I’m not sure if this is at all possible to quantify, but I can’t help but wonder if legislative proceedings would sound a little less ridiculous if they weren’t televised. Although my perspective is mostly Canadian and we have a Question Period, which would probably sound ridiculous with or without the cameras. (To advocates of introducing the concept to America: Believe me, it’s not as valuable as you think.) But what about Supreme Court proceedings? Specifically, the most-followed proceedings of this or the previous administration?
The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), have requested that the court allow live TV cameras in the courtroom as they hand down their decision on Obamacare, on the ground that “the issues in the case are as important and consequential as any in recent court history.” They said as much in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, which has gone unanswered as of yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be a no. Predictably, the networks have made the same request.
From a TV perspective, the clip of Roberts announcing the ruling would be a great visual, although it would get very repetitive since all the major networks will be leading with this story when it happens. Does anyone really need to hear the same person droning the same sentences on different channels, five times a day (each)? This isn’t even an issue of getting the clip first, as it would be live. Try competing to tweet it first instead. That might be interesting.
Anyone who believes that cameras in the courtroom have any necessity for the average American is deluding themselves about how the media works nowadays. It used to be that TV and radio were the only ways to get breaking news. That is no longer true. As long as they can get the information at roughly the same time as everyone else, it doesn’t matter which medium it comes through. At least, not to the consumer.
This, of course, benefits politicians more than it benefits the networks or anyone watching them. It’s a good clip for campaign ads. It’s something they can send to everyone on their e-mail lists. It’s something they can quote endlessly on Sunday talk shows as some form of validation. The party who gets their way can brag about it; the party that doesn’t can bash the court and vow to fight another day. That’s all. The level of public interest in Obamacare doesn’t justify it.
Keeping cameras out of the Supreme Court has worked for this many years, and I see no compelling reason to change that now. It’s an issue of decorum as much as it’s an issue of who it’s really being done for.