Public interestFran Quigley

For everyone who cringes at the shallowness and shouting that characterizes most TV political talk shows, it is best to start by explaining what WTBU"s Indiana Insight is not.

From left to right: Butler Professor George Geib, Former U.S. Rep Andy Jacobs and Host Jim Gavin

It is not Hardball or The McLaughlin Group. Here, there is no bombastic host imposing his will on every guest and panelist. Insight"s host, former Fox 59 anchor Jim Gavin, follows the novel approach of asking informed questions and then actually letting the visiting political figures give answers.

It is not our own Indiana Week in Review either. You won"t catch Indiana Insight"s panelists offering numbingly predictable defenses of whatever position their party leadership dictates. In a recent episode, Gavin asked regular panelists Butler history professor George Geib and former U.S. Congressman Andy Jacobs to defend their party"s positions on a legislative issue. Both men chuckled out loud. Neither had any intention of parroting a party line that violates their own well-developed political philosophy. Democrat Jacobs praises the character of a Republican House leader. Republican Geib jokes on-air about Democrat gerrymandering, but hastens to add, "My party does it, too."

Broadcast during the academic year on Butler University"s WTBU Channel 69 on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m., Indiana Insight is designed as a vehicle for training the Butler telecommunications students who staff the show each week. By some definitions, it is an amateur production, since none of the principals get paid to do the show. But the program"s content and approach routinely outshine its higher-cost and better-known counterparts.

Each episode of Indiana Insight begins with a 10-minute interview segment. "Jim [Gavin] was thrilled by that," producer Jon Servizzi says. "In broadcast journalism, the 10-minute interview is usually reserved for Barbara Walters." The time is well-spent. In a recent appearance by new Indiana House Speaker Patrick Bauer, the speaker admits the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen and "probably the worst since the Great Depression." Bauer is given time to explain the sticky trade-offs involved in writing a state budget in lean times. When Gavin asks if any of the 15 General Assembly bills that make up the governor"s Energize Indiana proposal were dead, Bauer responds dryly, "Not yet."

The show then switches to the commentary of Geib and Jacobs, a segment that has the feel of two favorite professors sitting in the faculty lounge bantering about current events. In a recent discussion of Indiana"s economic malaise, the two invoke recent Supreme Court rulings, 19th century Indianapolis economic initiatives and the politics of Teddy Roosevelt.

On this show, the rationale for state investment in higher education and preschool is discussed. How Joe Andrew may poll in Ripley County is not. Politics can be short-sighted, petty and vain, but history tells us that it also determines the progress of our society. Indiana Insight chooses to look at politics through the long-range lens, and it is a view well worth sharing.

Updates: Africa, judges and Lilly

ï The local group formed in the wake of Bono"s inspiring Heart of America Tour visit to Indianapolis is calling itself IN for Africa, and has already begun work on addressing debt, AIDS and trade issues. The group praised President Bush for using his State of the Union Address to offer strong support for African AIDS victims. Now, among a variety of education and outreach efforts, local activists want to persuade our own Sen. Richard Lugar to use his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to insure that the U.S. leads the way in stopping the 6,500 African AIDS deaths that occur each day. The IN for Africa meetings take place on the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. Luke"s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St., Indianapolis. For more information, call 923-2938 or toll free (888) 297-2767.

ï As President Al Gore can tell you, politics never influence court decisions. But you have to wonder after last week"s ruling by Marion County"s Superior Court judges in the case reviewing the maps drawn for new City-County Council districts. After what must have been careful non-partisan consideration of the facts and prevailing law, all 16 Republican judges voted - surprise! - for the map drawn by Republicans in the City-County Council. All the Democrat judges voted against, but since there were only 13 Democrat judges voting, the Republican map won. An appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court is planned.

ï The spending bill passed by Congress last week repealed the controversial provision blocking lawsuits by families who blame their children"s autism on the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal. The provision, originally slipped into last November"s Homeland Security bill during the 11th hour, shielded manufacturers, most notably Indianapolis" Eli Lilly and Co., from lawsuits. The sneaky procedure spurred widespread protest, including passionate opposition by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). ("Dan Burton Confronts Lilly," NUVO, Nov. 27)

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