Like Justice Hugo Black, Fred Friendly always carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. He often gave it away and then quickly replenished his supply. Friendly was intrigued by the Constitution's challenges as a persistently living document. When he was buried on March 8, two copies of the Constitution -- in his inside coat pocket -- were buried with him. A few hours later, David, one of his sons, said, "My guess is he's already given them away."
Friendly saw himself as a teacher, as he was in such of his CBS television documentaries with Edward R. Murrow as "Harvest of Shame," which brought the bitter lives of migrant workers into American living rooms. And there was the pair's confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy at a time when much of the nation, including the broadcast industry, was frozen in fear of the dangerously reckless senator from Wisconsin.
In a later part of his career, Friendly defied all the ratings odds by creating a series on the Public Broadcasting System that consisted of conversations and arguments about "The Constitution: That Delicate Balance." Those seminars, often repeated, reached millions of viewers.
He also took the risk of asking me to appear on a number of those seminars although he knew I was not a lawyer and was entirely self-taught about the Constitution.
In 1966, Friendly, a passionate, impatient dispeller of ignorance, said: "TV is bigger than any story it reports. It's the greatest teaching tool since the printing press. It will determine nothing less than what kind of people we are. So if TV exists now only for the sake of a buck, somebody's going to have to change that."
He and Murrow surely tried, but as an index of the shameless reality of current television priorities, Dan Rather told the New York Times that "before airing Mr. Friendly's obituary on March 4, there were voices at CBS that had argued against so much air time for a downer of a story about a man whose time had long passed."
Indeed, it is highly unlikely that Murrow and Friendly would be given air time at CBS now. Documentaries are as rare as is regular, serious criticism of the press on commercial TV -- a field in which the once and former CBS pioneered.
I remember watching the Friendly-Murrow documentaries with their utter lack of show-biz elements. And after each program, I would hear, and sometimes be part of, discussions in schools, workplaces and bars on what had been aired.
Friendly put all of his bets on a faith -- as David Halberstam put it -- "in the intelligence of ordinary citizens." Friendly believed, Halberstam said, that "if you gave them reports on difficult, troubling subjects, they would understand and this would be a better society."
He was right, as PBS's "Frontline" continually verifies. And CBS's "60 Minutes," orchestrated by Don Hewitt, a Friendly disciple, keeps the faith. But at the same network, CBS News killed a scheduled repeat of Roberta Baskin's documentary on the naked truth about the abysmal working conditions of employees in Vietnamese factories making Nike sneakers and other expensive Nike goods.
Nike, after all, was a prominent sponsor of CBS's television coverage of the Olympics, and you may have seen its "swoosh" logo as an obbligato to the reporting. For a time, CBS News reporters there were commanded to wear Nike parkas. Fred Friendly, never known to curb his indignation at anyone polluting the news, would have exploded at that one.
I had Fred Friendly very much in mind a couple of months ago when, in Miami, I did two sessions on constitutional rights -- particularly those of students -- in a large auditorium. There were hundreds of public school youngsters, mostly black and Hispanic, at each gathering.
As I was about to start the first one, a helpful teacher said, "You won't find this pleasant. They care about music and clothes, but on this subject, you'll be lucky to finish the hour. So if you don't expect much, you won't be disappointed."
The students were hardly attentive at the start, but as we explored, for example, the history of the Fourth Amendment -- how the colonists bitterly resented British troops searching their homes and persons at will -- they became silent and leaned forward. At the end of each hour, the youngsters stood and cheered. They were cheering themselves.
"They discovered they were Americans," I told the surprised teacher, and I thought of how much I had learned from Fred Friendly that went into those sessions. Not only his constitutional facts, but especially his faith.
He also brought Supreme Court justices on his televised seminars, and they turned out to be quite human, and even vulnerable, without their robes, as they too shared his faith.