercial television?

Governor Carter. Well, I have to be frank and tell you that the last 2 years it has been a rare occasion when I watched television. I campaign 16 hours a day almost every day of the week. I now have the capability of recording news commentaries about issues that are important to our people and then, in times of leisure, I can play those back and review the week's happenings. But I'm not qualified to judge the quality of programs and I would not put myself in the posture of a television program monitor as President.

Q. Sir, you say that you tape the news broadcasts and you can see them at your leisure. Is that done in Atlanta?

Governor Carter. Yes, that's done by my staff and then they put them on a cassette and I watch them on weekends.

Q. That being the case, do you have any general opinion about how television has treated you during this campaign? Has the coverage been fair enough and complete enough?

Governor Carter. It's been fair enough. It's obviously not possible to cover a full day's events when I make a hundred different statements about housing or agriculture, transportation, tax reform, government bureaucratic confusion, in a minute and 26 seconds on the evening news. But throughout the last 21 months since I've been campaigning, I've been treated fairly. And I think the coverage of the campaign in its totality has been adequate.

Q. Governor, with regard to the debates, could you tell us what the political considerations were behind your agreeing to debate?

Governor Carter. My style of campaigning, ever since the beginning, has been a maximum amount of contact with the American people. To let them know about me, cross-examine me, and study who I am, and what I stand for, my position on issues. And I see the debates as a wonderful opportunity to reach several tens of millions of American people in a 90 minute period on three different occasions. And I think it would alleviate the handicap that I do have now, in that President Ford is obviously better known than I am. And the false images that are deliberately created by political opponents I think are corrected very quickly when the home viewer can see a penetrating cross-examination of the person who might be President of his country. And I believe that in the balance, that if neither of us makes a serious mistake, that I will benefit because of that.

Q. Governor, there have been accusations from the left and from the right about news bias. Do you feel that television has presented the news in a biased manner in the past? Do you believe that it is doing so today?

Governor Carter. Well, my own personal experience—having been involved in some of the major news events of recent years—has been that the coverage has been accurate. Obviously, there are instances where an individual news analyst or reporter would distort the news because of a different perspective from one who was involved in it. But I think that over a period of time that infrequent aberration is corrected. I think the American people were given the facts, undistorted facts, about the Vietnamese War, for instance, much more clearly than they were getting from political leaders at that time. I think the American people got the facts about the Watergate scandals from the news media. I think the American people have derived a factual analysis of the primary campaign in which I have been involved this year and the same, so far, in the general election campaign.

Q. Governor, have you given any thought to how you might use television in the White House if you9re elected? Are you considering "fireside chats"? And how frequently would you want to hold news conference?

Governor Carter. I intend to hold news conferences every 2 weeks, with a minimum of 20 full-scale news conferences per year. I intend to restore die format of the fireside chat, using television or radio or both, depending on the importance of the subject. I would like to have them fairly frequently, maybe once a month on a subject of major interest to the American people. It may be that a combination of public television and radio would be appropriate in some instances. In other cases, of course, full media coverage would be appropriate.

I also would like to make the members of the Cabinet available, through joint sessions of the Congress, to be cross-examined in public, hopefully with live coverage, so that issues of importance discussed by the Secretary of State or Defense or Agriculture or Commerce or Treasury could be presented to the American people in an unimpeded way.

Q. Governor, would you also support live television coverage of congressional debates in the Senate and the House?

Governor Carter. Yes, I would like to see that done. When I was Governor of Georgia we had a procedure where every day's legislative sessions were recorded on television tape, including the key committee meeting hearings, and then professional, non-political editors abbreviated those down to one hour or one hour and a half. And they are presented every evening throughout the educational television system of Georgia. That greatly improved the quality of work in the legislature. It cut down on irresponsible and idle speechmaking. The legislators were on their best behavior. The committee sessions were much better attended. And the people of the state knew much more accurately what was going on in the legislature.

I think coverage of the Congress would probably not be feasible live, except on special occasions. But a recording of the deliberations, and a rebroadcast at a regular time, would probably be the best approach. But that's a decision for the Congress to make.

Q. A related question, Governor. After the conventions this year,' some people were saying that it's time to stop gavel-to-gavel coverage of the political conventions. Do you think gavel-to-gavel coverage is useful and should be continued?"

Governor Carter. I think so. I know that the three major networks disagree on that type of coverage and I'm not familiar with the viewer ratings, hour by hour.

Q. They were very low, compared with entertainment programing.

Governor Carter. Sometimes, though, even a low rating ought to be accommodated because of the ultimate impact on the American people's understanding of the political process. And I don't think that the ratings ought to be the only criterion used to measure whether a programing decision should be continued. I hope that, at least, one or two of the networks might give full coverage in the future. It might be that in a 3 day convention ABC could give gavel-to-gavel coverage one day, NBC the next and CBS the next. And let them either draw lots or rotate it from 1 year to another. But I would hope that on one network, at least, viewers throughout the country might be able to watch gavel-to-gavel convention deliberations if they choose.

Q. Governor, television news people think that the Fairness Doctrine prevents them frequently from covering matters of public importance because they will have to give comparable time to all other voices of dissent. Do you think that television deserves the same kind of First Amendment rights as print journalists? And is the Fairness Doctrine, as it's currently constituted, adequate to the needs?

Governor Carter. Well, there's a difference, as you well know, between television and the print media. There are no exclusive rights for a newspaper to provide news in a certain area. There's a much greater degree of exclusivity among television stations that have a license to a certain channel to broadcast their news. I think that I would like to see some alleviation of the constraints on television, but don't think that you could have it unlimited. Unless the television medium was willing to give up the degree of exclusive rights which it presently enjoys.

Q. Could you tell us something about how you prepare for your own appearances on television?

Governor Carter. I haven't had much time to prepare when I have been on the major interview shows—Issues and Answers, Meet the Press and Fact the Nation, for instance. I don't go into seclusion and have my staff cross-examine me on issues. I study all the time. 1 stay in constant contact with the public with press conferences and a question and answer format which is just a part of my life. I read a great deal and I try to get a few hours' rest before a television appearance, so that I might be fresh in mind, and looks as well. I'm going to take a couple of days off before we have the debate between myself and Mr. Ford each time. I'll spend those two days reading and studying and resting, and I think that's an adequate preparation.

Q. The President told us the other day that he did in fact videotape his acceptance speech ahead of time and played it back to improve his performance. But you did not use videotape machines in that way?

Governor Carter. For my acceptance speech I used a Teleprompter and read my speech once, because I was not familiar with the Teleprompter system. But as for putting my speech on TV and playing it back to myself and so forth, no, I do not do that.

Q. Governor, as the parent of a small child, you have, I assume, been able to observe the workings of the Family Viewing Time rule. How well do you think it is working?

Governor Carter. Amy spent the last three weeks looking forward with great anticipation to the change in the cartoon shows that took place last Saturday morning. And all of her classmates and friends were all so very excited about the previews of those. She reads more than she watches television. But she's a typical 8 year old child. She loves television. She learns a great deal from it. She watches Electric Company and Sesame Street and knows all the characters. And I think that's a major part of her education. She knows more now about the outside world and about biology and nature and science and space exploration—even politics—than I did when I was a high school student. And I give a great deal of the credit to television.

I also see that in families that are poor, where the parents might be even illiterate, that television—even the strictly entertainment type programs— is a tremendous learning process for a child. And I am very grateful that Amy and other children of her age have this chance.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with Roger J. Youman and Neil Hickey of "TV Guide" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347739