Student hosts TEDx event, talks about effect of televised Senate broadcasts

Wynne Davis

The U.S. Senate’s televised broadcasts have impaired its ability to discuss important political issues, according to a UT student who gave a talk during a TEDx event in Reno, Nevada. 

William Dodd, a economics and rhetoric and writing senior, presented the talk to more than 350 people at a TEDx event that aired online Jan. 18. TEDx events are designed to spread ideas and encourage intellectual collaboration. 

In his talk, Dodd identified what he called  “The Senate’s Failed Experiment,” or what he sees as the Senate’s inability to have collaborative non partisan conversations, in part because the sessions are aired on television.

Dodd said he first saw evidence of this phenomenon when he worked in Washington D.C. as an intern in 2013 and watched a congressional hearing.

“’Who are [the senators] talking to?’ That’s really what I asked,” Dodd said. “That’s when I saw the cameras on the wall, and then I was, like, well there it is: [The seanators are] talking to the world. That’s going to go on their Facebook page in a few hours, and [the taping is] going to be tweeted out and go on their YouTube.“

Although Dodd first noticed the problem as an intern, he researched the problem in-depth when he chose it as the topic for his rhetoric and writing honors thesis that he wrote last year. 

Associate rhetoric and writing professor Linda Ferriera-Buckley, who served as Dodd’s thesis advisor, said Dodd really wanted to work on an idea he could bring to the people, which he did at the TEDx event shortly after submitting his thesis.

“It was amazing at how quickly he brought it to the next level,” Buckley said. “He’s figured out how he can create opportunities. … It’s about effecting change in society — change that he knows to be vital, and I admire that.”

During his talk, Dodd said the legislature isn’t always at a standstill. He referenced former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the ’90s, when the committee hearings were not televised. When the cameras are off, senators are able to participate in a more open discussion and not worry about arguing their political party’s ideals, Dodd said.

In order to remove cameras from the floor, Dodd said the senators just had to have a majority vote, a fact his friend Robert Maxwell, who attended the event, said he was surprised to learn.  

Maxwell said he thinks removing cameras from the floor would be a good idea, but it could lead to some complaints from viewers. 

“I think there would adverse knee-jerk reactions by many constituents who would initially view the movement as nothing more than another way to increase the opacity between us and our elected officials,” Maxwell said in an email. 

Giving the talk was a cathartic experience, Dodd said, and one well received as members of the audience came up to him after the talk saying they were going to call their senators.

“That is the ultimate compliment, because that really means the talk wasn’t about me, and people were talking about the message and not the messenger,” Dodd said. “I think that means I did my job.”