#tbt: ‘Networks Say No, C.B.S. won’t sell time to Senate war critics’ 


The Indy revisits an exclusive.  


This week, the Indy digs deep into its vault to find this Harvard Independent exclusive from our May 9, 1970 issue. We are publishing this piece in remembrance of Tom Stemberg’71, a founding member of the Harvard Independent who passed away last week. Stemberg had a major impact on the Indy in the 1970s and has had an even larger impact on the paper since he went on to a lucrative career founding Staples and other business ventures. Next week, the Harvard Independent will run a special feature on Stemberg that outlines his life and will include memories from his peers on the Harvard Independent.



The CBS television network refused early this week to sell airtime to Senator George McGovern, (D-SD), and a group of other Senate sponsors of the McGovern-Hatfield amendment. The senators were seeking thirty minutes of airtime to discuss their amendment, which would cut off all appropriations for the war in Southeast Asia by June 1971.

The president of CBS Broadcasting, Richard Jencks, told Gordon Weil, press secretary to Senator George McGovern, that CBS only sold commercial television time for the promotion of “goods and services.” At that time Weil responded, “We’re trying to preserve your society so that you can continue to sell your goods and services.”

Contacted yesterday by The Harvard Independent, Mr. Jencks said, “CBS policy does not permit the sale of television time to politicians except when they are political candidates or if they are addressing themselves to ballot issues.”

Weil said yesterday that the McGovern-Hatfield forces had originally sought free time on the three major networks. Joseph Derby, information officer of NBC News, denied that NBC had been approached, but in an apparently conflicting statement, Gene Walsch, Director of Press at NBC, explained the network action. “The Chief Executive is news when he makes a statement. The McGovern-Hatfield program is not.” Other network spokesmen said that their policy was based on the need to conform to standards of balanced coverage.

The ABC and NCB networks have both offered to make paid time available to Senate war critics. But the large amount of paperwork required for an ABC appearance made it impossible for the McGovern office to get clearance for a Tuesday appearance. NBC was more flexible, and the McGovern-Hatfield forces are now seeking to raise the $60,000 dollars necessary for a Tuesday night appearance, at 7:30pm.

Senator McGovern was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon. But Senator Mark Hatfield (R.-Ore.) charged in an interview with Independent reporter Sven Holmes, “We’ve been blocked out. The media has focused solely on violence and the results of violence. The voices of reason and non-violence have not been represented… The American people have been given only one side of this issue.”

Other efforts by war critics to get free TV time for a viewpoint differing from that of the Nixon Administration have also failed. Michael Harrington, Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, requested free time last week for the Democratic Party to respond to Nixon’s speech of April 30th. Richard Jencks of CBS refused at that time saying that the Cambodia war was not “a partisan issue.”

Yesterday afternoon, NBC turned down a request by Democratic Party Chairman Larry O’Brien for live coverage of a Milwaukee speech scheduled for tonight in which he will respond directly to the televised appearances of Nixon of April 30th and May 8th. As the Independent goes to press, there has been no response to O’Brien’s request from the other two major networks.

Responding to the network policy, Ira Cappanstein, Deputy Chairman of the Democratic Party, commented sharply in an interview with The Independent. “The President, and, more cleverly, the Administration spokesmen, have spread-eagled themselves all over the major networks. And more seriously, the networks are cooperating.”

Cappanstein further speculated that the network’s attitude may be an indication of the effectiveness of the Vice-President’s attacks on the media. “The corporation executives are intimidated, “ he said.

While there is widespread concern amongst Nixon Administration critics over the major networks’ refusal to grant them free time, there is even more frustration expressed over CBS policy on paid time. For, according to Nielson figures, the CBS network has the largest national audience.


If you would like to share a memory of Tom Stemberg and want it included in next week’s feature on his life, please send an email to [email protected]