The Fred Friendly Seminars, which have won major broadcasting awards, have probed a broad spectrum of knotty ethical, legal, and public-policy issues by encouraging
panelists to "talk to each other, rather than shout past each other." Prominent participants in the seminars, ranging from Supreme Court justices to former presidents,
journalists, scientists, political figures, and corporate CEOs, have been forced by this unique format to put their rhetoric aside and their principles to the test in
the gripping dilemmas drawn from real life.
The Fred Friendly Seminars are distinguished by a thorough research process employed to find and frame issues. A crucial goal of the research is not only to explore
every aspect of the policy debate, but also to understand exactly how the issues play themselves out in daily life. The seminars then bring together a panel of
participants that represents virtually every perspective on the issue at hand. The participants are assigned roles in what Fred Friendly called "the hypothetical"
—a situation that brings the issue down to human scale. By introducing twists and turns in the hypothetical story line, a moderator forces the panelists to take a hard
look at their own beliefs and engage the points of view of those who disagree. As panelists wrestle with the hypothetical, the drama created helps the audience to
consider the issues in all their complexity.
Fred Friendly is a towering figure in the history of broadcast news. He joined with Edward R. Murrow to take on Senator Joseph McCarthy in their weekly program,
See It Now. Later, as executive producer of CBS Reports, Friendly tackled such controversial issues as civil rights, the dangers of tobacco, and
government secrecy. He was named president of CBS News in 1964, but in 1966 he resigned in protest when the network preempted the congressional hearing on America's
involvement in the Vietnam War to air reruns of I Love Lucy and other "soaps."
Friendly then joined the Ford Foundation, where he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of public television. In 1974, using Socratic dialogue in a
unique format, Friendly created the Media and Society Seminars. As an outgrowth of these seminars, he began the Media and Society public-television programs, which he
directed from Columbia University. These programs were the precursors to the Fred Friendly Seminars. When Fred Friendly retired from the seminars in 1992 at the age of
76, he repeated on the air the familiar words that defined the purpose of these seminars as he saw it: ". . . not to make up anybody's mind, but to open minds and to
make the agony of decision making so intense that you can escape only by thinking."