Reed Irvine - Editor
  February A, 1974


  • Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7, 1973
  • THE BALTIMORE SUN-February 7, 1974 James J. Kilpatrick
  • The American Broadcasting Co. abruptly cancelled the Dick Cavett Show scheduled for February 7 became it contained a one-sided discussion of controversial issues of public importance. The program, taped in advance, featured Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis and Jerry Rubin. All four were prominent leaders of the New Left who had been tried in Chicago for conspiracy to foment the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and had been acquitted after a tumultuous trial.

    A spokesman for ABC pointed out that the Cavett program contained discussions of controversial issues of public importance which the network felt should be balanced by opposing views presented on the same program. He said:

    ABC, as a broadcast licensee, has an obligation to insure fairness and balance in its programming in accordance with Federal Communications Commission requirements.

    ABC said that they had asked Dick Cavett's producers to provide spokesmen for opposing viewpoint to provide the program with fairness and balance even before it was taped. This was not done, and the network refused to air the show. They said they hoped the producers would "expand the number of viewpoints included in the program" so it could be broadcast as a later date.

    ABC believes that the Cavett programs should present the pros and cons of the controversial issues on the same program. This is more than required by the FCC's fairness doctrine, which asks that overall programing be balanced. However, since the Cavett programs are now broadcast only once every two weeks, ABC believes that fairness is better served by presenting both sides of a controversy on the same program.

    Cavett has said that the cancelled show was mild and contained little that was controversial. However, ABC said that among the controversial subjects discussed were issues relating to law and justice, revolution, bombing as a means of social protest, the failure of the American system and demands for suspension of American financial support for Vietnam and Cambodia.

    Dick Cavett argued that he himself had offset the views of his guests, but ABC did not agree.


    Accuracy in Media has been striving to get the television networks to honor the FCC requirement that they be fair in discussions of controversial issues of public importance and give all sides a chance to be heard. We have filed a dozen complaints with the FCC in an effort to obtain enforcement of the fairness requirement.

    Our complaint against the NBC program "Pensions: The Broken Promise," has been upheld by the FCC, and NBC has now appealed the Commission's ruling to the Court of Appeals.

    In sharp contrast with NBC, which has spent a great deal of money and effort to avoid having to present a fair and balanced treatment of the controversial issue of the performance of prirate pension plans, ABC has signalled that it intends to respect the right of the public to hear both sides of controversial issues.

    It seems likely that the action has been inspired in some degree by the great attention that has been given to the fairness issue as a result of the success of the AIM complaint against NBC. This case has recently been very widely discussed in the press.

    Time magazine devoted nearly a full page to the AIM v. NBC case in its February 4 issue (p. 59). TV Guide devoted a substantial amount of space to AIM, as a result of the NBC case, in an article titled "Life in a Pressure Cooker" in its February 9th issue. Newsweek discussed the case in an article titled "Setting the Record Straight," in its January 28th issue. Tom Wicker, a colunmist for The New York Times, devoted one of his columns to the subject on December 23, and James J. Kilpatrick published a much fairer column on February 8. Human Events gave the case a full page on December 8.

    Recognizing the positive contribution that ABC had made to the public interest by its action on the Cavett show, AIM's chairman, Reed J. Irvine, sent the following letter to Mr. Elton Rule, President of ABC.

    Mr. Elton Rule, President ABC 1330 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10019

    Dear Mr. Rule:

    Your decision to require Dick Cavett to honor the requirements of the fairness doctrine and to require revisions in a program that clearly failed to present contrasting points of view on a controversial issue of public importance sets an example which should be emulated by the entire broadcasting industry.

    Accuracy in Media commends and supports this action. While it should not be necessary to commend a broadcaster for insisting on respect for the law and accepted standards of journalism, the sad fact is that your action "shines like a good deed in a naughty world."

    Accuracy in Media has been locked in a difficult battle with NBC for over one year to get them to recognize the simple, elementary principle that they have an obligation to present both sides when they discuss on the air controversial issues of public importance. We now find that CBS intends to intervene in this case on the side of those who think that the right of the broadcast licensee to use the public air waves as he pleases is superior to the right of the public to hear both sides.

    It is highly encouraging that at this juncture ABC should take a public stand demonstrating that at least one of the three networks believes in fairness and balance and is willing to act on its own, without prodding from the FCC or the public, to see that the public is given facts on both sides of controversial issues.

    This reminds us that it was ABC that did so much to establish its own credibility by voluntarily correcting on the air errors in its documentary "Arms and Security: How Much is Enough," which had been pointed out by AIM. Here again, we must note that this is in sharp contrast with the attitude that we have encountered at the other networks when we have raised questions about accuracy.

    ABC has taken a moral leaderdrip which will be applauded by television viewers the country over.

    Sincerely yours, Reed J. Irvine

    Copies of the above letter were sent to officials of NBC and CBS and to the news media.


    News reports indicated that Dick Cavett felt that the solid left line-up on the cancelled show was all right because he offset the guests. But which way does Cavett himself lean?

    An interview of Dick Cavett by David Susskind was aired on Metromedia stations on February 9. (It had been taped prior to the ABC cancellation, and so that was not discussed). Susskind asked Cavett if he was aware of his own political bias, saying that he was "clearly of liberal bent." Cavett evaded the question, saying he was criticized by all sides. However, he did note that the White House had blamed him for the defeat of the SST (because of one-sided programs on the subject). He said someone in Washington kept track of the guests on the talk shows, and they used to get calls saying that "it was time we had somebody from our side on." He claimed that Angela Davis was blocked from appearing on his show because someone (unidentified) insisted that she be on with a conservative.

    Earlier in the program Susskind and Cavett had discussed how hard it was to find "interesting, articulate, charming" conservatives. They exhausted their list of these rare creatures with only four names--William F. Buckley, Jr., William Rusher, Senator Tower and George Will. It would appear that no one in this small stable was available to joust with Angela Davis.

    One might infer that Cavett's problem is not that he lacks the will to balance his show, but that he just doesn't know of the existence of people that might provide balance and still be "interesting, articulate and charming."


    1. Write to ABC commending its action in the Cavett case.

    2. Write to NBC and CBS urging them to follow ABC's example in being fair.

    ABC: Elton Rule, President, 1330 Ave. of the Americas, N.Y. 10019
    NBC: Herbert S. Schlosser, President, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, N.Y. 10020
    CBS: Arthur R. Taylor, President, 51 West 52nd St, N.Y. 10019


    The New York Times boasts that it gives its readers "all the news that's fit to print." On January 29, 1974, The Times carried on page 39 a report of a speech on the energy crisis by the chairman and chief executive officer of the Exxon Corp., the world's largest oil company, Mr. J.K. Jamieson.

    The report carried the intriguing headline, "Exxon Chief Admits Industry Mistakes." Since it seemed unlikely that at this point in time the chairman of Exxon would have made the mistakes of the oil industry the main focus of a speech on the energy crisis, AIM obtained a copy of Mr. Jamieson's remarks to see how faithfully The Times had reported them.

    AIM's count showed that Mr. Jamieson's speech contained 74 points of information or opinion. These could be grouped under six topics. We show below what these topics were, the number of points made by Mr. Jamieson under each topic and the number of points reported by The New York Times. You may judge for yourself whether or not the points The Times chose to report were those that were the most important and informative in Mr. Jamieson's speech.

    No. of points Points reported by in speech The New York Times

    1. Explanation of how the oil industry erred in underestimating growth of demand for oil and why it erred.

    2. Evidence that the oil shortage is real and explanation of why statistics that seem to indicate otherwise are being misinterpreted.

    3. The outlook for the future, what must be done to keep energy supply and demand in balance, and why the problem will not be solved quickly.

    4. Putting 1973 oil company profits in proper perspective, showing that profits had been long depressed, that even now they are not high as a percentage of sales or return on equity. Discussed importance of profit in generating investment funds needed to develop energy supplies for future.

    5. Exxon plans to expand investment at high rate.

    6. Checked stories that many tankers were lying outside New York harbor waiting for oil prices to rise and found they were containerships, not tankers, and that they were stacked up because of bad weather.

    Note that the Times reported 7 out of 11 points made by Mr. Jamieson about the mistakes the industry had made in forecasting growth of demand for oil, and this was made the headline of the story. Even though The Times, as we showed in the AIM REPORT for January, had contributed a good deal to public misunderstanding about the reality of the energy crisis, it chose to report only one out of 19 points Mr. Jamieson made in an effort to clear up the confusion on this subject. While The Times has given very prominent attention to the increase in oil company profits in 1973, it chose to ignore completely all Mr. Jamieson's statements in his prepared speech placing these profits in perspective and showing the need for profits in the industry if much needed investments were to be made.

    Much of The Times story was devoted to statements made by Mr. Jamieson at a news conference. These covered the reasons for the shortage of refinery capacity in the US., the question of whether demand and supply could be brought into balance by higher prices alone or whether rationing of gasoline would be needed, anti-trust exemptions granted by the Justice Department several years ago to permit the oil companies to negotiate jointly with oil producing countries, and the danger in proposed laws to limit oil company profits and eliminate foreign tax credits. Here The Times did report that Mr. Jamieson said that such action would frustrate the generation of capital needed to carry out heavy investment programs.

    With reporting like this on the pan of the country's foremost newspaper, it is easy to see why the large oil companies have felt that it is necessary to buy space in the newspapers to convey their message to the public.


    While the story in The Times completely missed the main thrust of Mr. Jamieson's remarks, AIM was not able to find any report at all of what he had said in either of the Washington papers, The Washington Post and The Star-News.

    The public confusion about the energy crisis may stem in part from the fact that newspaper reporters themselves are also confused. For example, we found this statement in a story on the Senate Hearings on the energy crisis in The Washington Star-News on January 22, 1974.

    Other questions put to the off executives were answered, but the replies often generated more confusion. For example, the oilmen kept talking of a need for more money if they are to expand domestic production to make the U.S. self-sufficient in energy. Yet their testimony acknowledged that their profits for 1973 were higher than during the previous years.

    In a letter to the editor of The Star-News, AIM pointed out that this might have been less confusing if the reporter had explained that oil company profits declined as a percentage of sales and as a percentage of invested capital from 1968 through 1972. As a result, we noted, returns to oil investors fell well behind returns to investors in many manufacturing industries. We also suggested that it might have been appropriate for The Star-News to tell its readers in this context how much-the oil companies said they were going to have to invest to insure that the U.S. has the energy it needs in the years ahead We added:

    It is perhaps unfortunate that the oil companies have to purchase space in the newspapers to convey this information to the public, as Exxon did in its ad in The Star-News on January 21. Exxon pointed out that it is going to make capital expenditures of $3.7 billion in 1974. The Trans-Alaska pipeline alone will cost over $4 billion, and Exxon will bear about a fourth of the cost.

    AIM reminded the editor that these huge investments would have to come from retained earnings, new borrowing or new injections of equity capital and that the ability of companies to attract capital would depend to a large degree on their ability to earn profits.

    The Star-News published this letter.


    Our analysis of news media treatment of the energy crisis and the very bad press given to the oil companies bears out the following statement by Chet Huntley, former star commentator on the NBC nightly news program:

    One general characteristic of the American press which seems inexplicable is the basic antipathy towards business and industry which I believe exists in our journalism.

    American business and industry, more than any other sector in our society finds it difficult to get its story told accurately and fairly.

    Wall Street Journal, Aug. 7, 1973

    Mr. Huntley thinks that part of the blame for this lies in the fact that too many businessmen regard profit rather than satisfaction of the consumer as their main objective. He went on to say that the degree of ignorance concerning economies in this country is "incredible." He said the press was greatly in need of improvement, but the journalists had to do it themselves.

    R.C. Gerstenberg, president of General Motors, also blamed the bad image of business on general economic illiteracy in an article published in The New York Times on December 29, 1972. Mr. Gerstenberg said it was important that the public's understanding of economic issues be greatly improved, and he suggested that the business community had an important role to play in educating the public.

    However, on October 28, 1973, The Washington Star-News reported that many representatives of top American corporations meeting in Washington agreed that business was "losing an image-shaping battle to consumer-public interest groups who paint an unfair and sometimes deceptive picture of what corporate America stands for."

    The article added:

    This kind of "anti-business sentiment," many in the industry believe, is the direct remit of an extremely powerful weapon which makes the consumer-public interest bloc all but invincible. It is the press and electronic media, they believe, which is ably manipulated by consumer-public interest groups who use them as a tool to create an alien environment for business."

    The Star-News reported that businessmen at this conference agreed that anti-business sentiment reflected in the news media had an important impact on government decisions affecting business.

    In November 1973, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced a new program embracing education and communications which was designed to improve understanding of the free enterprise system and promote a better understanding of the role of private business. One aspect of the new program is called FAIR, which stands for Fair, Accurate and Informative Reporting. The program is to provide insights on how to improve rapport with the news media and how to respond to distortions and unfair attacks against business.

    AIM has some advice for the business community, based on our rich experience. To get fair and accurate reporting you have to be willing to raise the roof when reporting is unfair and inaccurate. We have noticed that big advertising budgets in the press and the electronic media or generous grants to public television have not done much to encourage fair and accurate reporting on matters of concern to the private business community.

    We are convinced that reporters and editors have more respect for those who insist on accuracy and fair play than they do for those who take the view that you can't win an argument with the news media.


    CBS apparently thinks that it should be able to exercise strict control over the use made of both video and audio tapes of its news programs after they have been broadcast. The network has filed suit to prevent Vanderbilt University from taping CBS news programs and to require the Vanderbilt Television News Archive to surrender existing tapes of CBS news programs to the court.

    Several years ago Vanderbilt University decided that a record should be kept of the influential nightly television news programs. They believed that this would be a great aid to scholars and historians. No one was keeping permanently the tapes or transcripts of these programs, including the networks themselves. The maintenance of such an archive is very expensive, and Vanderbilt sought and obtained foundation assistance to help bear the cost.

    This public service was made even more valuable by the compilation and publication of a monthly index and abstract showing precisely what subjects were covered on each of the nightly news programs and how much time was devoted to each subject.

    Vanderbilt made it possible for those who wanted to see or hear a particular news program to rent the tapes for a modest fee, obtaining them by mail. Thus when AIM wanted to check to see how the networks had covered the December 1972 bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, we were able to get a pretty good idea from the Vanderbilt published index and abstracts, and we were able to check particular programs by renting the audio tapes from the Vanderbilt Archive.

    Similarly when the Institute for American Strategy wanted to see how CBS had reported national security news, it was able to rent from Vanderbilt the video tapes of every CBS nightly news broadcast for an entire year.

    Without the Vanderbilt Archive, studies of this kind would be impossible. If the suit filed by CBS is successful, Vanderbilt will be effectively stopped from giving scholars and analysts access to tapes of CBS news programs. If NBC and ABC then followed the CBS example a public service of inestimable value would be destroyed.


    Vanderbilt's Chancellor, Alexander Heard, has pointed out that the Television News Archive is not operated for profit and that it is maintained as a public service in the absence of any similar service elsewhere. Chancellor Heard said:

    These broadcasts are of nationwide significance, influence and interest, and we believe that they should be preserved and readily available for study now and in the future. The procedures of the Television News Archive have been carefully designed in an effort to insure that they do not infringe rights of CBS or of the other networks.

    Vanderbilt will fight CBS in court, and it will continue to operate the Archive pending a resolution of the court case.


    AIM put that question to Mr. Leonard Spinrad, Director of Corporate Information for CBS. Mr. Spinrad said that CBS felt it was necessary to protect the sanctity of its copyrights on the news broadcasts. He admitted, however, that CBS had been copyrighting the news broadcasts only since April 1973. He also admitted that CBS itself had not been keeping tapes of the nightly news programs for any extended period of time. He did not know of any present plans by CBS to maintain an archive of the tapes which would be available to the public.

    Mr. Spinrad said CBS felt that it should be able to exercise control over the sale or rental of its material. They also wanted to be able to control any editing or excerpting of the tapes of their news programs. He said that CBS had offered Vanderbilt a royalty-free license that would enable it to maintain tapes of CBS programs, but this would limit the use of the tapes to the premises of Vanderbilt University. Under the arrangement proposed by CBS tapes could not be mailed to Accuracy in Media or the Institute for American Strategy or any other group for study and analysis. The analysts would have to journey to Nashville, Tennessee if they wanted to study any CBS tapes.

    We pointed out to Mr. Spinrad that this would destroy the value of the Vanderbilt collection of CBS tapes as far as AIM was concerned, since we could not afford to send an analyst to Nashville every time we wanted to find out what CBS had said on a particular news program. We pressed Mr. Spinrad to tell us whether this was the real motive behind the CBS action. Mr. Spinrad would not go beyond the official CBS statement that the motive was to protect the sanctity of copyrights.

    It is difficult to believe that CBS has spotted some great profit-making potential in tapes of old news programs and is out to garner those profits for itself. It is more logical to suppose that CBS has been embarrassed by the analytical work done on some of its old broadcasts and has decided to prevent such analysis from being done in the future. However, this is not at all in character for CBS, an organization which takes pride in its public service and which has been very cooperative in providing AIM with transcripts of its news documentaries. CBS should either come up with a better explanation for its suit against Vanderbilt than it has provided so far, or it should drop the case.

    The only justification we can see for the CBS action would be that the network thinks that it can provide the same service as Vanderbilt now provides and is willing to do so for comparable fees. But even if the network had such plans, which it apparently does not, it could not provide service comparable to that of Vanderbilt. A single letter will bring the user tapes from all three networks from Vanderbilt, and the University provides the invaluable index and abstract of the programs.

    Rather than damage or destroy this valuable public service, CBS should make the university a substantial grant to support the valuable work being done by the Television News Archive.


    Write Arthur Taylor, the President of CBS, and tell him that the network should be supporting Vanderbilt University's Television News Archive, not impeding it.

    Send a copy of your letter to William S. Paley, Chairman of the Board of CBS.


    This is the title of an article on television news in the February Reader's Digest by Edward Jay Epstein. It is an excellent article exposing the built-in biases of television news. Read it.

    Last year Epstein published an excellent book on this same subject, News From Nowhere: Television and the News (Random House, $7.95). AIM asked Professor Charles A. Moser of George Washington University to write the following review of Epstein's book for the AIM REPORT.


    Edward Jay Epstein, a young man but one already well known for his investigation of the Warren Commission investigators and his exposure of the fraudulent interpretation of the Black Panther killings, now gives us a detailed consideration of network television news and how it is put together. This problem is clearly important, since a very large segment of the American population relies heavily upon televison network news. Although the networks claim that they are the repositories of objective truth, Epstein believes, and demonstrates very convincingly, that many quite mundane factors affect the shaping of network news.

    Epstein places his greatest emphasis upon organization structure and economic investment as factors shaping television news. Unlike individual newspaper reporters, television camera crews are unwieldy groups which must be assigned, usually ahead of time, to cover events which decision-makers have decided will be newsworthy: once they have made this investment, they tend to utilize the product. Epstein shows also how the expense of sending transmissioms and maintaining camera crews causes a few large cities -New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in particular -to be the sources of an inordinate amount of news which must then be dressed up in some fashion to appear "national." The networks, he says, are disinclined on economic grounds to send crews far from these major cities, and for reasons of technical quality and organizational prestige to use much film provided by local affiliates. Moreover, he finds, the top television executives take their cues as to what is worthy of attention from a few newspapers, most notably the New York Times.

    Epstein is fully aware of the fact that television is perceived by its managers as primary an entertainment medium. Television producers avoid "talking heads" on prime time and favor dramatic conflict, both in news and general programming, as a means of holding viewers. Reuven Frank, a former president of NBC News, instructed his staff at NBC that "every news story should, without any sacrifice of probity or responsibility, display the attributes of fiction, of drama," that is, news stories should be well organized and compact, with a beginning, a climax and an ending. This leads to a sustained effort to "reorganize" reality so long as one remains true to what one considers the sense of that reality. In many cases television news and documentaries skirt and even cross the borderline of fiction (after all, great fiction writers usually claim to be faithful to the sense of reality in their works, in much the same way as producers of television documentaries), so that the distinction between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Furthermore, even reality can often be interpreted in varying ways, and television journalists, like print journalists, rarely seek to present the unvarnished facts (the New York Times' custom of publishing full texts of major documents without commentary is one of its more praiseworthy attributes): rather, much as in medieval times the faithful were discouraged from reading and analyzing Scripture for themselves, so the new clergy of modernism, the journalists, must interpret reality for us and tell us what to think about everything from a presidential address to the latest highjacking.

    For all his judiciousness, Epstein overemphasizes the economic and organizational determinants of network news, powerful as these are. He dismisses Edith Efron's critique of television news rather too summarily, and downplays the conscious doctrines and decisions of television executives as to what is and is not worthy of attention. It is difficult to interpret the enormous investment in the television coverage of the Indian outrage at Wounded Knee, for example, as anything other than a conscious attempt at creating news; and the same may be said many times over of the gigantic expense involved in live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings last summer by the networks. Such things demonstrate that those in control of the networks are quite capable on occasion of investing great sums to promote certain events and approaches as "news" while ignoring others. This the viewing public senses, at least subconsciously. And that area Epstein does not investigate satisfactorily.


    AIM has filed a brief with the Court of Appeals in Washington opposing a request by NBC for a stay of the FCC order to the network to indicate how it intends to meet its fairness doctrine obligations created by its one-sided documentary on private pension plans. Since the documentary was broadcast in September 1972, AIM believes that the public's right to hear the other side of this controversy has been delayed too long already. Our brief is a hard-hitting review of this case and its significance. We wfil send a copy to anyone who is interested. AIM has engaged the law firm Kamerow & Kamerow of Washington, D.C. to represent us in this legal battle.

    This is an excerpt from the February 9, 1974 issue of TV GUIDE

    First of Two Pain By Max Gunther
    Life in a Pressure Cooker

    As special interest groups stoke the flames, television is desperately trying to keep its cool

    Similarly. NBC has refused to buckle under pressure from a small but very active group Called Accuracy in Media. AIM, according to board chairman Reed J. Irvine, was founded in 1969, "with a couple of hundred dollars and a post-office box." Today it has some 1500 financial supporters and operates on a modest monthly budget of about $3000. From its small Washington office (shared with a secretarial service run by one of its officer's wives) it lodged more than 60 complaints in the first half of 1973 alone---complaints against what it felt to be inaccurate or politically biased reporting in newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. AIM's most famous complaint probably had to do with a 1972 NBC documentary called "Pensions: The Broken Promise." Late that year. AIM filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. charging that "nearly the entire program was devoted to criticism of private pension plans. giving the impression that failure and fraud are the rule...."After a long series of letters back and forth between AIM, the Commission and the network, FCC's staff decided that the program was biased. "It does not appear," the FCC wrote to the network in May 1973, "that you have complied with your fairness doctrine obligation" to present both sides of controversial questions.

    This was the first time the FCC had decided in favor of an AIM complaint, and the TV industry was shocked. Many network executives identify AIM as a rightwing political group, and some felt the FCC was itself acting unfairly in bringing "politiCal pressure" against a network. There was a lot of solemn talk around the industry in May of '73 about "freedom of the press." What added heat to the debate was that the "Pensions" show won a Peabody Award as an example of good TV journalism. Reed Irvine, a genial man with a background as an economist and writer. denies that AIM is a political group. "It just happens that many of the big broadcast and print media display a liberal bias," he says. "Since we're in business for fairness and accuracy, unavoidably, a lot of our complaints will seem to come from the conservative side." He points out, however, that AIM has lodged complaints against conserative publications such as National Review. "We don't like unfair advocacy journalism, period." All the same, some executives and producers at the other networks privately applauded when NBC took a stand against AIM. In June 1973, NBC's attorneys wrote back to the FCC. saying that they considered the FCC ruling unconstitutional and would resist any pressure to broadcast a new program favorable to pension plans. FCC's Commissioners rejected this appeal in December and NBC decided to take the case to court. The wrangle is still on.


    Accuracy in Media, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. We investigate charges of serious factual errors and omissions in news reporting. If the errors are admitted or proven, we ask that corrections be made. AIM has bought space in leadang newspapers and magazines to inform the pubhc of media errors when those responsible have refused to make corrections themselves. We need your help to expand this highly effective work. We don't ask you to give us hundreds of hours of your time, although we have volunteer helpers who do just that. We do ask that you give us as large a contribution as you can afford. Supporter contribution of $10 or more includes 50 annual subscription cost of the AIM Report. CONTRIBUTIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

    THE BALTIMORE SUN-February 7, 1974 James J. Kilpatrick

    A Network Documentary Is Continuing Off-Stage

    I am of two minds about the FCC decision. What happened was that in September, 1972, NBC aired a documentary dealing with the failure of certain private pension plans. The network's hour-long presentation gave no more than lip service to the concepts of "balanee" or "fairness." The whole thrust of the program was to show what was wrong, and not what was right, about the retirement plans of private industry.

    Spokesmen for private industry naturally reacted in outrage. Legislation as then pending in the U.S. Senate to impose new regulations upon the pension funds. Critics denounced NBC's program as outright lobbying; they described the presentation as one-sided, distorted, and unfair; and in the context of the private pension system as a whole, their charges were undeniably true. Accuracy in Media, Inc., a Washington-based monitor of such things, filed a formal complaint with the FCC, accusing NBC of violating the "fairness doctrine." In December, the FCC upheld the complaint, 5-0, and ordered the network to run some balancing material. NBC has now appealed.

    It is not easy to sort out the rights and wrongs. As a newsman, I side with NBC; as a TV viewer, I incline toward the FCC. The network, claiming First Amendment freedoms, challenges the whole theory of a federally administered "fairness doctrine." Any governmental control over content or programming, in NBC's view, is an unconstitutional abridgement of freedom of the press. There is no denying that some workers have suffered gross hardships by reason of faulty pension plans; such hardships are news; the public interest is well served by exposing the evils. In this particular documentary, by analogy, NBC was following a classic principle of journalism: It is not news that on a given day, 10,000 airliners land safely; a crash is news.

    The FCC responds by saying that the great networks and their local licensees stand in a peculiar position under the First Amendment. So long as channels and frequencies are limited, and must therefore be allocated by governmental authority, some standards have to apply. One such standard, in a near monopoly situation, is that these powerful instruments of communication be fair.

    Suppose that NBC put together a documentary on racial-balance busing; and suppose that, like the pension program, the documentary dealt only with the bad side --the hardships, the tensions, the stultifying racism, the ill effects on children concerned. It is no great exercise of the imagination to suppose that pro-busing liberals would cry foul; they would demand that the fairness doctrine be invoked. The business community has an equally good point in complaining against such programs as "Pensions: The Broken Promise." If viewers are treated to little but the concept of "truth" will suffer. Both concepts are important, and both can be served if we try.

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