first effort to link the United States Congress and broadcasting
occurred in 1922 when Representative Vincent M. Brennan introduced
a bill to allow radio coverage of U.S. House proceedings. The bill
failed, and not until the late 1940s was the idea revived. Television,
having arrived as a mass medium by then, was allowed in 1948 to
cover hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Since few
Americans had television receivers in 1948, it was not until the
early 1950s that televised congressional hearings generated any
televised Senate hearings during the 1950s caused a sensation. Hearings
conducted by the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized
Crime in Interstate Commerce brought the faces and words of notorious
mobsters into millions of U.S. homes via coast-to-coast network
television. A short time later, Americans once more were drawn to
their television screens to watch the hearings of a Senate Committee
on Government Operations subcommittee investigate alleged communist
infiltration of the U.S. Armed Forces. The hearings were better
known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings, identified closely with Subcommittee
Chairperson, Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Two decades later, in 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential
Campaign Activities conducted what became known as the Watergate
hearings. Evidence of misdeeds by President Richard Nixon led the
next year to House Judiciary Committee hearings on articles of presidential
impeachment. Nearly all public deliberations of both of these committees
were televised gavel-to-gavel.
attention to allowing television coverage of actual congressional
floor proceedings arose once more with the 1973 formation of the
Joint Committee on Congressional Operations. The Committee's charge
was to examine means by which Congress could better communicate
with the American public. The Committee's subsequent recommendation
that television be allowed in the U.S. House and Senate chambers
met with resistance in the latter body, but House members seemed
more receptive. As a result, House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O'Neill,
Jr. ordered testing of a House television system to begin in March
1977. Remote controlled cameras placed at strategic locations in
the House chamber were to be used so as not to disrupt House decorum.
The television test proved a success. However, full implementation
of House television coverage awaited a decision from the House Rules
Committee on who would finally control the television cameras--the
House itself or television networks who would remain independent
of House authority. The Rules Committee decision that the House
would best be served by retaining such control was approved by a
vote of 235-to-150 in June 1978. Nine months later, on 19 March
1979, the House television system was fully in place and live telecasts
of House floor deliberations began.
from the U.S. Senate chambers would have to wait still longer. Although
a number of senators supported the idea of Senate television, a
powerful block opposed it. Senate television opponents saw cameras
as disruptive to Senate decorum and unable to present a favorable
image of Senate debate to the American public. Senate television
proponents nonetheless prevailed, and a Senate Rules Committee recommendation
to allow testing of a Senate chamber television system was approved
by a vote of 67-to-21 on 27 February 1986. The tests were satisfactory
enough to convince members of the Senate to vote on 29 July 1986,
to allow gavel-to-gavel coverage of Senate floor proceedings.
the U.S. Senate and House include rules for television coverage
among their general procedural rules for committee and chamber conduct.
Concern over protecting witness privacy and due process rights led
the Senate to allow individual committee chairpersons to adopt television
rules most appropriate for their particular committee. Such rules
generally require that television coverage be prohibited at the
request of a committee witness; that television cameras, lights
and microphones be unobtrusive; that television personnel conduct
themselves in an orderly fashion inside the hearing room; and that
no commercial sponsorship of committee hearings be allowed. House
rules are similar to Senate rules regarding the conduct of televised
hearings. However, House rules require that television be allowed
to cover House committee hearings only upon a majority vote of the
manner by which House floor proceedings are televised is entirely
under the authority of the House speaker. The speaker decides when
and if proceedings will be televised and who will be authorized
to distribute the television signals to the public. House rules
originally required that television cameras focus only on House
members as they spoke from lecturns or in the well of the House.
Cameras were not to pan the House chamber to show what oftentimes
was a sea of empty chairs. Rules prohibiting such panning were abolished
by the Speaker in 1984.
rules for televising chamber proceedings fall under the authority
of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Most rules are
similar to those in the House, save for the prohibition on panning
the chamber that remains in effect (except during roll-call votes)
for the Senate chamber.
television has improved public debate in either the House or Senate
is uncertain. Some observers argue that television has led to more
grandstanding and contentious rhetoric on the House floor, whereas
Senate debate appears more disciplined and more substantive. However,
there is general agreement that persons who view televised House
and Senate proceedings are introduced to a vast array of issues
and debates unimagined before television arrived.
Robert, editor. Congress and the News Media. New York: Hastings
Research Service. Congress and Mass Communications: An Institutional
Perspective, prepared for the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations,
93d Cong., 2d session, 1974.
W. Mark, and Brian Goff. Televised Legislatures: Political Information
Technology and Public Choice. Boston, Massachusetts: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, 1988.
Ronald. Congressional Television: A Legislative History. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Hess, Stephen. Live from Capitol Hill! Studies of Congress and
the Media. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1991.
Schlesinger, Arthur M., and Roger Bruns, editors. Congress Investigates:
A Documented History, 1792-1974. New
York: Chelsea House, 1975.
Samuel I. Broadcasting and Telecasting of Judicial and Legislative
Proceedings. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Legislative
Research Center, 1956.
Michael. Trial by Television. Boston, Massachusetts: The
Beacon Press, 1954.
Robert E. The Role of Congressional Broadcasting in a Democratic
Society (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1955). Twentieth
Century Fund Task Force on Broadcasting and the Legislature.
Openly Arrived At. New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1974.
U.S. Congress. Joint Committee on Congressional Operations. A
Clear Message to the People, 94th Congress. First session, 1975.
Congress. Joint Committee on Congressional Operations. Broadcasting
House and Senate Proceedings, 93rd Congress. Second session,
Congress. Joint Committee on Congressional Operations. Congress
and Mass Communications, 93rd Congress. Second session, 1974.
House. House Committee on Rules. Broadcasting the Proceedings
of the House, 95th Congress. Second session, 1978.
Coverage by Television; Political
Processes and Television; U.S.
Presidency and Television; Watergate