Humpty-Dumpty and the Nixon Years
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
Lewis Carroll,Through the Looking Glass
Richard M. Nixon was not the first occupant of the Oval Office to view the press with unconcealed hostility. Every president since George Washington felt unfairly put upon by an unfriendly press, even the paladin of press freedoms, Thomas Jefferson. The man who once said he preferred a press without a government to a government without a press changed his tune once he was in office and the victim of "unfair" press attacks. "A few prosecutions of the most prominent offenders," Jefferson confessed to a friend, "would have a wholesome effect in restoring the integrity of the presses."
And yet of all those who preceded him into the White House, Nixon was the first to turn personal hostility into public policy and to use his Administration to try to neutralize the critical media. Nixon believed that the press was out to get him. It was unable, he thought, to forgive him for his anti-communist crusades and, particularly, for his relentless pursuit of Alger Hiss. Nixon's paranoia bred a distrust so deep that he created an "enemies list," including reporters, and dealt with the media as with any other subversive elements bent on destroying the republic. Not surprisingly, his suspicions and hostility led Nixon to target the more-or-less freewheeling public-broadcasting system. His attitude was colored by his past difficulties with the "liberal establishment"
and by his skewed view of public television as an arm of that establishment. It made little difference that the public medium, unlike the major press and commercial networks, had a minuscule impact on public opinion. More important, the public system, unlike the commercial system, could easily be brought to heel. The Administration had the weapon at hand: its control over public broadcasting's federal subsidy. And Nixon had no scruple about using it.
Nixon's first term had barely begun when his initial salvo against television was launched by Vice President Spiro Agnew in a nationally televised speech from Des Moines. The Administration's stinging rebuke of television charged the medium with being controlled by "a closed fraternity of privileged men" whose views were predominantly "Eastern liberal." Agnew's address was only the tip of the iceberg. Behind closed doors, plans were being laid for further assaults—known to us now only by the revelations of internal memoranda produced by the Freedom of Information Act.
One such meeting presaged the Nixon strategy in dealing with the public system. In November 1969, during the week of the Agnew attack, White House aide Peter Flanigin called together two members of the Corporation board—its chairman, Frank Pace, Jr., and one of its directors, Albert Cole, who had been recently appointed by Nixon. Their purpose—to discuss a plan for a "more geographically and ideologically balanced" public system—produced an agreement to use NET as a production center only "until new facilities are in operation," presumably elsewhere in the country. In the interim, not only would NET's funding not increase, "rather [it] would decrease to zero over the next two or three years." The death warrant for NET, administered by the White House and secretly agreed to by the Corporation ("Pace agrees with these conditions") came at an awkward time for me: I had moved into the presidency of the doomed organization only weeks earlier, unaware that the ground had been sold from under me by the Corporation's willing complicity in the Administration's so-called policy of "geographical and ideological balance."
But greater ironies were to come. The White House plan for achieving "ideological balance" was absurdly simple: do away with NET and place responsibility for production elsewhere, anywhere outside New York City. The Corporation, willing to play the Administration's game to win continued federal support, announced in July 1971 the creation of NPACT, the National Public Affairs Center for Television. By shifting production of public-affairs programming from New York, where it had proved an offense to the Nixon White House, to Washington, where it could be kept under closer scrutiny, the Corporation hoped to placate the enemy and gain a peace. But the effort backfired. NPACT produced a provocation of the first order.
To head the new Washington-based public-affairs production house, NPACT chose James Karayn, a broadcast journalist with a high-decibel personality who had established his credentials by directing news at a Los Angeles commercial station before coming to Washington as a producer and writer for NBC News. In 1965, he became NET's bureau chief in Washington, where he was responsible for most of the public-affairs shows it produced out of the nation's capital. He slipped easily into the other chair when NPACT assumed NET's public-affairs duties, declaring that the new organization would be "courageous, intelligent, witty and shrewd . . . but operate with self-restraint, common sense and fairness." The world of the White House, the public-television establishment, and the profession of journalism could hardly wish for more.
To fulfill Karayn's vision, NPACT needed a "presence" on the screen, an identifiable on-air personality to serve as a counterpart to the familiar and readily identifiable network news anchors. Karayn's first choice, the Canadian-born journalist Robert (Robin) MacNeil, was still relatively unknown in this country despite his extensive experience covering major international stories for the CBC, Reuters, the BBC, and NBC. "I wanted Robin and one superstar," Karayn recalled. After NBC'S Edwin Newman turned him down, Karayn turned to Sander Vanocur, another NBC colleague, but one willing to leave the network. "Sandy" Vanocur came to NPACT with fifteen years of experience in broadcast news and a
solid reputation as a highly competent, competitive news reporter. Although he had developed a close relationship with John Kennedy during his stint as NBC'S White House correspondent, Vanocur was known for his independence of mind and his readiness to speak it when the occasion warranted—as he was quick to demonstrate by speaking out against President Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War. His somewhat flamboyant manner would be an ideal complement to MacNeil's more reserved on-air style. With the blessings of both Pace and Macy at the Corporation, and Fred Friendly at the Foundation, Karayn announced his choices of Vanocur and MacNeil at news conferences in both Washington and New York in early September 1971.
The announcement fell on the White House like a bombshell. Nixon was livid. In the president's opinion, Vanocur was a "well-known Kennedy sympathizer"; worse, the reporter's aggressive and hostile questioning during the 1960 campaign had weakened the Nixon image and contributed to his defeat. And now Vanocur was back—back at government expense and provided with a platform by NPACT to continue his attacks on the president. On the morning after the announcement, Nixon's staff secretary sent a highly classified memorandum to Flanigan with copies to John Haldeman and Alex Butterfield. The NPACT hirings, said the memo, had "greatly disturbed the President who considered this the last straw." The president requested "that all funds for public broadcasting be cut immediately."
If public television had any question about where the president stood before, it had none now. With characteristic bluntness, he made his position perfectly clear: control it or kill it. But not everyone on the White House staff was eager to join the president in his determination to use public television's funding to punish a single reporter. One of the most influential was a young MIT graduate, Clay T. Whitehead ("Tom" to his friends), Nixon's Director of the Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP). At the age of thirty-three, Whitehead was one of the youngest appointees ever to head an executive agency. "With his utilitarian horn-rims, conservative suits, and boyishly earnest manner," Newsweek observed, he "comes across more like a small-town Jaycee than the
'communications czar' he has been called." As OTP Director, Whitehead was the president's top adviser and official spokesperson on communications, including public broadcasting.
The president's vengeful move to cut public television's funding struck Whitehead as a politically dangerous policy. Other policy options could better achieve Nixon's aim without the dangerous risks of the president's draconian scheme. Whitehead circulated several options in a memo to the White House staff. The most favored was a proposal to push for a funding bill that would send most of the federal money directly to the stations and prohibit the Corporation from using its share to support public-affairs programming. John Ehrlichman was dubious; a legislative solution would require the cooperation of Congress. "The best alternative," he said, "would be to take over the management and thereby determine what management decisions are going to be made." His stratagem would have been readily understood by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once observed that "the only prize much cared for by the powerful is power."
In the long run, Ehrlichman's strategy of seizing control won out. But this was only the fall of 1971. The Nixon White House had not yet stacked the Corporation board with its own appointees, and it still lacked the means to seize control. So it opted to go with Whitehead's more subtle approach. The general thrust of that policy had already been fixed by Nixon and his close political aides: to neutralize the public medium, eliminating its power to function as an enemy of the Administration. Whitehead felt that since the "entire elimination of Federal support of public television is politically impossible," the most effective course of action was to redirect that support away from CPB and PBS "so as to create a structure which will be dominated by those elements of the public television field which are generally most congenial—namely the local stations." The stations, particularly the smaller, educationally oriented stations, were in Whitehead's judgment the system's most conservative elements, potential allies in reducing the influence of the "liberal" Washington organizations. By playing on their instinctual fears of centralized control, on their shared distrust of the Ford Foundation's role, and on their read-
iness to annex a larger share of the financial pie, Whitehead hoped to create distrust between the local stations and their national organizations, just as Agnew had sought months earlier to pit the network affiliates against their national news organizations.
The opening salvo in the Administration's divide-and-subdue strategy was loosed upon several hundred surprised public broadcasters on October 20, 1971. Whitehead had been invited to address the annual convention of the NAEB, educational broadcasting's professional association. The broadcasters, of course, hoped that Whitehead would come to the Miami meeting with encouraging news of the Administration's plans for long-range funding. They anticipated at least a grudging pat on the back for having achieved, by dumping NET and creating PBS, the decentralized system the Administration apparently desired. Whitehead's words betrayed expectations on both counts. His pat on the back was brief and barbed: "It would be refreshing for you, I'm sure, to hear a convention speaker dwell on all the good things that public broadcasting has accomplished . . . but government policy making doesn't usually concern itself with good news, it deals with problems, and policy is my topic today." With that, Whitehead plunged headlong into a loose discourse on "policy," striking one rhetorical blow after another at the leadership and direction of public broadcasting. He charged it with betraying the mandate of the Carnegie Commission by creating a national network in the form of PBS, with allowing the network to take control of programming, with measuring successes by the same ratings yardstick that the networks used, and, finally, with turning over control of public-affairs programs to the Ford Foundation.
His final words sounded ominously like a threat: "Do any of you honestly know whether public broadcasting—structured as it is today and moving in the direction it seems to be headed—can ever fulfill the promise envisioned for it or conform to the policy set for it? If it can't, then permanent financing will always be somewhere off in the distant future." The message was clear and unmistakable: conform to what we in the White House want public television to be or be prepared to forgo the Administration's support for continued federal funding. Public broadcasters reacted
with disappointment and indignation. The Corporation leaped to the system's defense in a memorandum prepared by Macy's lieutenant, John Witherspoon. The memorandum accused the White House of using funding to pressure the system into acceding to the Administration's demands. "If we yield to that [pressure]," warned Witherspoon, "it will be well known that we can be had."
Most people in the system had no quarrel with Whitehead's basic thesis; they were as wedded to the primacy of the local station (as opposed to centralized program control) as was he. But they were baffled by his charge that public television had abandoned localism when the charge was clearly contradicted by the facts. If the White House felt the system had not moved far enough, or fast enough, let them find the fault within themselves for failing to provide adequate funding. Witherspoon's memo reminded Whitehead that another Nixon stalwart, FCC Chairman Dean Burch, had told this same group of public broadcasters a year earlier that "it ill behooves the Federal government to look askance at public broadcasting when the government has not fulfilled its own promise."
The Nixon Administration was fully aware of the populist appeal of an attack upon centralized power, and it had no shame in using the pulpit of its own highly centralized power to decry this power in those whom it wished to destroy. The Administration's attack was ironically made easier because many in the ranks of the public medium were crusading to save the medium from centralized power. Only three months earlier, at another gathering of public broadcasting executives, Arthur L. Singer, Jr., one of those responsible for the formation of the 1967 Carnegie Commission, used its recommendations to flay public broadcasters for casting their medium in the mold of commercial television. Its national programming, he charged, "is every bit as centralized and in its own way as dehumanized as the network programming of CBS or NBC," and its local stations were mere "branch offices for Washington and New York." His words, startlingly similar to those uttered later in the year by Whitehead, gave a false ring of legitimacy to the White House's spurious concern for the plight of the
local stations and further undermined the leadership role of the national organizations.
In his initial attack upon public television, Whitehead had judiciously steered clear of criticizing program content. But in early 1972 he opened a new front, questioning "whether public television, particularly . . . the federally-funded part of public television, should be carrying public affairs and news commentary, and that kind of thing." He repeated his doubts a month later, telling Bill Moyers that federally funded public-affairs programs raised a serious question of principle "because here you're taking the taxpayer's money and using it to express controversial points of view." (His question of principle conveniently ignored the accepted use of taxpayers' money to support the expression of controversial points of view in such publicly supported but less visible institutions as schools, colleges, and public libraries.) The Nixon Administration's opposition to our public-affairs programming stemmed in part from its profound distrust of the Ford Foundation and what it thought was the Foundation's Svengali role in our "anti-Administration" public-affairs programs. That the Foundation had an important hand in our public-affairs programming was clear, but it was a hand that fostered the genre without dictating its content, a conceit that may be too complex for the obsessed to grasp. The Nixon forces were convinced that if the Foundation was paying the piper, the Foundation must be calling the tune.
Given the nature of our programming mission and the White House's sensitivity to criticism, provocation was probably inevitable. We did not, however, deliberately invite it. The decision to treat difficult and ticklish problems at the risk of inviting a torrent of calumny from Washington was our own to make; we didn't need the complicity of the Ford Foundation to get our names on the Administration's "enemies list." But provocation came easily and often to an Administration that measured balance by the congruence of our biases with theirs.
One such provocation was Banks and the Poor , broadcast in late 1971. The controversial documentary tripped the White House alarms, sending presidential assistant Peter Flanigin flying to his
typewriter to dash off a memo to Albert Cole, Nixon's first appointee to the CPB board. Describing Banks and the Poor as "another example of NET activity that is clearly inappropriate for a government supported organization," Flanigin asked Cole to inquire into the extent of NET's present and planned future support from CPB. He cautioned that the inquiry "comes better from you to the board and management of the Corporation than from the White House."
The response of public television's leaders in Washington to the Administration's efforts to bring it to heel showed the limits of its strange hydra-headed leadership. PBS president Hartford Gunn, responsible for what aired nationally, played a defensive game: keep your head down, play it safe, don't make waves. His efforts to block the airing of Banks and the Poor was a case in point, and his constituency, the local stations to whom he was accountable, would not have wished it otherwise. Had he wanted to stand up to government, to assert the independence of the public system, he could not have done so without the concurrence of the system's other leader, CPB president John Macy. But Macy, who had spent virtually all of his professional career in government service, and who, rightly or wrongly, felt himself accountable to Congress, had little or no inclination to buck the White House. An amenable man, he aimed to appease the enemy by showing his readiness to cooperate. He demonstrated this strategy of appeasement when lie adopted the Administration's "program priorities"; when he accepted Herb Klein's suggestion of Nancy Dickerson as the PBS correspondent to the White House; and when he showed his readiness to meet with Flanigin and Whitehead to supply them with information, including a list of forthcoming public-affairs programming. "You couldn't ask for anyone more compliant than Macy," said OTP attorney Henry Goldberg. The divided and unassertive posture of public television's leadership contrasted sharply with the early experience of the BBC, whose sole leader, Director-General John Reith, his spine stiffened with a morally rigid Calvinism, stood off the Parliament and secured for the public corporation an independence from governmental interference that marked the BBC for decades afterward. A compa-
rable act of self-definition might have spared the American system its years of obeisance to the whims of Washington.
Macy's efforts to play the Administration's game had an ironic aftermath. Whitehead wanted him out. "To achieve your goals," he told the president, "we must first replace the current CPB management," recommending that they begin immediately "to find five tough-minded [board] appointees who will vote with us to fire John Macy and his top staff and replace them with suitable people." With Macy out of the way, Whitehead could push ahead with his plan of reform: restructuring the system, reducing the funds and power of CPB, and transferring both the money and the power to the more conservative local stations. "We cannot get the Congress to eliminate CPB, to reduce funds for public television, or to exclude CPB from public affairs programming," he told the president. "But we can reform the structure of public broadcasting to eliminate its worst features." It was a shrewd strategy, a means of "defanging" the system without seeming to be involved.
The Whitehead strategy had another, complementary element that was both diabolical in design and Machiavellian in purpose. It was triggered by NPACT's announcement of the hiring of Sanders Vanocur and Robert MacNeil. Whitehead outlined his plan in a memorandum to White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman:
After Vanocur and MacNeil were announced in late September, we planted with the trade press the idea that their obvious liberal bias would reflect adversely on public television. . . . We then began to encourage speculation about Vanocur's and MacNeil's salaries. . . . We plan to do two things in the next few weeks to continue to call attention to balance on public television, especially NPACT. We will quietly solicit critical articles regarding Vanocur's salary coming from public funds. . . . We will quietly encourage station managers throughout the country to put pressure on NPACT and CPB to put balance in their programming or risk the possibility of local stations not carrying these programs.
Thus began one of the ugliest episodes in the story of public television, a malicious campaign, cynically managed from the White House, to discredit the public medium and two of its most visible professionals. The purpose of the campaign was clearly and
simply to foster suspicion and distrust among the public medium's constituent elements. Sadly, by capturing the headlines it would divert attention from the more serious issues for most of the rest of the year. The White House media managers were fully aware of the effectiveness of the salary issue as a headline grabber. Revelations of the usually close-kept secrets of what the mighty are paid hold an inexplicable fascination for the average citizen. So when it was revealed through press leaks that Sander Vanocur was paid $85,000 a year—twice the Salary of a Supreme Court justice, a cabinet officer, or a Congressional representative—there was no dearth of hand-wringers to condemn public television for its excesses. (Robin MacNeil's $65,000 salary made a smaller target only because he was, at that time, a less visible presence.) No mention was made, of course, of the 40 percent pay cut Vanocur took when he moved from NBC to NPACT. Nor was consideration given to the standard pay scales in television's big-buck talent business.
The salary fever spread quickly to Congress, where Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin, member of the House Communications Subcommittee, and himself a former television news commentator, held hearings to probe public television's salary scales. Macy, asked to supply the subcommittee with NPACT's salaries, readily complied. NPACT's chairman, Sid James, was furious that Macy had released the privileged information without NPACT's consent. But his heated protest backfired. The CPB board, unwilling to stand up to Congressional interference, adopted a policy of salary disclosure that led the Corporation to publish the salaries and talent fees of all of its principal performers as well as the salaries of its own executives. (When Macy's annual $65,000 became public knowledge, he quickly volunteered to take a pay cut. But his board, less guided by the Puritan ethic of self-sacrifice, turned him down.) The hearings produced an amendment to the public-television-funding bill that fixed ceilings on public-television salaries paid from federal funds. The bill, however, was subsequently vetoed for reasons unrelated to the salary issue.
The Great Salary Dustup of 1972 had the Administration's intended effect on local stations. Their disaffection with national leadership was fed by a growing resentment over the five-digit
salary disclosures, and even more by the whirlwind of criticism they were reaping for the apparent profligacy of one of their number. The greatest harm, however, fell upon NPACT. Karayn and his staff, preoccupied with juggling the politics of public television, barely had time to follow the political campaign of 1972, which, after all, was the primary reason for hiring the two correspondents. When NPACT did focus on the elections, its coverage was inevitably affected by the White House pressures. MacNeil, describing the pressures as "inhibiting but not paralyzing," confessed that it was difficult not to speculate on how one's story would play at the White House. Critics found NPACT's programs in the series A Public Affair: Election '72 too middle-of-the-road and often bland. The problem was "not that they were bland," explained Vanocur, "but that they weren't more daring." On the positive side, MacNeil thought the pressures made public television more conscious "of the need to be more balanced than we otherwise might have been if that climate hadn't existed." But the climate did exist. And the pressures had their desired effect.
With summer approaching, and with it the two national political conventions, NPACT was forced to scrap its original plans for comprehensive, gavel-to-gavel coverage after the Corporation board cut a whopping 25 percent from its budget. One of Nixon's recent appointees to the board, Hollywood television producer Jack Wrather, explained that "because of the sensitive nature of public-affairs programming, a concentration of this kind of production in one or two stations is undesirable." To which he added, "Further decentralization and diversification would be healthy for the system." Coming from one who had profited from the concentration of commercial production in Hollywood, not only were the words strange, but they also defied the logic of television. Some public-affairs shows, because of their complexity and cost, can only be done by concentrating resources. Political conventions are among them.
When the Democrats met in Miami in July, NPACT's pared-down coverage was a thin daily ninety-minute preview program plus a nightly half-hour summary of the day's events, less distinguished and certainly less informative than the convention coverage avail-
able elsewhere on the dial. It was not the vision Karayn had for NPACT. With the Republican convention only a month away, Karayn decided to do the job right and to give the Republicans straightforward, unedited, gavel-to-gavel podium coverage that would be a clear alternative to the networks' restless razzle-dazzle. But his two stars refused to go along, arguing that Karayn's plan gave unfair political advantage to the Republicans with an imbalance that could only lead to charges that NPACT had buckled under to White House pressures. With Vanocur and MacNeil willing to do no more than they had done for the Democrats, Karayn turned to WNET's Bill Moyers for running commentary on the full coverage of the Republican Convention. Though he was unaware of the protests of the two NPACT correspondents, Moyers agreed that the Republicans should get full coverage despite NPACT's error in not giving proper coverage to the Democrats. Moyers brushed aside charges of White House intimidation, explaining that "no one can intimidate you unless you feel intimidatable."
Before the storm over NPACT died down, Karayn added the name of Peter Kaye to his rosters of correspondents. No one challenged Kaye's credentials as a journalist. Skeptics, however, read significance into the fact he had been a Nixon press aide in the 1960 campaign.
The politically charged atmosphere of the early seventies should have warned those of us at NET that the times were hardly propitious for political satire—and certainly not on the public medium. But so eager were we to bring an element of lightness, a laugh or two, to public television's overarching solemnity that we unhesitatingly accepted Woody Allen's offer in late 1971 to produce a special. We didn't even pull back after learning that he intended to use the show to satirize the Nixon White House. Allen approached us after having produced two prime-time specials for the commercial networks, fully expecting the public medium to give him greater artistic license to write and perform the kind of humor for which he is justly celebrated. He was wrong.
The script for the hour-long special was delivered to NET's veteran producer Jack Kuney. Although Kuney found it "deceptively
simple, but funny," his boss, programming vice president Bill Kobin, disagreed. Kobin came to my office a day or so later, script in hand. "We can't use it." Why not? "Because it's not funny." I accepted his judgment; the last thing we needed was an unfunny comedy show. There the matter rested, or so I thought. Three months later, however, I was more than a little surprised to learn that we had delivered to PBS a show called The Politics—and Comedy of Woody Allen . Receipt of the show tripped the alarm and bells began to ring. First, I had a call from WNET's chairman Ethan Allen Hitchcock. He had just heard from John Macy, who was "hopping mad" about a show with someone named Allen. Hitchcock had never heard of Woody Allen. When he learned that I had not seen the show, I was ordered to screen it and call him back immediately. Even as we talked, a telex message was thrust into my hand from PBS to its member stations. The Politics—and Comedy of Woody Allen , it said, would not be distributed by PBS as scheduled. But taking no chances on being labelled "censors"—as they had been when they killed the FBI segment on the Dream Machine —PBS offered to make the show available to any station requesting it. There was a hook in the offer: in the opinion of the PBS legal staff, the Woody Allen show "presents fairness problems . . . personal attack, equal time and taste problems," a solid guarantee that no public station in the country would risk airing it. Except, of course, our own WNET.
What I and a brace of our attorneys screened with nervous interest was a mock documentary, Men of Crisis , that mimicked the style of the old March of Time , in which authentic news footage was combined with dramatic elements, a technique Allen later perfected in his feature film Zelig . The original hour-long script had been trimmed to the twenty-five-minute "documentary," and the balance of the hour had been filled by an interview with Allen on the nature of comedy. Men of Crisis managed not only to lampoon the Nixon White House but to needle both the president's foes (Humphrey and Wallace) as well as his friends (Agnew, Hoover, Laird, and Mitchell). Allen himself played the fictional Harvey Wallinger, high-living confidant and counselor to the president, whose resemblance to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger
was more than coincidental. As might be expected, the show included moments of questionable taste. Allen explained that "it is hard to do anything about the Administration that wouldn't be in bad taste."
I withdrew the show after the screening, hoping to find a broader context to make Men of Crisis acceptable to the system, perhaps by marrying it with other satirical pieces that took aim with prudent impartiality at a broader range of political icons. But it was too late. Though I rejected Hitchcock's demand to arrange a private screening for WNET's Executive Committee to determine the film's acceptability, he managed a surreptitious screening for himself. He emerged from the screening ashen-faced, his jaws tightly clamped, and hurried back to his law offices where he dashed off a hand-delivered letter to me within the hour. He first reminded me that it had been the hope and purpose of the board never to have to judge a program before broadcast, but, he said, "The Allen program has, in my opinion, now been removed from that category because of the questions inherent in it and which have been raised within the public television system." There followed an ultimatum: "If you, for any reason, desire to release the program in its present form or any modified form for any showing of any kind, you will first advise me, or, should I not be available, two other members of the Executive Committee, in sufficient time in advance of such a release to permit the Executive Committee to be convened and review whatever you propose to be released."
There the Woody Allen caper ended. It was apparent to me that a board committee, and especially one weighted with Nixon partisans, would hardly be willing to allow the show to air and risk the economic reprisals of an irate White House. Jay Iselin made a feint in the direction of airing it, but his flashy backfield manner was no match for the Executive Committee's tight line. Nor were the other PBS stations willing to take the risk; they leaned heavily on the warning words of the PBS lawyers to defend their decision. (PBS was in error in stating that the show would trigger demands for equal time; political satire is exempt from equal-time rules.) Placed beside the political skits on today's Saturday Night Live , Al-
len's satire seems pallid and harmless. But times and tastes change. In 1972, the Nixon White House, clean as a hound's tooth, was on the threshold of an electoral landslide. Watergate was no more than a cloud on the horizon, barely larger than the hand that taped open the door to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. If we were disingenuous in thinking that we could get by the station gatekeepers with a show that might offend our chief sponsor, we did so firmly believing that satire, holding up to view our individual and collective absurdities, has a cleansing effect on the body politic. The Politics—and Comedy of Woody Allen may or may not have been the best-suited vehicle for our purpose—Allen has since expressed his own reservations—but its intentions were rooted in an honorable tradition.
Beneath the tensions created by the salary squabble and the Woody Allen episode was concern over how these incidents might play upon public television's quest for the holy grail of long-range funding. Encouraging signals issued from Capitol Hill, but the Administration had its own agenda. Early in 1971, Tom Whitehead sought the help of a former University of Virginia law professor, Antonin Scalia, in drafting the Administration's long-range funding bill. Although Scalia's bill provided for a surprising five-year authorization, which was longer than expected, it also mandated a larger proportion of the federal funds to be allocated to the local stations. Macy immediately denounced it as "a sweeping amendment to the 1967 Act," clearly intended to reduce "the scope and function of the CPB." He was right. It cleverly advanced Whitehead's plan to redirect funds away from CPB and PBS and into the pockets of the more "congenial" local stations. When Whitehead attempted to work out a compromise bill satisfactory to the Corporation, he increasingly came to feel that Macy was the stumbling block to achieving his aim. So in a wily maneuver to remove the obstacle, Whitehead recommended that the president offer his loyalists on the CPB board a trade-off: the Administration would deliver a funding bill acceptable to the Corporation in return for the board's agreement to "replace John Macy as soon as practicable with a nonpolitical professional." The White House,
not yet ready to go public with its hostility toward the medium, rejected the stratagem. Whitehead offered another. Blithely assuming that "local stations' support could be bought for about 30 million dollars," Whitehead proposed a two-year bill that offered a boost in the funding limits from $35 to $60 million for the first year. He fully expected that the additional funds would separate the stations from the Corporation and win (or buy) their support for the Administration's original bill.
But events intervened. Nixon exploded and gave an order to "kill the bill" after learning of Vanocur's appointment, and Whitehead, following the White House lead, went to Miami to deliver his "no funds until reform" ultimatum to the public broadcasters. In the long run, the Administration produced a chastening and meager one-year funding bill, cutting back the funding limits to $45 million. Hopes for long-range funding rested with a more amenable Congress. In 1971, Rep. Torbert Macdonald, chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, took the initiative by introducing a five-year funding bill that, after compromises, reached the floor as a two-year authorization of $65 million the first year and $90 million the second. Although it mandated a sizeable 30 percent of the funds to the stations, Macy, after raising a finger to the political winds, accepted the provision knowing that it would help to win station support for the bill. Whitehead, predictably, testified against it. Fortunately, the bill had strong support in both houses and sailed through with substantial majorities. It was a major victory for the public medium and a cause for celebration.
The jubilation was short-lived. On June 30, 1972, four days after the Senate adopted the Macdonald Bill by an overwhelming 82-1 majority, President Nixon vetoed it. His veto message cited "the serious and widespread concern expressed in Congress and within public broadcasting itself, that an organization, originally intended only to serve the local stations, is becoming instead the center of power and the focal point of control for the entire public broadcasting system." Nixon's words were a cynical replay of Whitehead's obsessive invocation of "localism." Congress, stunned but uncertain that it had the votes to override the veto, made no effort
to do so, voting instead to accept the Administration's niggardly single-year funding bill.
News of the veto rocked the system like a temblor; most of us had expected the president to yield to the clearly expressed will of Congress. Only four days before the veto, Tom Whitehead assured Norman Cousins and the members of his National Programming Council that "if the Congress votes [the Macdonald Bill], the President will do nothing to prevent that action moving forward." Only after the release of confidential White House documents did we learn that, on the afternoon that he had assured us of the president's support, Whitehead had been closeted with the president and a group of commercial broadcasters. In the words of one who was present at the meeting, President Nixon "dumped all over public television" in response to the broadcasters' complaints of competition from a growing PBS. Four days after assuring us there would be no veto, Whitehead sent a secret memorandum to the president strongly recommending a veto of the funding bill and warning him that public broadcasters "are seeking funds and independence to create a TV network reflecting their narrow conception of what the public ought to see and hear." This, he told the president, "should not be allowed to happen." It would be an understatement to describe his role in the veto as a model of dissimulation.
For a weary, frustrated, and ailing John Macy, the veto was the last straw. He had fought hard for the funding bill only to see it killed by an Administration he had tried desperately to accommodate. Worse, he felt abandoned by his own friends and allies at a critical time in the life of public television. The CPB board, which might have been expected to protest the veto, sat on its hands, making no comment and refusing even to rebut the implied challenge to its stewardship. Macy called it "shameful." But he was caught in a no-win situation and he knew it. He also knew that Nixon's chances for reelection were virtually assured. The reelection, said Macy privately, would be "the death blow to public broadcasting as I have envisioned it." His health weakened by abdominal surgery, and "convinced that my incompatibility with
administration positions would endanger the system," John Macy resigned the presidency of CPB on August 10, 1972. In the weeks that followed, most of the Corporation's top executives followed suit. The Corporation, created by Congress as a "heat shield" to insulate public broadcasting against political interference, had in five short years become the instrument of that interference.