Norman Lear’s work was an integral part of American life in the second half of the 20th Century. Television programs like Maude, Sanford and Son, and The Jeffersons dragged television out of the 1950s and into the real world. As Variety states: “Lear’s shows were the first to address the serious political, cultural and social flashpoints of the day – racism, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam war – by working pointed new wrinkles into the standard domestic comedy formula. No subject was taboo: Two 1977 episodes of All in the Family revolved around the attempted rape of lead character Archie Bunker’s wife Edith.”
All in the Family, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1979, typified the clash of generations. Middle-aged bigot Archie Bunker – played by Carrol O’Connor – was a right-wing King Lear in Queens, raging at the radical changes in society. Archie didn’t let ignorance get in the way of his opinions; once he argued that people who lived in communes were communists. The thing is, the old dog was actually capable of learning new tricks. Archie never evolved into any kind of saint. But over the nine seasons "Family" aired, experience taught Archie the benefits of listening to (and respecting) viewpoints far different from his own.
All in the Family was the jewel in Lear’s crown, but don’t forget the highly popular shows One Day at a Time (which featured Bonnie Franklin as a divorcee raising two daughters in the Midwest) and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (with Louise Lasser as the titular figure in a parody of soap opera conventions). Good or bad, Lear’s work was never indifferent.
More recently, you may have heard about Lear’s lively activism. His TV shows were themselves arguments for free and unfettered speech, and Lear supported a slate of liberal causes. In 1981 he founded People for the American Way. The organization’s website describes the ways that PFAW has “engaged cultural and community leaders and individual activists in campaigns promoting freedom of expression, civic engagement, fair courts, and legal and lived equality for LGBTQ people.”
Lear’s life was a long and fulfilling one. In 1978 he was given the first of two Peabody Awards, the most prestigious award in television. “To Norman Lear,” it reads, “...for giving us comedy with a social conscience. He uses humor to give us a better understanding of social issues. He lets us laugh at our own shortcomings and prejudices, and while doing this, maintains the highest entertainment standards.”
A pioneer, a gadfly of the state, a mensch. To paraphrase a lyric from All in the Family’s theme song, “Mister, we could use a guy like Norman Lear again.”
Media Musings: Supreme Court and covering court cases
Court cases you should know about
The Supreme Court's term ended with several huge decisions in cases dealing with abortion, affirmative action and immigration. With several hot-button issues being examined, the Supreme Court has been front page news for several days.
Two colleagues discuss mistakes made in reporting on court cases and how to avoid them.
L: The Supreme Court just ended its term for the year and handed down some pretty big decisions on abortion, affirmative action and immigration.
J: Covering Supreme Court cases along with other federal cases tends to be the bread and butter for a lot of newspapers and media organizations because that can affect the way people live their lives. However, sometimes cases get misreported on. Either because a journalist doesn't have the knowledge to cover a case correctly or people just simply re-report what other media organizations report on.
L: And one of the most common areas that mistakes are made is in misinterpreting what the Court is actually doing. So the Supreme Court either decides to hear a case or it doesn't decide to hear a case. And if it doesn't hear a case, the lower court decision just stands for that Circuit — for that part of the country. It doesn't apply to the rest of the country.
J: Another way journalists can mishandle the reporting of court cases is in the verbiage they use. Legal jargon can tend to be high brow and sometimes in attempts to simplify the language, they can end up using the wrong words.
J: Another trap that news organizations and reporters can fall into is not reading through, or far enough into the opinion. There was two parts to that decision, in one part they struck down the health care mandate based on the commerce clause, but they also upheld it under the taxing powers of the government. So, the individual healthcare mandate is legal and constitutional. And in not reading through that whole opinion, people ended up misreporting what the Supreme Court actually decided.
J: Journalists can end up paying way too much attention to the drama and the hype that surrounds the case and use that as filler in the reporting, rather than referring to the facts.
L: That's a good point especially because the Supreme Court often consolidates cases that have a similar Constitutional question or concern. So like the contraceptive mandate part of Obamacare was under review this term and they consolidated eight cases that dealt with the same issue. So it's important to realize that even though somebody's name is in the case title, they might not be the best person to put a face on the story.
J: Some tips for court reporting would definitely be: know the case and all of the facts of the case, understand legal jargon, understand how the court handles specific types of cases. A grand jury is very different from a regular trial. Where it is in the Supreme Court process can significantly differ.