Watergate hearings were a TV spectacle. Now veteran journalists are demanding PBS offer the same access.
It was like “a kind of extended morality play,” as one of the nascent PBS’s news anchors described the network’s gavel-to-gavel coverage at the time. Viewers picked their heroes and villains in Watergate spies and insider White House witnesses, watching as the episodes of dramatic testimony on burglary and “dirty tricks” stretched well past midnight.
But while the public broadcaster’s experiment in uninterrupted evening impeachment coverage was a wild success then, PBS won’t be doing it the same way for President Trump’s impeachment hearings this week — a decision that has incensed some of broadcast journalism’s most veteran reporters.
On Friday, Bill Moyers, who worked for PBS during the Nixon era, and his colleague Michael Winship demanded in a New York Times full-page ad and in columns on Moyers’s website that PBS, “for the sake of the nation,” both broadcast the impeachment hearings live and replay them on prime-time television. PBS, the longtime journalists argued, could forgo its evening programs such as “Antiques Roadshow” as a “small price to pay for helping preserve the republic,” just as it famously did in 1973. The public hearings are set to begin Wednesday and are expected to be live-streamed by the major networks, but working Americans likely won’t get to watch them during the day, the journalists noted.