HOUSE SPEAKER Tip O'Neill is all wrong in insisting that the House control the cameras durings its televised proceedings; but you couldn't tell that from yesterday's debut, since different control of the cameras wouldn't have changed a thing. Mr. O'Neill's argument is that the nation is currently sunk in a "negative era" of press coverage. Therefore, he says, if outside cameras representing a pool of commercial networks and public TV stations were free to rove about the House, they would deliberately, and distortingly, pick up shots of dozing congressmen and congressmen in dark conspiracies.
This is a silly argument for several reasons, not the least of which is that the House's current policy of exclusively showing "tight shots" of individual speakers, without showing other congressmen's reactions, is both dull and at least as suspicious as the sight of a sleeping representative. Moreover, yesterday did not require the picture of a dozer to prove most of the session boring; and the idea of a conspiracy's being hatched over any of the bills discussed strains imagination -- a bill, for instance, to permit manufacturers to sell lottery equipment abroad.
A cut above the lottery bill debate was one on a resolution to establish a Select Committee on Committees. At first hearing the title alone sounds too bad to be true, but there was something quintessentially democratic in the debate on the subject, as young Daniel Lungren from California took a stand against the proposed expense involved, the likely duplication of the work of the Rules Committee, the proliferation of committees in general. And then, in turn to watch the veteran head of the Rules Committee, Richard Bolling, oppose him, citing efficiency, need, "a bargain," and implying without subtlety that Mr. Lungren was a bit too green to comprehend such things. No Jimmy Stewart is Mr. Lungren and Mr. Bolling is certainly no Claude Rains. Yet there was the taste of a real clash in this, with real principles at work.
Real clashes are what most of us would like to see in these televised proceedings, which are not, after all, visual reproductions of the Congressional Record and should give us the flavor with the substance. More than dozers or conspirators, it would be a pleasure to watch two first-rate opponents go at each other over something important on the floor. It would even be a pleasure to see a little zaniness among the congressmen -- Where is H. R. Gross when we need him? The other hot issue of the TV in the House debate is whether congressmen should be permitted to send videotapes of their performances back home to their constituents. On the basis of yesterday, most would be ill-advised to try.
In the long run the issue of who controls the cameras may be moot. If the House insists on the present procedure, it will soon learn that the public's imagination is an active beast, and has a way of getting about the chamber unsupervised and on its own.