History of the Major Television Networks CBS Part 3

About the history of the major television network CBS including the work of Walter Kronkite, operations behind the scene with William Paley and more.



In its handling of the Vietnam War, the network exerted a strong influence on public opinion. Leading newscasters, including Walter Cronkite, received angry calls from Pres. Lyndon Johnson regarding their coverage of the war. Cronkite, the father image of news broadcasting, had maintained a by-and-large objective stance on the war until he made a personal visit to Vietnam in 1968. After that, his newscasts revealed an antiwar stand.

The CBS news team has always been under the protection of William Paley, even when their reports have proved embarrassing. Other programs are far more likely to be censored. A case in point is the Smothers Brothers, young crusading comedians of the 1960s, who were continually harassed by CBS; e.g., Pete Seeger was not allowed to sing "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" because it supposedly insulted President Johnson. They were later canceled when Tommy went too far by accusing the network of suppression while talking with U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy and Alan Cranston.

In 1971 Roger Mudd's "Selling of the Pentagon," a special documentary, exposed the Pentagon's use of propaganda for self-promotion. A House Congressional Committee wanted to have CBS cited for contempt for refusing to reveal background material, but the House itself backed the network. Vice-Pres. Spiro Agnew called the show "disreputable."

Behind the Tube: William Paley, now in his 70s and chairman of the board, still runs CBS.

His stand on censorship has wavered throughout the years. Through a change in program format, he eased anti-Semite Father Charles E. Coughlin off the air in the early days of radio. Yet he went along with CBS when it required employees to sign a loyalty oath in the early 1950s. (He may have been motivated by J. Edgar Hoover's luncheon "joke"--if that's what it was--that CBS was really the "Communist Broadcasting System.")

CBS is now a $2 billion company, with net income of more than $160 million. It owns publishing companies (from the scholarly Praeger Publishers to Fawcett Publications, which issues Woman's Day), Steinway Pianos, Wonder Products ("spring-suspended plastic 'riding horses'"), and more--a typical CBS mixture of the high-toned and plebeian.

CBS News has a well-deserved reputation for honesty and courage, still exemplified in its daily news reports as well as the award-winning 60 Minutes. In general, the network has backed its newsmen even when they were harassed by Washington. (During the Nixon administration, CBS's Daniel Schorr was investigated by the FBI and Dan Rather's house was "burgled" Watergate-style, for example.) There have been a few lapses; Fred Friendly resigned in disgust, for example, when CBS did not carry all the Senate hearings on Vietnam policy in 1965.

Other programming has varied from excellent to lowest-common-denominator. CBS has featured situation comedies as well written and acted as Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H. In 1976 it presented the Bolshoi Ballet performing Romeo and Juliet live from Moscow. It can be said, however, that CBS, like the other major networks, does not stick its neck out too far.

For further reading: Robert Metz, CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. Chicago, Playboy Press, 1975.

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