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Newton Minow Asked: Is TV Still A 'Vast Wasteland'?

(CBS) – His harsh criticism of television more than 50 years ago led to improved viewing choices for everyone.

Now, Newton Minow is about to receive the nation's highest civilian honor from a president he met when Barack Obama was an intern at his law firm.

CBS 2 Political Reporter Derrick Blakley sits down with the Chicago legend.

In the library of his Gold Coast home, Minow's photos highlight the presidents he has personally known. He's still most remembered for his caustic 1961 speech as FCC chairman under President Kennedy.

"When television is bad, nothing is worse," Minow famously said. "I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."

So, is television still a vast wasteland?

"No," he says. "People now have choice. That was our main philosophy: to enlarge choice."

At the FCC, Minow helped create more TV channels. Later, he served as chairman of PBS.

Minow also served on the Presidential Debate Commission since 1976 and co-wrote a book about the debates.

"This time, they got very nasty, and we're not used to that," he says, referring to the 2016 presidential elections.

Next week, Minow receives the Medal of Freedom from a president he's known since Barack Obama was in law school.

"When our firm hired Barack as a summer intern, the firm assigned Michelle to be his boss," he recalls.

Minow even unintentionally witnessed their first date together, chronicled in the movie "South Side With You."

"We ran into them at the popcorn stand, Michelle I could see was horrified, because she felt she wasn't supposed to be dating the guy she was supervising," Minow says.

When Minow accepts his award, he intends to do it with a Cubbie blue flourish, in recognition of the Chicago Cubs' World Series victory.

"I think the president would be delighted," Blakley tells him.

Minow says he knew Obama could be elected president when he heard him speak in Iowa. He told  his wife then Obama reminded him of JFK.


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