Usually us curmudgeons like to go on and on about how sports, music and movies were better in “our day”. I think that you can add Congressional hearings to that list as well. That’s what I was thinking during both the James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions testimony the last couple of weeks. While the “regular” networks dumped out of their daytime programming, it proved to be anything but “must see TV”.
That’s a far cry from the tension of hearings that really did captivate the nation in the past. Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas sexually harassing her before he was appointed to the Supreme Court became a national obsession (and spawned a thousand late night jokes about cans of Coca-Cola). And the eventual denials of those claims by Thomas himself–sweating under the spotlights–was better than any courtroom drama the networks have come up with yet.
Oliver North exploded onto the national scene with his testimony about setting up the transfer of money from the illegal sale of weapons to Iran to help the Contras in Nicaragua–in direct violation of the laws passed by Congress. Those hearings also showed the President Reagan had very little oversight of members of his administration–but never produced a “smoking gun” connecting his to any orders to set up the arrangement/
Who can forget the McCarthy Army hearings of 1954–which helped establish television as the new source for “breaking news coverage”–as the Wisconsin Senator called in hundreds of high-ranking officials and questioned their loyalty to country and freedom before the cameras. Of course, his thirst for power exceeded his grasp and he was eventually destroyed on live TV with Joseph Welch’s famous line “Have you left no sense of decency?”–a phrase that beats “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” any day.
And speaking of tapes, you also had the Watergate hearings. This will forever be the high point of Congressional investigations both in terms of impact on the Government–as well as the unbelievable bombshells that came out of them. None was bigger than Alexander Butterfield testifying that there was a secret voice-recording system in the Oval Office. That led to reporters literally running out of the chambers to get to the payphones to file a story with their editors. It also led to the subpoena of those tapes–a legal fight that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and the mysterious 18-and a half minute gap in the tapes where President Nixon was giving the clear go ahead to instigate a coverup of the Watergate break in,
Now THOSE were Congressional hearings worth pre-empting General Hospitel.