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CBS News Aired 3-Hour TV Special on Energy Back in 1977---Where Is the Climate Crisis Coverage Now?

By Alfred Robert Hogan

Forty-six years ago, CBS News took over the three hours of CBS-TV’s prime time schedule, for a special broadcast on the final day of August, called ENERGY: THE FACTS, THE FEARS, THE FUTURE, anchored by the late Walter Cronkite from New York. In recent years and decades, even as the No. 1 climate crisis has accelerated and worsened even beyond the projections made by most climate scientists, nothing remotely similar has been broadcast to the public, or even telecast on cable news channels, no Special Events live coverage has aired (with isolated rare exceptions, such a special broadcast on the March 1979 Three Mile Island [PA] nuclear disaster and Special Reports on POTUS Donald J. Trump’s June 2017 Rose Garden announcement that the US would be leaving the 2015 UN Paris Climate Accord), no even week-daily AMERICA HELD HOSTAGE/NIGHTLINE-like series have debuted, “no nothing” has made the airwaves.

Then and now, the pivotal subjects of environment and energy quite obviously overlap, though corporate newscasts all-too-seldom make that clear. To network journalists, the term “energy crisis” most of the time has involved the occasional gas station waiting lines, slightly higher gas prices (posted in those high-profile numbers on station sign poles), and even-odd day gas rationing. Otherwise, it was deemed sort of a niche quixotic topic. However, back on Carter’s Inauguration Day, Thursday 20 January 1977, he had pledged to make a major address in three months to both the US Congress and via television and radio to the US American people on the energy crisis and promising energy solutions. He actually delivered two such broadcast addresses in April 1977, one from the White House and then one from theUS House Chamber to a joint session of Congress assembled. Some of his proposed ideas were excellent—such as stepped-up research on and use of passive and active solar energy and more encouraging energy conservation and efficiency—and some were appalling—such as coal gasification and nuclear breeder reactors.

And so, on Wednesday 31 August 1977 at 2000 EDT, Cronkite and his team of CBS News journalists—including DC-based correspondent Bob Schieffer—too to the air, reviewing the Carter proposals and reporting on visits to multiple locations around the U.S. examining aspects of the energy crisis. (By the by, the pre-empted programs were repeat episodes of THE JACK BENNY SHOW, PHYLIS, M*A*S*H, ONE DAY AT A TIME, and KOJAK.) Leslie Midgley served as Executive Producer, with Ernest Leiser and Russ Bensley as Senior Producers, Russ Bensley and John Mosedale as Writers, and Arthur Bloom as Director.

As the Paley Center for Media in NYC much later summarized the broadcast (which can be viewed from the Paley Archives, but only on-site), for each hour:

  • “This program is a report on the energy crisis in the United States. [US] President Jimmy Carter's energy plan is examined, energy experts and officials give their opinions on the proposals and alternatives. Speakers include [US] Secretary of Energy James B. Schlesinger; Dr. Carroll Wilson, Director of the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies; William E. Simon; and Sheik Yamani, Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister. Oil supply, off-shore drilling, breakdown of oil consumption, OPEC policies, and alternative sources of shale oil and Liquified Natural Gas are discussed. Walter Cronkite summarizes and coal production is highlighted.”

  • “The second hour examines the coal industry and sulfur pollution, followed by a review of pilot projects on the energy alternatives of gasified coal, liquefaction, fluidized bed combustion and solvent refining. Nuclear power is examined and opposition to nuclear plants is studied. Detroit's efforts to comply with new federal energy conserving regulations are explored, and [US]Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams speaks. Walter Cronkite summarizes this hour. The trend toward home insulation is reviewed and use of solar energy is noted.”

  • “In the final hour, Bob Schieffer speaks with President Jimmy Carter, who explains his energy proposals. The program continues with looks at the political infighting over the energy plan and the Ford Foundation's "no growth" energy report. Energy alternatives are explored, and Dr. Melvin Calvin discusses photosynthesis. Energy sources of hydrogen gas and OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion), satellite power stations, geothermal energy, and laser fusion are explored. Walter Cronkite summarizes energy as ‘the invisible crisis.’”

We now desperately and urgently need Green TV US—and existing news media—to belatedly and intensely start focusing on the No. 1 climate crisis as Walter Cronkite and his colleagues did for three hours on the related energy crisis 46 years ago. The climate crisis is about our very survival—and must be recognized as having those paramount stakes.


PERONAL NOTES: This reporter watched the above 1977 three-hour special. But my notes are not available to me. The Paley Center is named for CBS longtime leader William S. Paley (1901-1990).

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