Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Fred Friendly: Television God?

If you’ve seen the George Clooney flick Good Night and Good Luck then you already know something about Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow’s co-creator of the 1950s CBS news show See It Now (George Clooney played Friendly). While in reality not quite a Clooney-esque heart throb, Friendly made his lasting impression on our culture carrying the torch of truth rather than Hollywood beauty (though to be fair, Clooney seems to be doing his part in favor of truth too).

What prompts my sudden interest in Mr. Friendly? The answer is that he is behind one of my favorite odd hour PBS shows, the Fred Friendly Seminars. Over the years I’ve caught this show on late week nights, early weekend mornings, and riding the wave of mid-sick-day channel surfing. Every time I pause wondering if I’ll be bored by all these talking heads gathered around to jaw about the grey areas of our collective attempts to solve social ills. And I am never bored. In fact, I am most often rapt.

Last night I caught the latest edition, Minds on the Edge. It is an investigation via moderated discussion of the ways our legal and social services systems attempt and, more often than not, fail to address the needs of the severely mentally ill in these United States. For this seminar, the producers assembled a panel consisting of a Nobel Laureate, a Supreme Court Justice, psychiatrists, lawyers, mental health advocates, social workers, an expert in bioethics, and a journalist. The panel included two professionals with personal histories of severe mental illness as well as at least one parent of a child who fell through the cracks of the system.

While the show left me practically despairing that anything could ever be done to improve things, it also offered some rays of hope and lots of sources for further research and fascinating reading including Pete Earley’s book Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.

The central legal and moral questions we’re facing (yes, we, this is our society) here are at what point and how do we compel an individual to seek mental services assistance? And once we as a society do demand that someone receive help what kind of help do we offer them, who pays for it, and how do they get it?  The issue is not such an easy thing to navigate. It’s a health issue, a civil liberties issue, and an issue of social responsibility too.

I am, as always, interested in your thoughts on the subject both before and after watching the show. Check it out. I doubt you’ll regret it.

One Response to “Fred Friendly: Television God?”

  1. Laura » October 8th, 2009

    I could not fight the need to sleep in my jet lagged state while this was on and know for a fact you were fighting the same thing, which only goes to show how much you enjoyed this show. In your retelling of it I had two thoughts: we could really use that ‘brotherhood’ piece in our society as I found so fascinating in France and that people in the middle really get lost in this country.
    If there were a clear sense of social community in our culture that we all grew up with, would this be the issue it is in America? And if part of my motivation to move to a small community was to be a better member of that community, have I really done anything yet?
    As for the middle, the average, the not sick enough, not crazy enough, not poor enough to get state assistance, I am reminded of the so many town meetings going on around the country about health care. I can’t remember who, but one representative got a lot of flack for suggesting if someone didn’t have health insurance and was depressed, they can just go to the emergency room at their local hospital. Of the twelve things that are wrong with that thought, the one that strikes me most is the basic desire in that statement to sweep mental health under a carpet.