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.