Friday, April 27, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 461 - Valenti, Moyers Journal, Earthpark,

April 27, 2007, 8:10 a.m., 12:30 p.m.

There's a lot to comment about today, so this blog entry may expand from time to time throughout the day beyond what are, for now, entries about Jack Valenti, and the start of one about the Pella rain forest. Now (12:30 p.m.) with an entry on the return of "Bill Moyers Journal," opening with Jon Stewart -- a must see for fans of either or both!

Jack Valenti: September 5, 1921-April 26, 2007

Jack Valenti died yesterday. If you're unfamiliar with this extraordinary man, one of the more thorough morning-after obits is Adam Bernstein, "A Hollywood Promoter on Both Coasts," Washington Post, April 27, 2007, p. A1.

I first met Jack Valenti in February of 1964.

Following my Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Black I accepted a professorship at the University of California Law School in Berkeley, "Boalt Hall," where my teaching and legal writing was focused on "administrative law" -- encouraged by Ken Davis, Walter Gellhorn, Frank Newman and others in the field. The Washington law firm, Covington & Burling, had long felt I should be practicing law instead, and repeatedly gave me the opportunity to do so. Feeling that a little experience with administrative agency practice might be a worthy compromise -- if I could limit it to a two-year leave of absence -- the firm agreed to those terms and the family headed to Washington.

One day I received a call from the White House advising me that Bill Moyers wanted to see me. Although there are newspaper accounts from the time asserting that Bill and I were roommates at the University of Texas, they were not true. We were both married at the time, lived with our wives rather than each other, in fact never even met in Austin, and -- as you'll soon see -- never met that day in February either.

So I was totally mystified as to why he would want to see me. Not only did I not know Bill Moyers, I didn't know any other member of President Johnson's staff, either, and I had never met the President. I didn't know any senators or members of congress or party campaign contributors. I was working on a sort of "administrative procedure act" for anti-dumping procedures and involved with some airline matters before what was then the Civil Aeronautics Board, but I couldn't imagine that anyone in the White House would even know, let alone care, about that.

I had only been at the White House once before as a high school student for a rose garden event with President Harry Truman, and was looking forward to seeing the West Wing for the first time. So I went over, and waited -- and waited, and waited. It was about 45 minutes past the time for what I had been told was my appointment with Bill Moyers when a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and told me to follow him. We went down a corridor, he opened a door, pointed to the chair where I was to sit, and left.

It was only later I would discover that my White House tour guide had been Jack Valenti -- though I more quickly figured out that the room where he'd told me to wait was the Oval Office. (The rest of that story is that the only other occupant of the room was President Johnson, who eventually engaged me in conversation about something called the Maritime Administration and all the reasons why my country needed me to be Maritime Administrator. I made the mistake of telling the President all the reasons why I didn't think that was a good idea, and why I wanted to return to Covington and then to Berkeley. Why a mistake? Because he wisely realized that anyone who would want to be Maritime Administrator was probably unqualified to hold the office -- and as it turned out I was the only name on his list who didn't want the job.)

(Although Bill Moyers and I later did meet and become friends, I found it a little ironic in later years to discover that Bill, at age 29 and one of the principal advisors to the President of the United States, was alone among Johnson's staff in thinking that I -- also 29 years old -- was "too young" for the responsibilities of the Maritime Administrator. The Senate Commerce Committee members, by contrast, thought my prior shipping experience -- which I candidly explained to them was limited to the rather unsuccessful operation of a canoe on the Iowa River -- fully qualified me for the position.)

Jack Valenti and I stayed in contact over his Johnson years and subsequently during his tour as President of the Motion Picture Association of America. With his skills as a speaker and publicist, his contacts in Hollywood and Washington, he rapidly became, and remained, the most effective lobbyist in Washington.

One of his numerous advantages was that he had a lavish private dining room and theater where he could invite Washington's powerful to sit down with Hollywood's beautiful to watch the best of his industry's movies. Those were evenings that I, and any other guest, long remembered. (He was also the supplier of films to the occupants of the White House, for showings at Camp David or "at home.")

During the 1970s, when I was enjoying my own "15 minutes of fame" as a young single man in Washington, I developed a friendship with Kathleen Nolan, the national president of the Screen Actors Guild who had recently been appointed to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Watching her function in Washington and Los Angeles during those bi-coastal years with her gave me new insight into Jack Valenti's lobbying advantage.

She could pick up the phone and call the Speaker of the House, the Secretary of Labor -- or even the President -- and suddenly they would have nothing better to do that afternoon than to invite her to come see them.

Jack Valenti had the same kind of access. Partly it was those dinners. Partly it's just that people with power like to associate with other people with power. And power can come from celebrity as well as from wealth, corporate or political and governmental power. Jack, of course, had all five.

Kathleen was -- and remains -- a skilled actor with hundreds of credits, charming, attractive, energized and fun. But, like Jack, she was probably also seen by politicians as a possible way of getting to other Hollywood celebrities who, if one could get them to attend one's Los Angeles fundraisers, might be helpful in raising campaign contributions.

A part of Jack's effectiveness was his strategic sense. There was a time when, as chair of the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, I was involved in what I believe may have been the only successful effort to reduce levels of violence in television programming. (We tied it to the advertisers on the most violent programs.) Years earlier, following official inquiries into the causes of civil disorders in the late 1960s, the movie industry was also taking heat -- as now once again -- for the impact of media and movie violence on real life violence.

Other industries' lobbyists didn't even bother to put a velvet glove over their steel fist; they just came out slugging, threatening members of congress, bullying, attacking their "enemies" -- the sort of approach that earned Tom DeLay his nickname: "The Hammer."

Jack, seeing what was coming in the form of potentially heavy handed government regulation, decided to seize, rather than seethe, the day. Rather than attack the industry's critics, he expressed compassion for those concerned about movies' content, suggested they were entitled to protection, and proposed the movie "ratings" system that is still with us today. It was a brilliant stroke, and preserved the movie industry's artistic freedom for decades.

[In response to "Anonymous'" 8:22 a.m. Comment added to this blog entry ("Wasn't Jack Valenti the same guy who wanted the VCR made illegal in the early 1980s?") I don't mean to leave the impression that Valenti's every lobbying effort took "the public interest" into full consideration, or that he was a paragon of virtue in all respects of life. Only that he was very skillful as a lobbyist.]

His campaigns on behalf of his industry's copyright rights helped impress upon me that, while there has been corporate abuse of copyright, extending its terms and protections well beyond what many of us believe was intended by those who wrote it into the Constitution, one can understand the concern of someone who has put $80 million into a feature film only to find it available in DVD format on the streets of Beijing, Moscow and Singapore before it even reaches theaters in the U.S.

I won't go on with Jack Valenti stories. Read the Washington Post piece. It also refers to a number of his books. His was a life worth knowing about, one I am pleased to have intersected in the few ways I did -- starting with that day in February 1964 when I was supposed to meet with Bill Moyers.

Bill Moyers Journal Returns Tonight: Jon Stewart

Speaking of Bill Moyers, his "Bill Moyers Journal" returns to public television tonight, Friday, April 27, and his first guest is Jon Stewart. You won't want to miss that one!

And if you missed it, check out his "Buying the War: How Did the Mainstream Press Get it So Wrong?" It is a 90-minute "special" that aired Wednesday, April 25, but is available in video, and as a transcript, at the site linked just above. I watched at a house party in Iowa City organized by Free Press -- a media reform organization very much worth checking out. (As I've been saying for 40 years: "Whatever is your first public policy reform priority, media reform has to be your second priority. With it you have a prayer; without it you don't.") Prior to the broadcast Free Press provided a telphone hookup to livingrooms all across America for an exchange between Moyers and media activisits. The Huffington Post report of that half-hour (Timothy Karr, "Moyers' Three Factors in the Media's Iraq Failure," April 26, 2007, with a link to the audio of the conversation) has been made available by Free Press.

As the title suggests the program deals with the Iraq War, and necessarily therefore the Bush Administration's handling of it. But it is much more in terms of its analysis of how the media, especially the Washington press corps, deals with government, corporations and advertisers generally. It's really a kind of "must see" for teachers and students of communications studies, First Amendment law, journalism, and political science.

Two Old Rain Forests

There are two old rain forests kicking around these days. One, apparently misplaced some 300 million years ago, was recently found in Illinois. (As my mother used to say when I'd lost something, "Oh, don't worry about it. It will show up.") Sara Goudarzi, "Giant Fossil Rain Forest Discovered in Illinois," National Geographic News, April 24, 2007.

The other seems like it's been around that long, but it's really only been 10 or 11 years. Variously called over the years "The Iowa Child Project of the Iowa Child Foundation," the "Iowa Environmental/Education Project," the "Iowa Environmental Project" (and occasionally just "The Environmental Project"), it has recently been renamed "Earthpark."

Joe Sharpnack,, who holds the copyright on this editorial cartoon, captured the significance of the constantly changing names on this failing project with his usual sharp wit and insight. The cartoon appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on May 11, 2006. Standing next to the dead horse that is Earthpark CEO David Oman is saying, "Maybe if I change the name again & hit it some more . . .."

Now he's beating that poor old dead horse once again. Even the Des Moines Register, The Gazette, and Iowa City Press-Citizen -- having supported the projecdt over the years -- are now coming to their senses. And State29 is all over it.

The Press-Citizen's editorial put it most succinctly: "Earthpark's lack of private funding, its constantly shifting timetable and its leaders' near pathological inability to provide a straight answer to the most straightforward of questions has led us to discourage any further public support for this project." Editorial, "State lawmakers should just say no to Earthpark," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 26, 2007.

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UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007. Since then there have been two major additions: Nicholas Johnson, "Open Letter to UICCU Board" in "UI Held Hostage Day 423 - March 20 - UICCU," March 20, 2007, and "'Open Letter': Confirmation from World Council of Credit Unions" in "UI Held Hostage Day 424 - March 21 UICCU," March 21, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Jack Valenti the same guy who wanted the VCR made illegal in the early 1980s?