Editorial

Let’s listen to the Khrushchevs even if they break our TV rules

July 20 1957
Editorial

Let’s listen to the Khrushchevs even if they break our TV rules

July 20 1957

Let’s listen to the Khrushchevs even if they break our TV rules

Editorial

Although its first echoes have died down, the CBS television interview with Nikita Khrushchev (which was later rebroadcast in Canada by the CBC) still leaves a fundamental question unanswered. How far should we go in lending our ears to our enemies?

The Khrushchev interview has rightly been termed a Soviet propaganda victory. As the Iron Curtain continues to draw aside there will be other propaganda victories, on the far side of it as well as on this side. In our view there is nothing much to fear in this. The thing to fear is that, having discovered how plausible and ingratiating the Khrushchevs can be when it suits their purposes, we may start refusing to conduct public discourse with them at all.

Already CBS has come under strong criticism for giving the Communist Party boss so large an audience of North Americans. President Eisenhower, somewhat bcwildcringly, has expressed both exasperation that Khrushchev was heard and a reluctance to answer him in kind.

Khrushchev, unhappily, did not Play the Game in his North American television debut. He evaded the rules. In the pat, mellifluous world of television. Sincerity is the watchw'ord and everyone shows himself—if not at the beginning of the script surely well before the end—in his true, monochromatic colors. The soap salesman wdth tears in his eyes, the politician with his hand on his heart, the kindly old character actor with a peroration on his lips—there’s never any doubt where they will take their stand. Theirs is a code without guile or subtlety, incapable of confusing the smallest child. Even the seeming-hero-who-is-really-a-villain has the decency to twirl his mustache in a treacherous and sinister way, just to make sure no one is really fooled. And in TV’s real-life dramas, the Dave Becks, the Joe McCarthys, the Frank Costellos and the Grand Kleagles of the Ku Klux Klan turn shifty, mean or downright stupid before the cameras are done with them. They may be false in some of their affairs, but they are as faithful in their own way to television’s twodimensional morality as the most virtuous Richard Nixon or the veriest Billy Graham.

Most of the people who tuned in on Comrade Khrushchev half expected, we are convinced, that he too would step neatly into his allotted part in the grand charade. He would hardly begin by advertising himself as the Evil Man from the Kremlin, but once those clean-cut American newspaper boys had plied him for a while with their clean-cut incisive questions, his composure w'ould break down. His flabby jowls w'ould tremble, his fangs would show in anger and frustration, his eyes w'ould droop in guilt. And at last his ow'n words would betray him for what he is and w'hat he stands lor.

It’s no wonder so many of the people who depend so largely on television for their impressions of human behavior were shocked by what actually transpired. The deceitful and unco-operative Comrade Khrushchev decided to cast himself in the role of a department-store Santa Claus without the whiskers. And no amount of incisive, clean-cut cross-examining by the clean-cut newspaper boys could induce him to change his mind. The cloudland of communication by electronics hasn't received such a massive shock since Orson Welles brought on his invasion from Mars.

For all this it’s our conviction that the best antidote for Khrushchev is not to stop him talking but to encourage him to go right on. In any case the struggle for men’s minds is not the kind of struggle in which you can work both sides of the street. If you believe in the free interchange of ideas, you must accept the penalties along with the rewards. It is an inescapable consequence that bad ideas will steal in among the good ideas and that such are the uses of camouflage it will sometimes be hard to tell which are which. But it is the essence of the belief that, given time, the good will drive out the bad somewhat more often than not. And it is a subsidiary of the belief that, even if left for a while to proclaim themselves unchallenged, the bad ideas carry the seed of their own destruction and are fairly certain to reap it in the end.